Aussies to reenact WWI capture of Beersheba

70 Aussies return to Israel to commemorate the 1917 batttle which occured in Beersheba.

Sculptor Peter 88 (photo credit: )
Sculptor Peter 88
(photo credit: )
At sunset on October 30, 1917, on the dusty outskirts of present-day Beersheba, more than 500 cavaliers from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACS) charged in what trooper Eric Elliot called "the bravest, most awe-inspiring sight" he'd ever witnessed: the 4th Australian Light Horse regiment overtaking the Turkish trenches and seizing Beersheba. The victory, later known as the Third Battle of Gaza, took place the "very day the British War Cabinet agreed to the Balfour Declaration," Australian historian and author Kelvin Crombie told The Jerusalem Post in 2003. Ninety years after the military triumph, 70 Aussies have returned to Israel to commemorate the Light Horsemen's success. The highlight of their visit will be the "In the Steps of the Light Horse" three-day trek through the Negev on the same route the original regiment took from Shellal to Beersheba. The group will reenact the charge - one of the last successful mounted charges in Western warfare - on the same ground on Wednesday. But simply traversing the same plane is not enough for these successors - the riders will be outfitted in full WWI regalia, complete with jodhpurs, twill uniforms, military accoutrements and bayonets. In addition, Beersheba Mayor Ya'acov Turner, a retired IAF brigadier-general, has provided the group with Lee Enfield .303 rifles, the same weapon the regiment used in 1917. The riders include several descendants of original Light Horsemen at Beersheba, including Deryn Binnie, a granddaughter of Australian commander Gen. Henry Chauvel. "A lot of the crowd had grandfathers who fought there. From the Golan Heights, we could look out over Damascus, and I stood at Megiddo, right on the mound, knowing my grandfather had stood there and watched the battle," Binnie told the Australian newspaper The Age on Saturday. The tour was organized by Tom Childs, Tom Dawson and Barry Rodgers of the Australian Light Horse Association as a "ride for peace," Rodgers toldThe Age. Rather than celebrate a "great conquest," the tour seeks to pay homage to those who gave their lives. Additionally, the event hopes to give a "greater profile to the work of the ANZACS in the Middle East," the Australian Prayer Network Web site reported on October 13. The riders will attend the Beersheba Day memorial ceremony on October 31, slated to include a presentation by the Israeli World War I Heritage Society and a march of mounted troopers through Allenby Square to the city's Commonwealth War Graves cemetery. The group will then move to a service at the Turkish memorial. The riders are also scheduled to visit the site of the new "Park of the Australian Soldier," currently being created on land donated by the city and funded by the Australian and Israeli governments and Melbourne's Pratt Foundation. The park, which will feature a bronze statue of a mounted soldier, will pay tribute to all Australian soldiers who have fought in the Middle East. The park is slated to open close to ANZAC Day, April 25, of next year. Some 50 Australian delegates will be in attendance, including three Australian ministers, forming the main Australian contingent at the event. From there, the delegates will move on to the Watec Israel 2007 Conference, while the riders depart to tour other places of interest, including Jerusalem, the Galilee and the Dead Sea. Even members of the ALHA who are not physically participating in the ride have been actively engaged in the pilgrimage. Hundreds are regularly communicating with the riders, asking for updates on the trip, pictures and details about riders. "It is wonderful to think that Light Horse representatives are undertaking a 'riding for Peace' re-enactment, especially going to somewhere like the Middle East," wrote Joye Dempsey on ALHA's forum posting board on October 23.