ANZACs reenact Beersheba Charge

November 7, 2012 by  
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Australian Light Horse riders have reenacted the historical charge of the Australia and New Zealand Armed Corps (ANZAC) at KKL-JNF’s Beit Eshel site in Nahal Beersheba Park.

The charge                     pic: Tania Susskind

“Charge!” Ezra Pimental, deputy chairman of the Society for the Heritage of WWI in Israel, gave the call, and twenty-one Australian Light Horse riders in full World War One battle attire reenacted the historical charge of the Australia and New Zealand Armed Corps (ANZAC) at KKL-JNF’s Beit Eshel site in Nahal Beersheba Park
The dramatic ceremony took place on Wednesday, October 31, in the presence of a large audience of local residents and Australian tourists who listened with rapt attention as Ezra told the story of the battle.

The Brigade Photo: Tania Susskind

“On October 31, 1917, after walking all night through the desert, Lieutenant General Henry Chauvel assembled his troops about six kilometers from Beersheba. The goal of the battle was to break the Ottoman defensive line that stretched from Gaza to Beersheba. Earlier in 1917, two previous attempts to breach this line had failed. At 11:00, he gave the order to the New Zealand brigade to attack. The battle raged for four hours. There were many losses, but eventually, Tel Sheva on the outskirts of Beersheba was conquered, and the Australian cavalry joined the fight from another direction.

“It was now 16:00, and General Chauvel realized that the job had to be done before dark. He gave the order to attack, and over 800 cavalry in a line formation advanced at a trot that eventually became a gallop. They rode directly into the Turkish fire, and the light horsemen jumped the front trenches one and a half miles from the town. They then dismounted behind the line where they turned and engaged the Ottoman forces with bayonets. The Ottoman forces were in many cases so demoralized that they quickly surrendered. The Battle of Beersheba had been won.”

After cheering the Australian Light Horse Riders, who remained on their horses all during the ceremony, the audience was greeted by KKL-JNF Deputy Chairman Menachem Leibovic, who said that KKL-JNF was involved in creating trails for hikers and cyclists, “but we haven’t yet gotten involved in trails for horses. After today’s ceremony, I can imagine riders on horses in KKL-JNF’s forests and woods.

“The 1917 ANZAC charge changed history in our region. I take off my hat to you in gratitude, and invite you to dismount your horses and walk the paths of Beit Eshel, one of the first three Israeli settlements in this area, which was restored by KKL-JNF with the help of its supporters from all over the world. After being extensively bombarded by the Egyptians, Beit Eshel was abandoned. Today it is part of Nahal Beersheba Park and students come here to learn about the heroic history of this region.

“The Australians and New Zealanders who fought here are an integral part of our history. On behalf of KKL-JNF, I want to thank you and invite you to please come back for the one-hundredth anniversary of this battle.”

Avi Navon, chairman of the Society for the Heritage of WWI in Israel, said he hoped the visitors would get to see a lot of “our beautiful, old and modern country. When you go back home to Australia, if you should happen to meet any of your countrymen who haven’t visited us yet, please tell them we’re waiting for them.”

The ceremony was emceed by KKL-JNF Director of Development Ze’ev Kedem, who told the audience that the Australians were here today in spite of being warned by Australian security personnel to stay away from the Beersheba region, which had recently been bombarded by Grad missiles from the Gaza Strip. “Yesterday, after receiving this warning, the Light Horse Riders met and decided unanimously that the reenactment of the battle would proceed as planned. We are honored to be with you here today.”

The Deputy Mayor of Beersheba, Ofer Karadi, also mentioned the security situation. “Unfortunately, to this day, our enemies would still like to drive us from this region and from all of Israel. Beersheba is the place where our father Abraham pitched his tent, and we intend to remain here forever. Remembering history is very important. As Napoleon said, ‘He who has no past, has no future.’ Go in peace, and return in peace.”

 

Standing for the Israeli anthem. Photo: Tania Susskind

The last speaker was the head of the Light Horse Riders delegation to Israel, Barry Rogers. He received thunderous applause from the audience when he declared that he was here today because “I absolutely reject giving in to terrorists. It’s not the Light Horse way. I know that you live here in spite of constant threats and intimidation on a daily basis. We are here to express out solidarity and to declare that we stand with you.

“Many years ago, when I first came to Beersheba, I asked my hosts what was the best thing about their city. Their answer was, ‘watching it disappear in the rearview mirror.’ But no more. I am astounded by how the city has developed and how beautiful it has become. I would like to thank KKL-JNF, the municipality and the WWI Society for organizing this amazing event.

“We came here 95 years ago with weapons. Today, we come without our weapons, and together with you, we pray that this region be blessed with peace.”

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the KKL-JNF Deputy Chairman and the Deputy Mayor of Beersheba were presented with medallions in the shape of a horseshoe with an authentic coin from 1917. The horsemen were presented with certificates commemorating the auspicious event, and Barry Rogers led the riders and the audience in the traditional Light Riders’ cheer three times: “Hip hip, hurray! Hip hip, hurray! Hip hip, hurray!”
L-R: Denise Musgrave and Martin Weatherstone. Photo: Tania Susskind

 

L-R: Denise Musgrave and Martin Weatherstone.  Photo: Tania Susskind

Martin Weatherstone is leading a group of Australian tourists to Israel who were at Beit Eshel for the ceremony: “The ANZAC story has inspired the Australian connection with Israel. This is the second time I’ve come here for this event, and it is certainly the highlight of our visit.”

Denise Musgrave proudly displayed military badges on her lapel: “My grandfather fought here, these were his badges. He probably stood right where I am standing now. I knew him very well, but he never spoke about his military history. I am very proud to be here today.”

Linda Rogers, Barry Roger’s daughter, was one of the riders: “We do reenactments of this battle and others in Australia all the time, but it’s very special to do it here in Israel, at the site where it actually took place. We also visited the Memorial for the Australian Soldier and the ANZAC military cemetery. It’s been a fabulous and very moving visit.”

With the involvement and support of JNF Australia, KKL-JNF is developing the ANZAC trail, a unique route through the northern Negev tracing the course taken by the ANZAC troops during the First World War. The trail will commemorate this fascinating piece of history and preserve the memory of the longstanding association between Australia and Israel. The project includes the development of sites and points of historical, cultural and ecological interest along the route, including within the city of Beersheba.

Comments

2 Responses to “ANZACs reenact Beersheba Charge”
  1. Denise says:

    Thank you for running this article on the Beersheba re-enactment of the charge of the Australian Lighthorse . I was one of the Aussies who joined the crowd to witness the reenactment and it was a really exciting afternoon mingling with the locals and other Aussies who had come to watch. I am so proud that my grandfather was an ANZAC who fought in the Middle East and Palestine (Israel) and that I could be at Beersheba to honour him and all our ANZACS who laid their lives on the line to protect the Jewish people living in the land and fight for freedom.
    We learnt that at the exact time of the charge in Beersheba, the Balfour Declaration was being passed in England which paved the way for the restoration of the nation of Israel to be reborn.

    ps I am the woman in the 3rd photo of the article.

  2. Liat Nagar says:

    This brave and extraordinarily challenging military event should stand further forward than it does in Australian War stories. The ANZAC charge on Be’er Sheva after that night crossing of the desert would have required supreme efforts of mental and physical power, and proved to be a crucial turn-around of the war in that region. The re-enactment on the site and the gathering together of Australian and Israeli people to hear and reflect on the event forms a contemporary connection to a past that shouldn’t be forgotten.

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