One hundred years ago, Australian Light Horse troops fighting in the Middle East changed the course of the first world war.
Allied forces were fighting hard to take control of the ancient city of Beersheba and cut a defence line to Gaza, when, with daylight running out and the need for water for horses crucial, the order was given to line up and charge.
It was a move never before attempted by Light Horse but the element of surprise worked in their favour and the 800 horsemen of the 4th and 11th Australian regiments had overtaken the Turkish trenches and captured the life-giving wells by nightfall.
According to Darling Downs man, Barry Rodgers, the events of October 31, 1917, have been overshadowed in the Australian psyche by the Gallipoli and Western Front campaigns, but it’s something he hopes to change in coming months.
Along with a number of historical guides, he will be leading a tour of 177 people, a number of them descendants of Light Horsemen, to the battlefields to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the charge.
The centenary of the Battle of Beersheba is one of the key elements in Australia’s Anzac centenary commemoration activities.
As a director of the Australian Light Horse Association, Barry said one of their aims was to raise the profile of the Middle East campaign.
“In geopolitical terms, the campaign was the most significant of all in World War I, because it knocked Turkey out of the war,” he said.
Some 101 tour members, from all states of Australia, as well as three people from New Zealand and four expatriates living in the US, will be riding through the Negev Desert as part of the visit, prior to participating in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery ceremony at Beersheba, and then lining up in front of a global audience to re-enact the charge of their forefathers.
A documentary of the tour is being planned for national television.
It will feature 12 indigenous participants, 10 of whom will be riding, five of them as grandchildren of original Light Horsemen.
“It will bring to the attention of all Australians of the tremendous work Aboriginal servicemen played in World War I,” Barry said.
Two children of original Light Horsemen, one of whom was one of only 18 that went through the whole Middle East campaign without losing their horse, and 15 grandchildren, will be on the tour.
Barry said if it hadn’t been for the perception of unrest in the region, many more would have taken part.
To prepare participants for what has been described as “the most magnificent event you’ll ever experience”, a training and familiarisation weekend was held at Barry’s Emu Gully outdoor education centre at Helidon last weekend.
He said it had been a great success, both from an information sharing and meet and greet perspective.
“”It’s important as a tour group that we all work well together,” he said. “We wanted to nurture the Anzac tradition of mateship, and I think we succeeded.”
Participants were treated to a tent-pegging demonstration on the afternoon as well, a paint gun battle and the annual reunion weekend of the Patriots Motorcycle Club.