Author(s): David Cameron
The Turkish Gaza-Beersheba line extended for 40 kilometres between the Turkish bastion of Gaza and the heavily fortified town of Beersheba, and stopped any Allied advance into Palestine proper. It needed to be breached, and Beersheba - on the eastern flank of this line - became the scene of the historic charge by the Australian Light Horse on 31 October 1917 - one of the last successful cavalry charges in history.
After two failed attempts to attack Gaza, Allied forces decided to outflank it by turning the Turkish line at Beersheba. The attack was launched at dawn on 31 October but by late afternoon the British 20 Infantry Corps had made little headway towards the town and its vital wells. The Australian Lieutenant, General Harry Chauvel, commanding the Desert Mounted Corps, ordered the 4th Light Horse Brigade forward to attempt to secure the position.
Australian Brigadier William Grant responded by ordering troopers of the 4th and 12th regiments to charge at the Turkish trenches, using their bayonets as 'swords', and the momentum of the surprise attack carried them through the Turkish defences. The water supplies were saved and over 1000 Turkish prisoners taken.The fall of Beersheba opened the way for a general outflanking of the Gaza-Beersheba Line, and within months enabled the capture of Jerusalem.
Drawing from first-hand accounts, David Cameron pieces together how this important battle unfolded and captures the courage and strategic brilliance of the Australian Light Horse - and the significance of this victory in the broader context of the Great War.
David W. Cameron received his PhD in biological anthropology in 1995 at the Australian National University and is a former Australian Research Council QEII Fellow at the Department of Anatomy & Histology, University of Sydney. He has conducted fieldwork in Australia, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. He is the author of several books on Australian military history and primate evolutionary biology and has published over 60 papers in internationally peer-reviewed journals. He lives in Canberra.