As it is now 100 years since the taking of the land of Palestine from the Turks, I thought you may be interested in a few facts regarding the capture of Beersheba by the Allied forces in 1917.

My grandfather was one of the Light Horsemen during that period, and also, at some stage of the war, was part of the Camel Corp that fought with Lawrence of Arabia.

As a young boy he told me stories about those times and their huge horses, known as ‘whales’ which were bred on Australian outback stations, having enormous strength and endurance. Unfortunately, not being brought up a Christadelphian, I had no idea at that time of the Biblical significance of these events.

The Turks and Germans had a defence line from Gaza, across the southern part of Palestine, including Beersheba,which made it very difficult for the Allied forces, attacking from Egypt in the south. They had to travel several days through the desert to reach this line, with no water available on the way so that it all had to be brought with them.

Gaza had previously been attacked in March 1917, by the Allied forces, and the light horsemen fought their way into the city late in the evening, only to be told, to their utter astonishment, to retreat. The incompetent British General hadn’t realised they had entered Gaza, and ordered them out. Later it was discovered that the Turks were going to surrender the next morning. Another assault was made on the town in April, but the Turks and Germans were better prepared and so it failed with very heavy loss of Allied lives.

In the middle of 1917 General Allenby replaced General Murray and was instructed to take Jerusalem by Christmas. He decided that they would come through the line at Beersheba. is was the key, along with the precious water wells at Beersheba, for the taking of Jerusalem.

However, it was the boast of the German engineers that the redoubts between Gaza and Beersheba were impregnable and it was ridiculous to imagine that mounted troops could manoeuvre, attack and destroy the infantry redoubts surrounding Beersheba. All the Turks had to do was hold off an attack for one or two days, and the merciless desert sun would do the rest.

Despite the combined forces of British, Australian & New Zealand, Beersheba could not be taken. The Generals were desperate: 50,000 British infantries with tank support had been driven back into the desert. With the sun about to set and no water for many miles, disaster stared them squarely in the face. The British were in urgent need of 400,000 gallons of water for men and horses and Beersheba HAD to be won by nightfall at all costs.

The Australian Light Horse commander was ordered to storm Beersheba. They had to cross 5000 metres of open ground straight into the face of massed Turkish guns – this sounded like a recipe for disaster. The light horsemen were not cavalry. They were mounted infantry. They normally would ride to within rifle range, dismount and fight on foot. The defenders knew this and watched as they began first at a canter then at a full gallop. The Turks waited for them to dismount, but they just kept coming at full gallop. The onslaught had a devastating effect on the Turks. They were almost awestruck, finding it difficult to aim their guns to match the speed of the charge.

The 800 horsemen continued, jumping the trenches, with some soldiers overpowering the Turkish defenders, while others continued on into the town. Five of the seven wells had been blown up the night before and the remaining two had been prepared for demolition. The troops arrived just before the wicks had been fired. Mines were everywhere. Luckily most of the wires had not been attached to the detonators, due to the absence of the German engineer who had laid them.

The rest is history. Allenby went on to take Jerusalem and free Palestine from the Turks, but as one Israeli later said, had Beersheba not been taken that day, we Israelis may not be here today!