ANZAC Centenary Mission traces the footsteps of the soldiers from the Jordan Valley to Beersheba

October 26, 2017 by Ahuva Bar-Lev
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Hundreds of Australian guests have converged on Israel to honour the 100th anniversary of the British conquest of Palestine during World War One, with the participation of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC).

Ambassador Chris Cannan and Peter Smaller at the unveiling
Photo: Yoad Devir

They are here to travel around Israel in the footsteps of the ANZAC soldiers and to mark the occasion with special ceremonies. On Monday, October 23, the first major commemorative event took place at Tzemah in the Jordan Valley, the site conquered by the ANZAC soldiers in 1918.
Among the many guests was the 80-strong JNF Australia delegation, including friends, partners and leadership, along with history buffs interested in the ANZAC military heritage. During their two-week visit, they will be visiting the sites where the ANZAC soldiers fought, as well as social, agricultural and environmental projects built with the support of friends of JNF Australia, highlighting their role in the development of Israel.
The culmination of the visit will take place in the presence of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and visiting Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on October 31, which is ANZAC Day. The event will include a re-enactment of the ANZAC Mounted Cavalry charge to conquer Beersheba and a grand ceremony dedicating the ANZAC Memorial Center in Beersheba built with the support of JNF Australia. The new museum will tell the stories of the valiant soldiers who took part in the battle to wrest the land of Israel from the hands of the Turks during World War I.
On the first day of the Australian delegation’s visit, a central ceremony took place at Tzemah, the site where the ANZAC soldiers fought and ultimately conquered in September 1918. At the time, Tzemah was a base for the Turkish-German army and a focus of the battles between the Turkish and British soldiers, due to the site’s importance as a road and train junction. On September 25, 1918, the battle for Tzemah was waged, during which the town and the railroad stations were captured by the Australian Light Horse Brigade of the British Army.
“We are walking in the footsteps of the soldiers and honoring their victories in the important battles in the fight for the land of Israel,” said Peter Smaller, the President of JNF Australia. “All along the way, we are paying our respects to the brave soldiers who fought here, some of whom paid with their lives. The different stations along the ANZAC trail tell the story of these brave men for future generations.”
The Australian Ambassador to Israel, Chris Cannan, represented the Australian government at the ceremony. “Australian’s involvement in this region, in the past and at the present time, is one of the reasons that Australia is appreciated by its friends throughout the world,” the Ambassador said.
In his remarks, the Ambassador noted the significant contribution made by the ANZAC fighters of Aborigine origin, who fought shoulder to shoulder with the other soldiers, were victorious together with them and fell together with them, but until today were not given proper recognition.
Major General Dave Chalmers, representative of the Department of Veteran Affairs, also emphasized that “the time has come to recognize the contribution of the Aboriginal soldiers.”
“The ANZAC victory paved the way for the Balfour Declaration, and eventually for the founding of the State of Israel,” said Dr. Omri Boneh, KKL-JNF Northern Region Director. “KKL-JNF was already active in this region at that time, purchasing land. Since then and until today, KKL-JNF has been working at developing agriculture, water resources and communities in regions far away from Israel’s center,” he said.
The ceremony was moderated by KKL-JNF Chief of Protocol Andy Michelson. Michelson, who is of Australian origin, came wearing an Australian bush hat and said that “this is an event that happens only once in a hundred years, and I hope that my grandchildren will be privileged to take place in a similar ceremony then.”
Barry Rodgers, Director of the Australian Light Horse Association, led a group of about 180 people – many of them descendants of the original ANZAC soldiers – who came to march in the footsteps of the ANZAC soldiers in the land of Israel. In his remarks, he emphasized the part played by the horses who participated in the battles. “The horses and the cavalry soldiers fought together and fell together,” he said.
One of the most moving moments during the ceremony in Tzemah was a horse riding demonstration of the Australian cavalry. The riders were led by 73 year-old Tom Charles, who served in the Australian mounted battalion in 1986. Of course, horses were no longer in service at that time, but the name of the battalion was preserved. “It’s important for me to remember the history and the heritage of the original riders, and to honor their courage,” he said.
Charles described the battle for Tzemah to the audience. The Tzemah station was a strategic point at an important junction, and the Turkish soldiers at the site were backed up by German soldiers who were equipped with machine guns. The task of conquering the train station was assigned to the Fourth Light Horse Brigade of the Australian Cavalry Division. By the light of the moon, the Australian forces advanced from the south, riding on their horses.
Under the heavy fire of the machine guns, the light riders drew their swords and charged. They arrived at a gallop, leaped off their horses and battled the Turkish and German forces face-to-face battle with bayonetted rifles and swords. One hundred soldiers were killed on the Turkish-German side, and many more were injured. The Australians took 365 soldiers into captivity. Nineteen Australian light riders were killed, 64 were wounded, and about half of the Australian horses were also killed.
A number of years ago, the site was restored and a visitor’s center built. A memorial honoring the ANZAC soldiers who fought there and those who lost their lives was dedicated during the ceremony. After the unveiling, representatives placed wreaths next to the memorial.
Members of the JNF Australia delegation visited the old railroad station in Tzemah. The Ottoman station, whose construction began in 1905, was a cornerstone of settlement in the Jordan Valley. A few years ago, a visitor’s center was dedicated at the site, which is under the jurisdiction of the Kinneret Academic College. Professor Shimon Gefstein, the President of the College, spoke about the academic institution, where over 4,000 students study. “Our mission is to make higher education accessible to people living faraway from Israel’s central region,” he said.
At the end of the ceremony, the plaque listing the names of the fallen and detailing the story of the battle was unveiled, and a tree was planted in memory of the brave ANZAC.


