A century on from the Battle of Beersheba

Today Beersheba, is a city of over 200,000 people, with the highest number of chess grandmasters per capita in the world. A century ago it was a heavily fortified town 43 kilometres from the Ottoman Turkish bastion of Gaza, in Palestine.

The coastal city of Gaza in Southern Palestine was crucial to both the British and the Ottomans during World War 1, and after two major battles in 1917, the Battle of Beersheba on October 31 saw mounted Australian infantry, with bayonets in hand, lead a successful charge into the town, breaking the Ottoman line.

The moment was acknowledged at the 7th Light Horse Regimental Dining In Night at the Merimbula RSL Club on September 9.

Guest speaker on the night was Dr Jean Bou, lecturer at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University in Canberra, who completed his PhD on the Australian Light Horse.

“Bersheeba was one operation of a larger battle, there was a whole bunch of stuff going on in different places,” Dr Bou said.

“There was a certain element of surprise to it.

The 4th Troop, 12th Light Horse Regiment after the second Battle of Gaza. Picture: Courtesy of Australian War Memorial

The 4th Troop, 12th Light Horse Regiment after the second Battle of Gaza. Picture: Courtesy of Australian War Memorial

“The mounted attack occurred literally as the sun was setting, in the coming gloom of the evening.

“Also there was no barbed wire, which means they were able to ride up.”

Dr Bou said the entire operation lasted as little as 20 minutes, with the 800 horsemen, under the instruction of cavalry officer, British General Edmund Allenby, interrupting the ability of the Turkish to aim accurately.

“The guys in the front rank would have been pretty nervous,” he said.

“I doubt the guys in the second and third lines saw much due to the dust being kicked up.

“It is also very flat there, so they could see there objectives, and the musket fire would have been visible in the dusk.”

Dr Bou also confronted some myths surrounding the day, including a popular photograph of the surge which was later thought to be taken of a reenactment. 

The photograph believed to have been taken at Belah on the coast of Palestine five months after the battle.

The photograph believed to have been taken at Belah on the coast of Palestine five months after the battle.

“My own personal hunch is it may have been taken in training in 1918,” he said.

Dr Bou said the British defeat of the Ottoman Empire resonated for years to come.

“There are echoes, and consequences shaking out,’ he said.

“The war unleashed a whole bunch of local nationalisms.”

After fighting at Gallipoli as reinforcements, the 12th Light Horse Regiment served in the Sinai and Palestine, seeing action in Beersheba, Jerusalem, Megiddo and Damascus. 

In the aftermath of the war, the regiment was used during the 1919 Egyptian Uprising, before being disbanded in late 1919.

A portrayal of the Battle of Beersheba. Picture: Courtesy of Australian War Memorial

A portrayal of the Battle of Beersheba. Picture: Courtesy of Australian War Memorial

The 4th Light Horse Regiment fought against both Germany and the Ottomans in Egypt, Gallipoli, the Western front, the Sinai Peninsula, Palestine and Jordan. 

Gary Berman of the Bemboka 7th Light Horse Regiment said the night was informative and well received by everyone involved.

“During the action the 4th and 12th regiments charged Turkish positions and successfully carried the battle on the day,” Mr Berman said.

“They were in support of the British infantry, and assisted by the New Zealand mounted rifle brigade, who secured the high ground.

“It was essential the wells were secured before nightfall, and before the Turkish engineers destroyed them.”

A portrayal of the Battle of Beersheba. Picture: Courtesy of Australian War Memorial

A portrayal of the Battle of Beersheba. Picture: Courtesy of Australian War Memorial

On the night, the NZ mounted rifle brigade was represented by Lieutenant Colonel Dale Parker, military adviser to the New Zealand High Commission, and there were a number of presentations.

“Representatives from the current regiments, that is the 12/16 Hunter River Lancers and 4/19 Prince of Wales Light Horse were presented with a history of the 7th Light Horse, our regiment, which outlines operations from 1914 to 1919,” Mr Berman said.

“A number of troopers from the 7th received their spurs, they were Trooper Glenn Umbers, Trooper Hayley James, Colonel Andrew Duncan, and bugler Tommy Burn was presented with a bugle by Colonel Mike Kelly, member for Eden-Monaro.

“Two other awards were given to retired Detective Inspector Warren Davis and Staff Sargeant Mervin Symon for outstanding service.

“It was a really successful night, we had 92 people attend,” Mr Berman said.

Map courtesy of the Australian War Museum

Map courtesy of the Australian War Museum

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop