[Editor: This article by Captain Cyril Smith, of the Australian Light Horse, regarding the Battle of Beersheba (1917), which took place during the First World War (1914-1918), was published in The Western Mail (Perth, WA), 1 November 1934.]
(By Captain Cyril Smith, 4th Light Horse, Melbourne.)
“But, as this and many other campaigns proved again and again, the Ottoman rank and file will fight doggedly and dangerously under incredibly bad conditions. The defending army between the sea and Beersheba was, with all its disabilities, still formidable….” Official History of Australia in the War. Vol. VII. (Gullett).
In the middle of 1917, General Allenby took command of this theatre of war and immediately adopted a vigorous policy. The battle of Romani (May, 1916) and the first and second battles of Gaza (March and April, 1917) had already been fought; the third battle of Gaza occurred on November 7, 1917.
Lieut.-Colonel R. M. P. Preston (England) in “The Desert Mounted Corps” wrote: “When General Allenby arrived in Egypt in June, 1917, and assumed command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, British prestige in the East was at a very low ebb. The evacuation of Gallipoli in December, 1915, followed by the fall of Kut el Amara four months later, and by our two unsuccessful attacks on Gaza in the spring of the following year, had invested the Turkish arms with a legend of invincibility which was spreading rapidly in all Moslem countries. For the first time in seven centuries, sang the journalistic bards of Stamboul, the followers of Islam had triumphed over the Infidel; Allah was leading the Faithful to victory; the Empire of the Moslems was at hand … Thus, both for the purpose of re-establishing our waning prestige in the East, and of silencing the mischievous agitation at home, it was imperative that a signal defeat should be inflicted on the Turks as soon as possible. The capture of Jerusalem, which city ranks only after Mecca and Stamboul among the holy places of Islam, would set a fitting seal upon such a defeat, and would be certain to create a profound impression upon Moslems the world over.”
General Allenby issued his operation order on October 22, and the XX Corps under General Chetwode, as the Official History says:— “Was to strike at Beersheba from the south-west, while Chauvel, with two divisions of Desert Mounted Corps, was to assault the town from the east and north-east. This combined assault was to take place on October 31 … A fleet of small craft appeared off Belah in view of the Turks, and a body of British infantry was marched towards the beach just before nightfall. At dawn next morning, the battleships opened a bombardment off the mouth of Hesi, and the fleet of small craft had disappeared from Belah. The enemy’s belief that Gaza was to be the scene of the real attack might well have been strengthened by this pretty game of bluff.” Additional to this, action was taken to ensure that reinforcements did not arrive from Syria.
General Chauvel moved off on his difficult task, and it was known to him and all senior commanders that the G.O.C. had planned for and insisted on the capture of Beersheba on the first day of the offensive. His would be a problem of water for men and horses, and when in position they had to be in a fit state to fight and fight hard. The water problem even in an hospitable country is serious, but it will be realised what it means in such a country as this when it is remembered that three regiments make a brigade, and several brigades make a division. Each of these units has its quota of artillery, engineers, supply, medical and other services essential to its maintenance and effectiveness. Two divisions comprised Chauvel’s command, the Anzac and Australian Mounted Divisions.
Captain Jack Payte, who was second in command of “B” squadron, 4th Light Horse, says that the men and horses were in good trim, the morale had never been better, and everyone was in optimistic spirits; the coming of Allenby as G.O.C. had been a big factor. There had been considerable efforts through reconnaissance to show to the Turks the Australian troops in the vicinity. Thus the Aussies were constantly operating both in small and large numbers. Therefore, the enemy was led to believe that their presence was not a prelude to an attack. These operations were in the vicinity of Tel el Fara, that man-made mountain which was a relic of Crusader days.
Jim French (of Maffra) says that he had not been back long from leave at Port Said when rumour had it that a stunt was imminent. “We soon got rid of all unnecessary equipment; I remember this part of the business, for I was acting as S.Q.M.S.”
There was only one route which could be taken, and the third week in October saw this huge force of mounted Australians, New Zealanders and Imperial troops moving forward. They passed near the Waddi Ghuzzi, past Esani to Khalasa, fourteen miles south-west of Beersheba, where they stayed for a day or two. Then they set off in earnest and marched to a point sixteen miles directly south of Beersheba, Asluj.
We will let French tell his story. “We were told that Beersheba was our objective. I remember Alex. Wilson (R.S.M.) remarking that he was sure there was a bullet for him at Beersheba. Lieut. (Jim) Hickey and I discussed the probability of a battle, what my job would be and how long the ammunition would last, and how we would get fresh supplies into the firing line. Little we knew what kind of battle it was to be, but still we had to talk, we were all keen, and it passed many a long hour. After sundown, we halted near Asluj. The order was no smoking, no fires, and therefore, no tea. I was able to light my pipe under a greatcoat, and keep it smothered, but the poor cigarette smoker had no hope. We moved again. The night was dark and dusty and we marched in column of route. The dust from the horses ahead blotted out everything. Dawn broke somewhere out behind Beersheba. We looked a strange sight; every face was thickly covered with grey dust, making each man look like the next. I addressed Padre Weir (now Archdeacon, Warragul) as Bill, taking him for a trooper under his mantle of dust. About 9 a.m. we halted, merely stopped in our tracks, and we wondered for how long, as we had visions of a cup of tea. With a few pieces of deal (we always carried wood if we could get it) I managed to get the quart pot boiling and was one of the few who tasted tea that day.”
This was the fateful day — the last day in October of ’17, but the first day of the battle — the day when the first phase was to be fought and had to be won. And one following a night in the saddle over exceedingly rough country.
The Official Historian says:— “But Chauvel could have no misgivings about the capacity of his troops. In the sheer quality of their grand young manhood, in their brigade and regimental leadership, in their experience gained over eighteen months’ hard fighting in all sorts of rough conditions, the men of the 1st and 2nd Light Horse Brigades and the New Zealand Brigade were then without peer among mounted troops engaged anywhere in the war. Of the Australian Mounted Division, the men of the 3rd Light Horse were veterans like the Anzacs; and the Yeomanry of the 5th Mounted Brigade, if their performance in Sinai had not been altogether satisfactory, were now, under sound leadership, to be counted as first-class British cavalry. The 4th Light Horse Brigade had fought convincingly at the second Gaza engagement.
“Both the 3rd and 4th Brigades were under new leaders. Meredith, who had commanded the 1st Brigade with so much distinction in its critical fight at Romani, and had afterwards led the 4th, had been invalided home to Australia, and was succeeded by William Grant, of the 11th Regiment. The new brigadier, like so many of Australia’s commanders in the war, was a Queenslander. A surveyor and pastoralist from Darling Downs, he had learned on the wide plains that bush craft which made him famous in Sinai as a guide on night marches over the maze of sand-dunes. Somewhat more excitable and impulsive than most of the light horse leaders, Grant possessed the temperament for the exploit to be narrated later, which was to give lasting distinction to his name.”
The attack commenced, and the defenders with determination resisted the onslaught. The heat was intense, the din rose and fell, and men became more and more tired. But how little does the man in the ranks know of what is really happening? F. D. Davidson in his book “The Wells of Beersheba” (Angus and Robertson) tells of it in this way:— “Men breakfasted hastily, standing; chewing biscuit and bully. The order to mount and advance might come at any moment. A sparing mouthful was drunk from water-bottles. There was no water for the horses, although an inquiring whinny came from their patient line. There was corn, eaten with saddles still on and with bitted mouths. The horses, with thirty miles behind them, looked lean, dusty, and hollow in the morning light. Below the edges of the saddle-blankets the dried sweat was caked, a reddish-grey; and wet hair gleamed under the cloths as heads went down to the feed-bags.
“A terrific roll of musketry sounded from the slopes of Tel el Saba, where New Zealanders and Australians, dismounted, stormed entrenched heights. A brigade of light horse debouched from a valley and moved across the plain towards the hills where Hebron-road gleamed whitely. Guns roared at them from the Turkish ridges. Shells flashed in their ranks. Splashes of earth and flame shot up as if the ground were erupting beneath them. Their path was littered with fallen men and horses. They seemed only to crawl across the wide, exposed place; but they were moving at a fast gallop. That faint drumming was the beat of their racing hooves.
“A brigade galloped for the foot of Tel el Sakaty. The guns were on them as they swept along, squadron by squadron. Behind them, riderless horses and horseless men ran about with seeming aimlessness. One wondered why those who lay still did not get up. Everywhere, men and horses moved to their objectives. Wherever they passed columns of red dust rose to stand between earth and sky. The pattering of hooves spread far into the distance, and came back, soft and continuous, like the sound of running water.
“Gun-teams passed at a laboured gallop between hill and hill — little gun-teams dragging toy guns and ridden by little men, crouched with arms as they plied the flaying whips. Little ammunition limbers followed them faithfully, rolling and bounding, with shells bursting in their path. The little guns wheeled into action below the crests of the ridges. The little teams were unhooked and departed for cover at a trot. From the muzzles of the guns tongues of flame, half seen in the bright sunshine, shot out and back. Little men toiled beside the breech-blocks.
“Into the middle distance a regiment galloped. (A hand at arm’s length would have covered most of it.) It stopped. Something took place. Its horses, most of them riderless, turned and were led away at a canter. The field they had occupied was taken by little men running toward the foot of a hill. From the top of the hill came a rally of rifle and machine-gun fire. The little men lay down among the rocks and bushes. They got up and ran forward a short way, then dropped down again. They seemed to have some desperate need of attaining the top of that ridge. Half-way up, they were still dodging and running; but not all of them. There were some who lay still among the rocks and bushes of the lower slopes. They looked as if they had forgotten about the battle.
“The horizon, where it could be seen between the pillars of dust, was dotted with shrapnel bursts — grey cloudlets developing out of bright sparks. They opened like seed-pods and widened until they were soft and loose, like ladies’ powder-puffs; then they floated along, dispersing as they went, and the blue air gave birth to new ones. Beneath them, the earth was being thrashed by a shrill hail of iron. All the hilltops were spouting earth and flames as the shells found their billets. It was like the splashing of water when rocks are thrown into it.”
As yet no progress had been made towards taking the town. Vigorous action was now imperative.
Major A. D. (Skipper) Read (now M.L.A., Young, N.S.W.) gives as his recollection that late in the afternoon the brigadier took the commanding officers and squadron leaders of the 4th, 11th and 12th Light Horse Regiments to headquarters, where they were told that things were not going according to plan. The advance had been held up, and unless Beersheba fell that night, the plan of battle must fail; it was imperative that it should fall before dark. General Grant said that the 4th Brigade (his command, consisting of the 4th, 11th and 12th) would take it if it were left to him to have a free hand. Chauvel asked how he proposed to do it, pointing out that he was responsible, and Grant replied that they should be allowed to act as cavalry and not mounted infantry. Chauvel agreed.
It is appropriate to mention here that Major Norman Rae (now a grazier, near Young) remembers that the commanding officer of the 4th Regiment, Lieut.-Colonel (now Brigadier) Murray W. J. Bourchier (now leader of the Country Party in Victoria) had already asked three questions — had there been any reconnaissance, was anything known of the intervening ground, and was there any wire? The answer was in the negative in each instance.
Skipper Read goes on to tell his story as follows. Squadron leaders were taken to the top of a hill, and told Beersheba was there in the distance about 3½ miles away, that the Anzac Division had been held up all day unable to take it, and that they were to take it in the role of cavalry. It was added that so soon as the troops crossed the hill they would come under artillery fire, and no matter what happened they were to get into the town. The 4th was on one hand and the 12th (under Lieut.-Colonel D. Cameron, N.S.W.) on the other, each squadron in line and in each case “A” squadron was in the lead, with “B” and “C” following, each about 120 yards distant. There was an interval between men. The 11th was kept in reserve.
The situation was that sunset was due at 5 o’clock. Only a few minutes were available to decide the success, or otherwise, of the first phase. And whether men and horses were to be watered. Shock tactics were to decide the fate of the day. Light Horse were being used as cavalry, but they had no swords. Bayonets were drawn by some troops with orders to flash them in the sunlight as they rode.
Starting off at a walk, they broke into a steady canter till about a mile or a mile and a half from the trenches, which were some distance out from Beersheba itself. Then they galloped. The men had been told that it was believed that trenches existed, but it was not known whether they were numerous, deep, and so on. The dust which had arisen from the pounding of thousands of hooves was now bad, and it was hard in the following squadrons to see beyond one’s horse’s ears; the only guide for direction was the minarets of the mosques in the town. A big percentage of “A” squadron went straight over the trenches, some dismounted and attacked with rifle and bayonet. One troop ran into a machine gun redoubt and lost heavily. But the dust left little to be seen of what was happening elsewhere. Troops in the dust took trenches in their stride, and did not know they had passed them. That they had covered the intervening ground was realised only when in the outskirts of the town. They were surprised the next day to see the ground they had covered, and the thought uppermost in men’s minds was expressed by General Hodgson, who exclaimed: “How the Hell you got over, I don’t know.” The artillery fire which they had ridden through no longer gapped the ranks, but the rifle fire now took its toll. A horse would rear and fall. A rider would drop out of the saddle and lie inert. But on and on the horses raced, straining to get ahead of their fellows, maintaining a surprising speed which individually they could not have done. The spirit of the thing had entered into them; and they were carrying a load up to twenty stone in weight. Though they did not know it, they would be rewarded with water if the attack was successful. The shouts and cooees of the riding men added to the excitement and din. Suddenly the rifle fire caused no casualties — this was explained afterwards when the captured rifles were seen to be sighted at 1,600 yards, permitting the attackers to ride in under the bullets’ trajectory.
Now in the town, this group of men chased and captured a fleeing field gun that went after an escaping bunch of dishevelled infantry; others tried to quell the firing from the streets. It was over and it was dark. Shock tactics had decided the day! A momentous cavalry exploit had been added to military history.
The enemy, on seeing the fierceness of the attack, blew up ammunition dumps and wells. The railway station was set on fire. The curling black smoke drifting towards the attackers was incorrectly believed by some to be poison gas. There was much indiscriminate shooting when the town was entered, but there was an outstanding figure, calm and alone. He was the commander of the 4th Regiment, whose bravery and imperturbability did much to bring about quiet and order. The doings of Bourchier’s force which operated in the immediately succeeding days is another story. A trooper in ‘“A” squadron, 4th Regiment, has vivid recollections of the charge. This is his story:
“At a slow trot for half a mile or so, and a squadron of what we find out later, is the 12th Regiment, joins up on our left; thus there are now two squadrons in line extended to about 2-3 paces. The pace is getting hotter, and Jacko (The Turk) realises that there is something doing. We can hear his rifle and machine-gun fire, but it does not seem to be coming anywhere near us. I have a hazy recollection of a plane badly missing us with bombs. Healy of ‘C ‘troop, ‘A’ squadron, is about 50 yards in front, acting as ground scout. Getting fairly close now, and we realise that this is going to be serious and think about barbed-wire. We can feel the concussion of the fire in our faces, but not a man or horse seems to have been hit. I got my head well down on old ‘Jerry’s’ neck, and was doing some mighty deep thinking. Next to me Johnson’s horse gets it through the head, and Johnson takes a tumble. We are among a succession of shallow pits full of Turks, and ‘Jerry’ and I barge through one of these before we can pull up. Wickham, with the Hotchkiss gun pack horse follows me, and Wickham is killed.