10 Responses to “ANZAC Centenary Mission traces the footsteps of the soldiers from the Jordan Valley to Beersheba”
  1. Adrian Jackson says:

    Sir Thomas Blamey is still referred to as General Blamey in most instances, particularly by the old soldiers who served under him in WW2, including my still living uncle who is now aged 94.

    Incidentally his twin brother, my father, is still alive but he worked at Fisherman’s Bend aeroplane factory during WW2.

  2. Adrian Jackson says:

    Good points David Deasey until we come to the bit about Field Marshal rank.

    This rank is not a honour like a knighthood which both Chauvel and Monash were awarded.

    Ranks are used because of the size of the unit or formation the officer commands. Chauvel, like Monash, were corps commander.

    Chauvel by 1918 commanded a corp of 3 division plus and the rank for a corps commanded is Lieutenant General.

    Incidentally a division is commanded by the lower rank of Major General.

    Monash by 1918 commander a corps on the western front of 5 division however this was 4 division short of an army of 9 divisions or 3 Corps. An army is commanded by a General.

    A field marshal commands 3 or more armies and Australia has never had a formation large enough to warrant field marshal rank not even during WW1 or WW2.

    General Blamey was promoted to Field Marshal on his death bed in the early 1950’s but that was wrong too as he would out rank the then Chief of the General Staff (Now Chief of Army).

    Finally dead or dying retired officers command nothing.

    Regards, Adrian Jackson (Australian Regular Army Infantry Officer 1972-95)

    • David Deasey says:

      I have followed your thoughts on this over the years. It appears at first glance completely reasonable. However some facts to chew on
      1. Field Marshal is an award in the Honours list and is the prerogative of the Sovereign. It is not a promotion by the War Office or MOD
      2. General Rudolph Lambart’s 10th British army in 1918 was just 5 divisions. He was promoted FM

      • Adrian Jackson says:

        However we are talking about Australia here not Great Britain (ie) War Office, MOD even in 1914-18.

        The six British colonies (now states) became the Commonwealth of Australia on 01 Jan 1901 with the parliament given powers to raise a defence force and manage external (foreign) affairs and trade.

        I assume the British General was alive then but even so the UK got it wrong too in my view and besides it is now 2017 not 1918.

        • David Deasey says:

          The British general was promoted in retirement at age 70. Since Monash and Chauvel operated in the same period the same rules apply. In terms of Australia the only change is that the PM recommends the step to the GG. Incidentally being appointed FM on the retired list immediately returned the new FM to the active list for life

          • Adrian Jackson says:

            Yes I looked up the British General on Wikipedia and he was promoted Field Marshal in the early 1930’s and died a decade later.

            However Chauvel and Monash were not promoted during their service to Field Marshal, be it during WW1 or on their deaths in the 1940’s and 1930’s respectively.

  3. Adrian Jackson says:

    Stop using the word “cavalry”. Australia has never had any regular cavalry units. The Australian troops were mounted infantry.

    Old fashion cavalry units, a relic from the Napoleonic era, carried sabres and lances while the 1st AIF mounted soldier advanced to contact with their long bayonets draw and their 303 rifles slung over there shoulder.

    While the light horse regiments on reaching the Beersheba defensive position saw some moving through the Ottoman positions to capture the rear areas whilst mounted, others dismounted, as is the norm for mounted infantry, and fought on foot as infantry of the era did.

    • David Deasey says:

      Have to agree with Adrian on this one. It is important to get the names of the unit correct. The title is Australian Mounted Division. However they were not mounted infantry as such but mounted rifles which was a fundamentally different concept. For this reason when Sir Edward Hutton formed the Australian Army in 1903 he used the term Light Horse to describe all the mounted units some which were cavalry but all were required to conform to Light Horse specifications. The fundamental difference between MI and MR or LH being that Mounted infantry are organised as Infantry units and are transported by horse from point A to B to do a job. Light Horse carry out all the Cavalry functions including Long range recon and deep penetration but are not normally equipped to carry out charges with steel which is what makes Beersheba unique. Following Beersheba the Australian Mounted became completely equipped with swords and used them a la cavalry including at Tzemah. The ANZAC Mounted remained without them. LH also have the additional problem in that they are only about half the size of an Infantry unit therefore do not have the endurance on the battlefield-over commit them and you lose the asset. Incidentally the Aust Mounted at this point had 3,4, and 5 ALH brigades with the 5th having 2 ALH Regiments and a French regiment of cavalry (Spahis and Chasseurs) The other points to make that Australia, apart from artillery,had no regular regiments until post WW2. There were however Militia Cavalry Regiments as well as LH but they all had to conform to Light Horse standards. ALH would have taken exception to being called ‘Mounted Infantry’

  4. David Deasey says:

    Mea Culpa I should have said James Loynes

  5. David Deasey says:

    It is unfortunate that the way Ahuva Bar-Lev expresses the Australian involvement that no one would realise the scale of Australia’s undertaking in World War 1. The village was captured by just 2 Squadrons from the 11th Australian Light Horse Regiment under the command of Major Joseph Loynes a Boer War Veteran nearly 60 years of age. The 11th was part of the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade (the Beersheba Charge Brigade) from the Australian Mounted Division one of the two ANZAC Mounted Divisions in operation. Together with 2 Indian Cavalry Divisions, a wheeled reconnaisance Regiment, an Indian Infantry Brigade, 2 West Indian Battalions, and finally 2 Jewish battalions they constituted the Desert Mounted Corps under the Australian Lt Gen Sir Harry Chauvel. This was one third of the British combat power.
    To describe it as the Australian Light Horse Brigade of the British Army doesn’t do the effort justice and shows how real knowledge is disappearing. This is one reason why there are now moves afoot to have Sir Harry Chauvel elevated posthumously to Field Marshal along with Sir John Monash. The Australian effort is in danger of being reduced in history to a few heroic acts under the amorphous shadow of ‘British Army’

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