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The Rock-itt : February 2011
OUR DIGGERS IN THE GREAT WAR OUR DIGGERS IN THE GREAT WAR OUR DIGGERS IN THE GREAT WAR OUR DIGGERS IN THE GREAT WAR by Simon Lyon The Battle of Beersheba, the Diggers famous Mounted charge against the Turks in Palestine At 3pm on 31st October 1917, Lieutenant General Sir Henry Chauvel, a farmer from Tabulam in the Clarence River country of northern NSW, a veteran of the actions on Gallipoli, and in charge of the Light Horse knew the fading light and shortage of water were against him. Information he had received was that the Turks planned to detonate the water wells in the strongly defended Palestine town of Beersheba and in this action water was going to be crucial for his troops and their horses. To fail might even end the Allies advance on Damascus. Chauvel and his men had been present at the fatal attack at the Nek on the shores of Gallipoli in August 1915, but then the Mounted soldiers were required to attack on foot. This time he had at his disposal the horses which would carry his mounted riflemen close to the Turkish trenches and hopefully beyond and capture the town and the valuable water supplies before the Turks threw the switch. In a war which had meandered along in virtual stalemate from the end of 1914 with the static trench warfare dominating the fighting on all fronts, this decision to use cavalry was a desperate one. For onlookers who had studied their history it must have remember the fatal Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War a few decades before. Luckily the outcome was far from the same. So echoing that moment in history Chauvel and his 4th Light Horse Brigade attacked. It was, according to those of the Empire forces, the weakest held spot of the town, in that there were no barbed wire entanglements in front of the trenches at the south eastern corner of the town. It was not until 425pm that the Brigade was in full battle order and with the sun sinking behind them in the west, there would only be one chance to complete the attack before dusk. As the cavalry approached the Turkish lines, men and horse started to fall as a result of the Turkish fire but at 500 metres, the bullets seemed to be flying over the heads of the attackers, an observation that many believed was due to the fact that the defenders hadn't had time to alter their gun sights. It may have also been due to the fact that the galloping horsemen stirred up a massive cloud of red dust as they approached on the most famous charge of World War1 and thus made it almost impossible to identify targets. As the first horses leapt the front line trenches, many Turks fled back into the town only to be bayoneted by the oncoming wave of marauding mounted troops. These soldiers were only equipped with the standard British issue SMLE (Short Magazine Lee Enfield Rifle) with its long bayonet, carefully sharpened for just this eventuality. Once the Turkish lines had been breached, a whole scale panic overcame the defenders and lines and equipment was abandoned in the mayhem that ensued. The Turks will had been broken at this action and the town of Beersheba was successfully captured including the water supplies of over 400,000 litres. Luckily the Australian horsemen had arrived at a crucial moment as a young German officer, assigned with pulling the switch on the explosives to blow up the wells, hesitated as ruthless attackers threatened him with his life. Fortunately he chose to be captured rather than be killed in the vain attempt to thwart the Australian domination. This decisive action added the momentum to the Allied advances in Palestine and was to a major psychological factor in the following months when Turks troops retreated in front of Australian cavalry.