I have neither seen nor heard any order to dismount, but Lieut. Ben Meredith, our troop leader, is off his horse, so I do likewise. He hands his reins over to me and turns with his revolver on one of these pits full of Turks. They throw up their hands at once, but as he turns away one of them picks up his rifle and shoots him in the back. Corporal Cliff Whelans is down shot through the side. There seem to be Turks everywhere, but they seem bewildered, and few of them are putting up any sort of a fight. “Jerry” annoys me considerably by looking for grass to eat. Bombs make a hell of a noise, but don’t seem to do much damage. We catch up to the rest of the troop before reaching the town near the railway station, which is very shortly in flames and a railway engine goes skywards. Turks seem completely demoralised and prisoners are roaming around as they please. Watkins and myself are sent up the minaret of the mosque to see if any snipers are up there. Thank God there are not! Loughman and I decide to go back to see if we can do anything for Whelans, who was hit where we dismounted. It is dark now, but we eventually find him. He is in a bad way, and died at El Arish on his way to hospital. We cannot locate our squadron when we get back to the town, but join up with a couple of 3rd Brigade machine-gunners, and decide to spend the night with them and find our own crowd in the morning. We collected about 30 odd prisoners before reaching their position about a mile or more up the Hebron Road. We discovered our own squadron about half a mile away the next morning, and learnt we were posted missing. Advance parties of the 60th Division were coming in. We visited the scene of the previous night’s excitement and looked up an old acquaintance in the shape of a bald-headed Turk I had met the previous night. The man who shot Ben Meredith! I saw a dead Turk with his hand held up over his head. Some wag had put a piece of paper in his hand bearing the words “Gib it backsheesh.” I would like to mention the incident of Corporal Alec Cotter as he told it to me. His horse was shot as we reached the Turks, and he was pinned by one leg underneath. He and a Turk had a private duel, firing five shots at each other in rotation. Cotter won. Cotter was accidentally killed playing football last year. The irony of fate.” His namesake, the international fast bowler, was killed at the earthworks, as a member of the 12th L.H. Of him it has been said that he acted as a man without fear.
Prisoners were rounded up and counted, and it was found (according to Preston) that the Light Horse had captured 1,200 as well as 14 guns. Including those taken by the Infantry, about 2,000 prisoners in all were taken and over 500 Turkish corpses were buried on the battlefield. The casualties in the two Light Horse Regiments which made the charge were 32 killed and 32 wounded, which may be considered remarkably light, in view of the strength of the enemy.
Preston sums up the achievement as follows: “General Grant’s action forms a notable landmark in the history of cavalry, in that it initiated that spirit of dash which thereafter dominated the whole campaign. When he received the orders for the attack, he had to consider that the enemy was known to be in strength, well posted in trenches, and adequately supplied with guns and machine guns. In order to reach the town itself, it would be necessary to cross the Wadi Saba, of unknown depth, and, possibly, with precipitous banks. The character of the intervening country was known only in so far as it has been revealed by field glasses. It was not even certain that there was no wire in front of the enemy’s position. On the other hand, the town had to be in our hands before nightfall, or the whole plan failed. He weighed the chances, and made up his mind instantly to risk all in a charge, and the success he achieved surprised even the most ardent votaries of the white arm.”
What do men, taken at random, remember as being outstanding on such a notable occasion? Jack Cantwell, of Yarram, recalls that an officer had a pot shot with his revolver at a mangy dog when galloping past. Bert (Papa) Newell has vivid recollections of the squelch when his horse put his foot on the stomach of a dead Turk. Bill Todd, a big fellow well over six feet in height, joined his pals in the town riding a donkey. One man recalls he lost his hat in the charge. A. S. (Phil) Moon (bank clerk) is bitter as to the treachery of the Turk who put up his hands in surrender, then shot Lieut. Ben Meredith — his troop officer. Moon shot the Turk.
It emerges in conversation with survivors that it was certain that the Turk never contemplated hand to hand fighting, as those who carried bombs had them wired to their belts. Men ask themselves what would have been the position if the Aussies had been in defence and the Turks as attackers. They are certain the town would not have fallen. It was badly defended, though strongly garrisoned — the troops were badly used and wire could have been placed effectively. One said: “It should never be forgotten that there was an absence of covering fire from our artillery during this attack.”
Allan Murray (Land Tax Department) had the post-war job of mapping the area for the Official History, and to yarn with him regarding his efforts to reconstruct the battle is interesting. Alex. Wilson, who had ridden over to Farrier Sergeant Bulger Williams (from Traralgon, his home town) as soon as the move began was found dead at a trench, sitting astride his horse. His premonition had been fulfilled.
What a strange supper that night by the camp fires in Beersheba! Budapest tinned horse and black Turkish bread for the men while the horses munched Turkish barley.
Later on, the horses that took part in this charge were to go without water for sixty hours.
Additional to the men mentioned, who can one think of now? Major “Vicar” Lawson (Rupanyup) so-called because he came from Wakefield, Major Jack Parkin (Kingston), Frank Phillips and Ewen Cameron (both Lieutenants) of the Lands Department, Syd. Vialls in the orchestra at the Capitol Theatre, Lieut. Tom Murray, a baker in Geelong, and another subaltern in Len. Gooding of South Melbourne. Men who made history!
And this was in the Biblical land which once was flowing with milk and honey.
The Western Mail (Perth, WA), 1 November 1934, p. 4
The sentence “I addressed Padre Weir (now Archdeacon, Warragul) as Bill, taking him for a trooper under his mantle of dust” refers to the practice of referring to unknown Australians as “Bill” or “Jim”, being two common Australian names, which led to the name “Bill-jim” being generally used for Australians.
Alex. = an abbreviation of the name “Alexander”
Allenby = Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby (1861-1936), 1st Viscount Allenby, a British general who commanded British and Commonwealth forces during the First World War (1914-1918); he was promoted to the rank of Field Marshall in 1919
See: “Edmund Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby”, Wikipedia
Anzac =  a member of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), which fought during World War One (1914-1918), especially known for its involvement in the Gallipoli Campaign
Anzac =  the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), which fought during World War One (1914-1918), especially known for its involvement in the Gallipoli Campaign; regarding the military corps, the acronym should formally be in upper case letters, “ANZAC”, although it was also rendered as “Anzac”)
arms = armaments, firearms, weapons
backsheesh = a present of money, a gratuity; a payment made to hasten service or to ensure good service (a tip); a payment made to cut through rules or red tape (a bribe); to give a tip or a bribe (also spelt: baksheesh) (derived from the Persian word “bakhshīsh”)
billet = living quarters for soldiers (especially temporary placement in civilian homes, halls, public buildings, or in other civilian accommodation); a sleeping place; home
bully = bully beef: (also called “corned beef”) processed meat which has been preserved (“cured”) with large grains (or “corns”) of rock salt (a treatment known as “corning”, hence the name “corned beef”); the meat used is “brisket”, usually tough and fatty meat from the lower breast area of a cow, which is then braised (making the meat less tough), salted, minced, and soaked in gelatin; bully beef has long been used for field rations for military units; the term “bully beef” derives from the French term “boeuf bouilli” (boiled beef)
Chauvel = Sir Henry George Chauvel (1865-1945), an Australian general during the First World War (1914-1918), and Inspector-in-Chief of the Volunteer Defence Corps during the Second World War (1939-1945)
See: 1) A. J. Hill, “Chauvel, Sir Henry George (Harry) (1865–1945)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, ANU
2) “Harry Chauvel”, Wikipedia
cloudlet = a small cloud
column of route = a route column; a military column in which units are grouped for ease of control and speed of movement (such a formation is used when the possibility of contact with the enemy is unlikely)
