History of “The Australian Light Horse Charge at Beersheba”

With the First World War came Australia’s identity as diggers, a term of friendship and comradeship immortalized by the troops who fought at Gallipoli, France and the Middle East.

Developing technology in aircraft, artillery and the tank in modern warfare had made the warhorse almost obsolete by 1916. However, there was still one last test for the cavalry in Palestine, the famous charge at Beersheba by the Australian Light Horse.

In October 1917 the command of all three divisions of the Australian mounted troops was given to the famous cavalry leader Sir Henry Chauvel. The Turks continued to strengthen their defences in Palestine extending from Gaza on the coast to Beersheba some twenty miles inland. Success at Beersheba with its precious water wells was crucial. Chauvel’s orders were to storm Beersheba, which had to be won before nightfall. The British urgently needed 400,000 gallons of water so Chauvel decided to commit the 4th Light Horse brigade led by Brigadier General Grant. The 4th,12th and 11th regiments were assembled five miles from Beersheba with only a few hours of daylight. The Light Horse was to act as cavalry for the first time with only rifles and bayonets for the hazardous charge against entrenched infantry.

Four miles from Beersheba at 4.30pm, the Light Horsemen were eager for action and victory. They moved off at a trot and soon sped up to a canter and then at a gallop. They rode for victory and Australia. The Turkish artillerymen opened fire followed by machine guns, as they neared the Turkish trenches rifle fire, opened up wild and high. The Light Horsemen were then on the enemy jumping the main Turkish trench, dismounting and turning to engage the Turks. Beersheba and its vital wells were thus taken in one of Australia’s finest military actions.

Most of the Australian casualties were in the trenches. The losses were light, from the 4th and the 11th regiments, only 31 killed and 35 wounded. During that evening the parched horses were led to drink from the wells of Beersheba.

The riders on the five closest horses are modeled on real people, from left to right; Artist’s Grandson Emerson Materazzo, Regan Thompson, Daniel Materazzo, David Wilson and Grandson Lachlan Linton-Keane.
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Maritime and marine art by historical artist Richard Linton

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