This story is on factual events that occurred on the 31 October 1917 in what is now modern-day Israel. At a place, called Beersheba.
Eight hundred Australian Light Horsemen from the fourth and twelfth regiments commanded to perform a mounted charge.
Against Turkish trenches across a six-kilometre open plain, while under fire from artillery, machine guns and rifle.
This story is dedicated to the courage and exploits of both men and horses who made this famous charge one hundred years ago. On 31 October 2017.
“Big Jake” – by Gary Anthony
Jake nudged my arm as I drank from my canteen. Looking at the big, lean chestnut gelding, I felt ashamed, he had no water for over twenty-four hours.
I removed my hat and emptied the last of my water into it and let Jake drink. It wasn’t much, it’s all I had.
“Well mate,” I said, stroking his silky neck, “we’re both up that well-known creek without a paddle now.”
Jake shook his head as if agreeing with me. Replacing the hat, I slung my rifle across my back, swung into the saddle and followed the rest of the regiment.
We split into three waves of riders, forming extended lines, preparing for a mounted charge.
In front of us laid the fortified town of Beersheba, approximately six thousand metres away across the gently sloping ground.
Our objective was to take the town before dusk and capture the seventeen wells of Abraham intact if possible.
Eight hundred Australians were given the task that fifty thousand British troops had not been able to achieve since dawn that day. It was now around four in the afternoon.
The command was given, and we trotted forward for the first five hundred metres, then into a slow canter. As we drew closer – artillery shells burst around us, throwing red dust high into the air.
It hung like a veil in the fading sunlight, giving the riders around me a ghostlike appearance.
The thundering of thousands of hooves echoed across the plain, adding another frightening dimension to the sound of battle.
Bullets whizzed past me like angry hornets. Crouching close to Jake’s neck, I urged him onwards.
His powerful hindquarters responding to the spur, his big whaler heart pounding as the speed increased to a wild gallop.
Jake never faltered once, his gait firm and smooth, his courage undaunted.
As we approached the entrenched Turks, we entered a cauldron of hell – machine gun and rifle fire intensified, knocking down both horse and rider.
The wild riding Australians were now fully committed, nothing was going to stop the charge.
Many of us waved our eighteen- inch bayonets above our heads and shouted like mad, wide-eyed men.
Adrenalin flowed fast and free as we crashed into the Turkish trenches.
I felt Jake tense and then launch himself over the trenches as I slashed at any Turk who came close, we dodged thrusting bayonets as we cleared the trenches and raced towards the town and the all-important wells.
Once in town, some of us dismounted and engaged the Turks in the buildings with rifle and bayonets.
Someone found the firing room for the demolition charges on the wells and quickly put it out of commission, but not before two wells were destroyed.
Some of the troops after clearing the trenches, dismounted and engaged the Turks from the rear with rifle and bayonet until the second and third wave of Light Horsemen arrived causing panic amongst the Turks.
Many dropped their guns and surrendered while some fought on.
All resistance collapsed shortly after and Beersheba was ours. It had taken slightly less than an hour.
Later on that evening, we became aware of the casualties incurred in the charge.
Seventy whalers were killed with dozens more injured.
Many of the thirty-one men died, and the thirty-six wounded had been in the trenches in desperate hand to hand fighting.
But most of the wounded casualties occurred before the trenches were reached.
We had achieved the impossible. We broke the stranglehold of the Otterman Empire on the holy land and opened the way to Jerusalem.
A feat of arms that neither the Crusaders, Napoleon or the British army could claim.
However, a German field officer was heard to comment, “They are not soldiers – they are madmen.” Whatever we were, Jerusalem was to fall two months later.
After the fighting was over, I found Jake, head in a water trough, drinking his fill and playing with the water, patiently waiting for me.
I checked him for wounds, finding several scorch marks on his hindquarters and I also had bullet holes in my clothing.
At that moment I was aware the shadow of death had passed by.
Its fickle finger reached out and caressed us on its lethal journey.
Thankfully we both came through the battle relatively unscathed. I led Jake to our lines, unsaddled him and gave him some well-deserved grain.
Before I settled down that night, I checked on Jake, scratching him behind the ear.
Unexpectedly a sizeable wet tongue found my face, covering it in saliva.
“Yes I love you too old son,” I said, stroking his neck. I didn’t mind, he was my mate.
Tomorrow - we would face the brutal savagery of war once again.
Copyright - 2017