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Opposition to the 'Iron Donkey': The Hejaz Railway Defensive Network at Wagga Fort

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

The Bedouin of the Hejaz saw the coming of the 'iron donkey' as a threat to their traditional means of livelihood - the hiring and guiding of camels for the pilgrimage caravans. In 1908, as the Hejaz Railway approached the Holy City of Medina, local disquiet turned to open opposition and attempts were made to disrupt services by uncoupling rails and piling stones on the track.

Wagga Fort Ottoman defences on Hejaz Railway in First World War in Saudi Arabia
Hilltop outpost - part of the defensive system at Wagga Fort

In response, the Ottomans began to construct an extensive network of defences. As well as large barrack blocks to house military garrisons, stone fortifications were erected at strategic vantage points on the hills overlooking stations, bridges and other important assets. These defensive positions were greatly extended and strengthened during the First World War, when Allied combatants such as T.E. Lawrence arrived in the region with modern explosives.

Three views of the strategically important railway cutting at Wagga Fort

One of the largest of these defence networks was established at Wagga Fort, in the remote region between Hedia and Jeda'a Stations, where the track had been constructed on an elevated embankment to carry it up to a deep cutting (above) though a ridge of volcanic rock. This strategically vulnerable stretch of line was protected by an extensive system of defensive positions and military encampments, collectively described as a 'fort'.

Wagga Fort defences on the Hejaz Railway in Saudi Arabia
Stone passageways were built between outposts to provide cover for the garrison

Taking advantage of the high ground on either side of the track, the defences were connected by a grid of stone passageways, providing the garrison with protection as they moved between outposts. Although the line to the south of Wagga Fort was attacked by Bedouin raiders, the defensive arrangements at the cutting were enough to deter any direct assault, and consequently there were no disruptions to rail services on this section of line during the war.

Wagga Fort defence network on Hejaz Railway in First World War in Saudi Arabia
Stone defensive position directly above the Wagga rail cutting

Read more about Wagga Fort in the Hejaz Railway Route Guide.

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