Sand in the Apricot Jam – the paintings explained


If you would rather make your own reading of the artworks that form Sand in the Apricot Jam read no further, just look at the pictures! But if you’re curious to the hear the artist’s explanation of the works then read on as I explain each panel and why I represented the things I did, in the way I did.

Evacuation of the wounded from Gallipoli/Being reunited with his horse in the desert (Panel1)

Panel 1-Gallipoli-horse
Evacuation of the wounded from Gallipoli. Being reunited with his horse in the desert | Sand in the Apricot Jam | Rebecca Holden, 2014

This first panel of ‘Sand in the Apricot Jam’ portrays the NZMR at Gallipoli and later a soldier being reunited with his horse on his return to Egypt. This interpretation of Gallipoli was activated by the research into the August Offensive of the Gallipoli Campaign, in which the NZMR and other troops were assigned the task of trying to capture the high ground of Chunuk Barr. The casualties endured in this offensive were great.
For those from the NZMR that survived Gallipoli and were well enough to fight again, were later returned to Egypt to fight against the Ottoman Turkish army in Sinai and Palestine.

Evacuation of the wounded from Gallipoli (detail Panel 1)

Detail: ‘Evacuation of the wounded from Gallipoli’ | Sand in the Apricot Jam | Rebecca Holden, 2014

This is a composite view of the conditions and hardships of Gallipoli – the chaos, the exhaustion and pain. The rats and flies that terrorised the men almost as much as ‘Johnny Turk’ are also depicted in this scene. The injured soldier being assisted, makes reference to my grandfather who received a gunshot wound to his left thigh on the 7th of August during The August Offensive. The barges full of the sick and wounded await transport to the hospital ships.
The waterway that divides the two sections of this painting is the Suez Canal, which the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces were sanctioned to protect from potential attack by the Ottoman Turks.

Reunited in the desert (detail Panel 1)

Detail: ‘Being reunited with his horse in the desert’ | Sand in the Apricot Jam | Rebecca Holden, 2014

This more calm scene, in contrast to the Gallipoli scene, aims to evoke a sense of the special bond between the soldier and his mount. The soldier having been separated from his horse whilst serving at Gallipoli is reunited with him back in the desert.
The white and red detail at the edge of the painting makes reference to the regimental patch worn by the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment.


The Sinai Campaign (Panel 2)

The Sinai Campaign | Sand in the Apricot Jam | Rebecca Holden, 2014

In the Middle East theatre of war the NZMR were involved in two major campaigns against the Ottoman Turkish army, in the Sinai and Palestine.
The Sinai panel depicts the sparseness of this desert environment. The horsemen were invaluable here, as they could cover greater ground than infantry on foot. Often riding at night so as to be undetected by their enemy.
Having enough water for the men and the horses was a constant concern in the harshness of the desert.

The Mounted Men (detail panel 2)

Detail ‘The mounted men’ – The Sinai Campaign | Sand in the Apricot Jam | Rebecca Holden, 2014

The Mounted Rifles were grouped in fours and when fighting they would ride to the battle, dismount and run in to fight, while one man remained with the horses. This depiction of the group of men on horseback uses cool tones to references the night reconnaissance work they did in the desert. Moving at night so as not to be detected.
Camels are indicated in this panel as they were invaluable for getting water and supplies to the troops. A railway and water pipeline were also constructed across the desert in order to service the troops, the railway line is referenced also.

Battle of Rafah (detail panel 2)

Detail ‘Battle of Rafah’ – The Sinai Campaign | Sand in the Apricot Jam | Rebecca Holden, 2014

This blended scene of horsemen riding off to battle, a soldier carrying a wounded mate, and the men having had dug another grave; was inspired by the battle of Rafah. Rafah straddles the Sinai/Palestine border and was considered by the British as an important area to capture. It was a daring attack and was very nearly called off, but thanks to the Mounted Rifles Rafah was captured.
The Ottoman Turkish symbol (Crescent moon and star) is depicted in this panel to make reference to who the allies were fighting against in the desert.

The Palestine Campaign (Panel 3)

The Palestine Campaign | Sand in the Apricot Jam | Rebecca Holden, 2014

The British believed that in order to defeat the Ottoman Turkish Army it was essential for the allies to gain control over Ottoman held Palestine. By the end of 1918 the British lead Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF), which included the NZMR, had conquered Palestine, Jordan and southern Syria effectively ending the war in the Middle East.

The three battles of Gaza (detail Panel 3

Detail: ‘The battles of Gaza’ – The Palestine Campaign | Sand in the Apricot Jam | Rebecca Holden, 2014

In 1917 there were three attempts by the allies to secure Gaza, the gateway into Palestine, from the Ottoman Turkish army. The first battle ended in failure and the allies sustained incredible losses. It was a bitter blow to the Auckland Mounted Rifles as they had actually captured Gaza when they were told to retreat – this first defeat exemplified by the stance and expression of the soldier on the left. The second battle of Gaza also ended in defeat and is represented here by the second soldier, his hand to his head.
After the failure of the second battle there was a change in leadership of the Desert Corps. More time was gained this time allowing for greater strategic planning for a further attack. In the final battle it was the Mounted’s task to secure the town of Beersheba and it’s critical wells, which is why the soldier is portrayed by his reflection in the well’s water. This time the allied troops in the desert were successful.

