[Editor: This letter, written by an unknown member of the Australian Light Horse, regarding the Battle of Beersheba (1917), which took place during the First World War (1914-1918), appeared in the “Aspects of the War” section of Australian Town & Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), 10 April 1918.]
Australian Light Horse.
At capture of Beersheba.
A member of the Light Horse, who took part in the capture of Beersheba, wrote to his mother at Mudgee the following graphic account of the splendid part taken by the Australian Light Horse:—
We left the beach near Rafa on October 24, and rode south by short night marches down to Asluj, or Raheibe, as they have it on your map, where we arrived on the 29th. Most desolate country round there, great limestone cliffs, and bare hills with water-worn stones on them — if you climb to the top of one of the hills all you can see is miles of more barren hill, stretching away like the waves of the sea. Gives you the blues to look at it. I was on a station on one of the highest of them on the afternoon of the 30th. That night we rode out and arrived at daylight next morning on the north-east side of Beersheba, escorted our guns into action, and shelled, and were shelled most of the day. At sundown we charged the town with fixed bayonets. It was dark when we got in there, and it was a wonderful sight as the Turks blew up and set fire to some of their principal buildings, and then chucked it in and cleared out as we arrived. They did not have time to set fire to their stores properly, so we did pretty well on their tucker.
That night we advanced through the town, and did outpost on the railway station. Next morning we had a look round the town; a great part of the town was mined, so you had to walk circumspectly. There are some fine buildings in Beersheba, also a lot of gum trees, but the country is pretty rotten. Some good wells there. That is how Beersheba gets its name — Bir a well, and Seba is seven. We camped the next night on the flat near the town, and next night (November 2) we rode out 12 miles a little east of north, and attacked the Turks at Tel-el-Kewlfieh on the morning of the 3rd.
A great charge.
That was a bad day for us, and where poor old Dick got his wound. We rode back to Beersheba again that night. I went and saw Dick in the hospital next morning, and Bill went to hospital with his wound. Dick died next night, and was buried in Beersheba on November 6. On the next night we rode out again due north, and took over an outpost line. At daylight the Turks opened on us from the right flank, but we rode forward, keeping to the left to where we could hear a tremendous battle going on — our infantry taking Sharia. About 10 o’clock we came to open country and the railway, and started to charge up along it. It must have been a wonderful sight. I believe there were three brigades of us in troops, all charging at the gallop, but of course one did not have time to see much of it. We charged up along the railway for about four miles, and took a huge ammunition dump — about four acres in size, and made up of gun and rifle ammunition, must have been millions of rounds. In the evening we galloped on again a couple of miles past a Turkish tent hospital, but withdrew after dark, and did outpost at the ammunition dump. Next day we pushed up along the line again. Saw 27 of our ’planes going out all in a bunch to bomb the Turks. In the afternoon we were relieved, and rode back to near the dump, then away in W.N.W. to a beautiful orchard and camped by a big pumping station — which they said was the Gaza water supply. In the engine house were some Turkish engineers, who had not had time to get away. We spoke to one of these in English-Arabic, and were surprised when he answered us in real good American. He had been an engineer in New York before the war, and was not a bad chap, and kept the engines going for us all night to water.
Next morning (9th) we rode on W.N.W., and passed many guns and much transport that the Turks had abandoned. In one place we saw 26 waggons, with from four to six mules in each, all drawn up together, and all the mules dead in their harness. At first we thought they had been gassed, but the Turks had shot each one themselves to stop us getting them, but we used their waggons as a lot of ours had been destroyed at Beersheba. At dinner time we arrived at a big village called Medjel, near Askalan, after crossing a couple of Turkish railways which they had running in from Gaza.
We watered our horses, then rode on towards Esdud (or Ashdod, as it is on your map). About dark we struck a little trouble, so formed an outpost there for the night. Next morning the Turks threw big stuff at us, so we advanced into Esdud and our battery got to work. We spent a couple of days there on outpost, rather hungry days, too. On the afternoon of the 12th we attacked the Turks in their position at Burka, about two miles north-east of Esdud. We were on the left flank, and we had a wonderful view of the infantry going into action — marching across the flat in perfect lines with the shrapnel bursting over them, and our guns shelling over the top of them. They were Scotties, and are equal to Australians!