cooee = a prolonged call used by Australian Aborigines to attract attention; the call of “coo-ee” was adopted by Europeans in Australia (spelt “coo-ee”, “cooee”, and “coo-ey”)
din = a loud noise which continues for a significant amount of time, especially an unpleasant noise
dishevelled = rumpled, unkempt, untidy, in disarray, in disorder; (regarding hair) uncombed, messy, scraggly, unkempt, untidy (also spelt: disheveled)
farrier = someone who fits horseshoes onto horses (someone who shoes horses); a blacksmith; someone who looks after the health of horses and treats them for any diseases; a non-commissioned officer who looks after, and oversees, the health and upkeep of horses
gib = (pidgin English) give
G.O.C. = General Officer Commanding
Jacko = a nickname for Turks (especially used during the First World War, 1914-1918) (plural: Jackos)
Len. = an abbreviation of the name “Leonard”
L.H. = an abbreviation of Light Horse
Lieut. = an abbreviation of “Lieutenant”
Lieut.-Colonel = Lieutenant-Colonel
limber = a two-wheeled cart (also known as an “ammunition wagon”), being that part of a gun carriage used to support the trail or legs of a piece of field artillery; limbers commonly have an ammunition chest attached, used to carry ammunition and/or equipment for field artillery
minaret = a tall thin tower with one or more balconies, usually part of a mosque (attached to the main building, or located nearby), from which Muslims are called to prayer by a muezzin
M.L.A. = Member of the Legislative Assembly
Moslem = an alternative spelling of “Muslim” (an adherent of the Islamic religion; a believer in Islam)
N.S.W. = an abbreviation of New South Wales (a colony in Australia from 1788, then a state in 1901)
Ottoman = of or relating to the Ottoman Empire
padre = a Christian clergyman (chaplain, priest, reverend), especially one working in or with the military (from the word “padre”, meaning “father”, in Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish; the title of a Christian priest in Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Latin America)
precipitous = steep; dangerously steep (derived from “precipice”, a steep cliff) (can also refer to: a dangerous situation; abrupt, quick, sudden; hasty, rash)
redoubt = a fort, a stronghold; a defensive military fortification or position (especially a small and temporary one); a protected place, a safe place of refuge; an organisation, movement, or ideological collective which defends a belief or a way of life (especially a belief or a way of life which is under threat and/or disappearing)
R.S.M. = Regimental Sergeant Major
S.Q.M.S. = Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant
Stamboul = an archaic form of Istanbul (formerly known as Byzantium, then Constantinople; the largest city in Turkey)
subaltern = a junior commissioned officer, below the rank of captain (i.e. a second lieutenant or lieutenant, but especially referring to a second lieutenant), in the British army or in an army of the British Empire; someone of a inferior or secondary rank or position, a subordinate
Syd. = an abbreviation of “Sydney” (the capital city of New South Wales); a diminutive form of the personal name “Sydney”
votaries = plural of votary: someone who is bound by solemn vows to a religious life, such as a monk or a nun; a devoted adherent, admirer, advocate, believer, fan, or follower of a particular cause, leader, religion, hobby, or pursuit
waning = to wane: decrease gradually in intensity, number, size, strength, or volume (e.g. “the moonlight waxed and waned”); to lose power or significance (e.g. “on the wane”); to come to a close, approach the end
white arm = a weapon (arm, armament) which does not use explosives or fire (for example: melée weapons, such as axes, bayonets, clubs, daggers, knives, spears, swords; ranged weapons, such as bows, crossbows, and slings); distinct from firearms (e.g. muskets, pistols, rifles) and explosives (bombs, hand-grenades, mines, missiles, rockets)
yarn = chat, talk (can also refer to a long story, with adventurous and interesting components, particularly with parts that are not believable)
Yeomanry = cavalry units of the British armed forces; after the First World War (1914-1918), Yeomanry units were turned into armoured vehicle units, were repurposed to fulfill other functions, or were disbanded
See: “Yeomanry”, Wikipedia
[Editor: Changed “is really happening.” to “is really happening?” (replaced full stop with a question mark); “now imperative” to “now imperative.” (added full stop).]