The Jordan Valley (detail Panel 3)

Detail: ‘The Jordan Valley’ – The Palestine Campaign | Sand in the Apricot Jam | Rebecca Holden, 2014

The battle of Megiddo was the final and most decisive battle of the Palestine campaign. The NZMR role in this was to remain in the Jordan Valley essentially as a decoy to convince the Ottoman Turks that the British offensive was aimed at the Ottoman line in the Trans-Jordan. When in fact allied troops were gathering to attack on the coastal sector of the Plains of Sharon. When the main assault was underway the Mounted troops were tasked with attacking Es Salt and Amman. Which were captured successfully by the New Zealanders.
Many men suffered from illness in this Middle East campaign of WWI and malaria was rife in the Jordan Valley. One soldier claiming the mosquitos there were as big as sparrows! The malaria carrying mosquitos are referenced in this panel. My grandfather contracted malaria in the Jordan Valley, this disease essentially led to his discharge in 1919 after having been at war since departing with the Expeditionary Forces in October 1914.

The bond of the ‘Mounteds’ (Panel 4)

The bond of the ‘Mounteds’ | Sand in the Apricot Jam | Rebecca Holden, 2014

The final panel of the Sand in the Apricot Jam series shows every day scenes of life for the Mounted Rifles in the Middle East campaign. This painting also addresses the final farewell of the solider and his horse.
Many of those who have written about the ‘Mounteds’ make reference to the special bond that existed in the New Zealand Mounted Brigade, not only between the men and their tight knit group of 4 but also between the soldier and his mount.

Camp Life (detail Panel 4)

Detail ‘Camp life’ – The bond of the ‘Mounteds’ | Sand in the Apricot Jam | Rebecca Holden, 2014

Throughout the campaign in the Middle East the Mounted men either lived in tents or bivouacked while out on patrol or doing reconnaissance. The conditions were harsh in this environment but the men made do.
Flies were a constant nuisance and cause of illness and infection amongst the troops which is why they are referenced on this panel.
The patches of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment (top left) and the Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment (bottom middle – checkered pattern) are shown on this panel. The Auckland Mounted Rifles Regimental patch is shown in the first panel of this group of paintings.

The final farewell (detail Panel 4)

Detail ‘The final farewell’ – The bond of the ‘Mounteds’ | Sand in the Apricot Jam | Rebecca Holden, 2014

Only one horse returned to New Zealand from the Middle East. Some were either purchased by the British or sold to the locals. But that was not the fate for most of the horses. The soldiers, not wanting to sell their mounts to endure a harsh life with the locals, decided instead that it would be better to take the life of their trusty companion. Rebecca’s grandfather said there wasn’t a dry eye when the men had to shoot their horses. This portion of the painting addresses that moment of the final farewell between the soldier and his faithful horse.

The Battle of Ayun Kara, NZMR welcomed in Rishon LeZion

The Battle of Ayun Kara, NZMR welcomed in Rishon LeZion | Sand in the Apricot Jam | Rebecca Holden, 2017

The battle of Ayun Kara (14 November 1917) was one of the most fierce battles of the whole campaign for the NZMR. Upon defeating the Ottoman Turkish army the NZMR entered the village of Rishon LeZion and were warmly welcomed by the people of the village.

This work is different than the others as it is on a canvas ground. The purpose of this is to represent the canvas tents the men bivouacked in. Sewn onto the canvas ground is 50 small NZ Forces buttons to represent the 50 who died in the battle of Ayun Kara. Larger NZ Forces buttons are also attached to represent the different squadrons of the NZMR.


The Battle of Ayun Kara (detail)

Detail ‘The Battle of Ayun Kara’ | Sand in the Apricot Jam | Rebecca Holden 2017

In the battle of Ayun Kara the NZ Mounted Rifles were severely outnumbered by the Ottoman Turkish army. But the Kiwi’s won the battle and the Ottoman Turkish Army retreated north. This scene represents the intensity of the battle. The NZ Mounted Rifles lost 50 of their men in this battle, the highest since the fateful Gallipoli campaign.

NZMR Welcomed in Rishon LeZion (detail)

Detail ‘NZMR Welcomed in Rishon LeZion’ | Sand in the Apricot Jam | Rebecca Holden 2017

This part of the painting shows the NZ soldiers, having entered Rishon LeZion, being welcomed by a group of children offering them Jaffa oranges. The soldiers camped just outside of Rishon LeZion for over a year after this encounter.

A monument was erected in honour the New Zealanders who died in the battle of Ayun Kara (top). The monument was maintained by the people of Rishon LeZion.

here was a woman living in Rishon LeZion who’s son was in the NZ Mounted Rifles. They were reunited after the battle of Ayun Kara.

– Updated October 2017

5 thoughts on “Sand in the Apricot Jam – the paintings explained

  1. Re the horses being shot before leaving Sinai/Palestine (as name was then). There were a couple of drivers. One was the cost. Most of the horses were completely beaten up by hard riding in the desert and all the NZ govt could do was sell them as war surplus at a pittance. THe other driver was fear of foot and mouth disease. The Aust. government did the same thing. Only one Australian horse, belonging to a general perhaps, made it back to Oz the rest were shot in the desert, generally by vets, not the rider. Tim Fidler (WRE).

    1. Thanks for the comment Tim. I hadn’t heard of the vets doing it but that makes sense too although there would have been a lot of horses. It was anecdotal evidence that I’d come across that it was either the soldier himself, or from one Australian source, they didn’t shot their horse but shot their mates so they didn’t have to do it to their own.

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