We were relieved at dark and came back for a 48 hours’ spell — camped that night a little south of Esdud; next morning rode over to beach, but had only just got into camp there when we were ordered out again as the Turks were on the run. We rode north and camped that night at Yebna. Next morning (14th) we rode towards Ramleh. Half-way there we came to an orange grove, with the trees just laden. Did not we have a feed! A little further on there was a village, also some Turkish shells, so while our battery got busy we went into the village and watered our horses and had a look round. We thought that village was something most wonderful after the Bedouin villages we had been accustomed to. Its name is Ras Duran, and it is a Jewish colony. It is built on a hill — has white houses and red tiled roofs, and wide, clean streets, with gum trees and wattle in bloom in them. I found a man who spoke French and who could understand “my” French. He told me all about the people living round about, and about the Turks, and where they were retiring to, and about some of our prisoners, whom he had seen going through a few days before. He said the Turks were treating them very well, and I think he was reliable, as most of the other things he told me were true. He was able to tell us later French war news than we knew, and it was right, too.
As we had been on biscuits for some time we tried to buy bread from the people — they thought we must be hungry, and all wanted us to come and have a meal with them — but we managed to make them understand, and like sensible people they went off home and baked us a lot of bread, and in the evening we were able to buy brown bread and grape jam from them, and they took our Egyptian notes and changed them, a thing none of the niggers will do even yet. They also had wine for sale; and do you know, there was a West Australian lady there, wife of an American fruitgrower. America is not at war with Turkey yet, is she?
A pretty town.
Ras Duran is the prettiest place I have ever seen, I think, it has a big synagogue right on top of the hill, and all the people wear European clothes and look so clean, and there are some awfully pretty girls there, like Australian ones, it quite worried us looking so dirty and unshaven there. That night we rode through the town, and did outpost in a big vineyard. I noticed that the Turks shelled Duran while we were in there — a thing they never did to any of the Mohammedan villages — however, it was only mountain batteries, and did not do any damage. Next day (15th), I set up a station with an observation post in a huge orchard, and I could see orchards, vineyards, and orange groves for miles round me — most beautiful country. About dinner time we started for Ramleh. I was with “C” Squadron, and rode beside Trooper Walter Webb, from Narromine. I did not see much of Ramleh as we went straight through and on to the village of Ludd, a couple of miles further up the line. I smelt Ramleh more than saw it, as there were a lot of dead Turkish horses there, which they had skinned, but there were some old ruins there, and the people lined the streets and cheered us, but they were a rotten looking lot.
When we got to Ludd the other two squadrons were out ahead of us rounding up Turks. They got about 360 of them, and four machine guns, but as they were coming in the Turks shelled them, killing a lot of their own men and wounding some of ours. Other regiments captured motor cars, aeroplanes, and all sorts of valuable gear at the Turkish camp near there. That evening I rode round the village looking for horse feed, which had been commandeered. After Duran Ludd was awful — most filthy place in the world. There are the remains of what look like a Roman wall round the town, and there is a convent there with a clock and bells that ring the chimes, but I would like to have seen the whole village and the people in it blotted right out. I can quite understand the Crusaders putting everyone to the sword, and killing young and old, they were such a filthy lot, and the flies were awful.
We did outpost along the railway line that night, and rode along the Roman road towards Jaffa next day for about four miles. That was November 16.
We spent the next few days doing outposts and moving on from village to village until we got into the suburbs of Jaffa or near to them. The Turks had cleared most of the people out of Jaffa, and it was very interesting to see them all coming back again with all their goods and chattels, and some very nice looking people they were, too. The last outpost we did, it rained most of the night, and our squadron headquarters was by an engine shed of a pumping station. There were some refugees living in there, and they asked us in; so the O.C. and we signallers went in. They were very nice, and boiled our billies for us, and we slept one side of the engine and they the other. There were two women and a lot of children, one baby cried most of the night, but we slept warm and dry, and that was the main thing.
That morning (21st), we rode back for a spell, camped the night at Yebna, and came on to here, a little south of Esdud, where we still are, and expect to go back to-morrow.
Australian Town & Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), 10 April 1918, p. 40
Beersheba = a city in Israel
billies = plural of “billy”; a billy was a metal pot or tin (usually with a wire or steel handle), used for boiling water over a camp fire (also known as a “billy can”)
blue = depressed, sad; to have “the blues” is to feel very down or low in spirit
chucked it in = gave up; stopped working; left a job; abandoned, quit, or withdrew from a task, job, project, situation, or way of life
cleared out = departed, left, moved; cleared off, ran away, went away
O.C. = Officer Commanding
’plane = an abbreviation of “aeroplane” or “airplane”
relieved = to have one’s military position, post, role, or task taken over by another person or unit; to have military assistance or reinforcements arrive at a besieged position or place; military assistance which lifts a siege
Scotties = Scottish people
tucker = food
waggon = an archaic spelling of “wagon”
W.N.W. = West-North-West