[Editor: This letter from Trooper Wal Keddie, regarding the Battle of Beersheba (1917), which took place during the First World War (1914-1918), was published in the Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 21 February 1918.]
Capture of Beersheba
Australians’ great charge.
Sydney sailing enthusiast’s letter.
A letter, giving interesting particulars of the operations in Palestine has been received by Mrs. Keddie, of George-street, Greenwich, from her son Trooper Wal. Keddie, the well-known sailing enthusiast. The following are some extracts from the letter, which is dated Palestine, November 24:—
“I suppose you have read in the papers of our great victory here. No mistake, it was some victory. I think we opened the show by capturing Beersheba. We left our old camp on October 28, and during the night rode 50 miles. We had a quiet day till 4 o’clock, and then we swooped out of the hills on to the undulating country. We formed into two lines, and went full gallop at Beersheba.
“Over trenches and through redoubts we went yelling like mad, with only bayonets in our hands. Horses and men dropped, but on we went faster and faster, till we charged into the streets of the town, capturing guns and men. We must have demoralised the Turks, for it seemed impossible for us to get past his trenches, but we did and we must have galloped a couple of miles against his fire. It was some charge, and no mistake.
Field hospital bombed.
“Just as we got into the town, the Turks blew up four places, and it was a fine sight. We had little sleep that night. Next day we had plenty to do. I went looking for lost horses — those that had lost their riders. I saw Darkie Robertson, Jack Cuneo, and Rinaldi, and had a yarn for a little while. In the afternoon a Taube bombed our field hospital, and killed four men and some horses, but machine gun and rifle fire brought him down. The next day we had to take the prisoners back about 15 miles. As we were leaving a Taube tried to bomb us, but missed by a few yards.
“After the prisoners had been taken back we were sent to a rail-head for the night. The following day we set off for more fight. This time it was nearer Gaza. We rode till late at night, and were off again before daylight. Jacko had started his retreat. Our infantry was keeping him going, but had got thinned down, and the Turks counter attacked, so we were ordered in at the gallop. Another ride, and we went full lick into the front line. Just as we were going to dismount, we got another order, and out we went again. Jacko was retreating again before midnight, burning his dumps, but the stuff he left behind was enormous. We kept him going for miles and miles.
“Our horses were having a bad time as regards water, but it is wonderful the amount of hardship they stand. They did 50 hours without water, and then had a drink and did another 50 hours. It makes one’s heart bleed to see them trying to moisten their mouths. The majority of them have come through all right.
Fighting as infantry.
“After about a month we went back to near the beach for a spell, and I had a couple of swims, the first wash for a month. Our spell was cut short. After about a week we were ordered off again; this time we travelled over 30 miles to the part of the front where we had to operate. After riding some distance we dismounted, and our horses were sent back, so, for the past fortnight we have been the dinkum infantry fighting with the Tommies and travelling per boot. Our brigade at one place captured over 300 prisoners. Another on our left had a great scrap one night. Jacko attacked, but was pretty well wiped out. Two nights after the Turks in front of us retired, our artillery and rife fire making it too warm for him. We followed, and passed a lot of his dead on the way. He has stopped, and so have we, for it has been raining for the past two days and nights, and what an awful time it is when one gets wet through.”
Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 21 February 1918, p. 4
Beersheba = a city in Israel
dinkum = genuine, authentic, on the level
dump = (especially as used in a military context) an ammunition dump; a storage area, centre, or depot (especially one of a temporary nature in the field or near a battle area) used to store ammunition, clothing, food, and/or other provisions
Jacko = a nickname for Turks (especially used during the First World War, 1914-1918) (plural: Jackos)
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)
scrap = a fight, a brawl; a battle
spell = a rest, or a period of rest (“spell” refers to a period of time, but was also used to refer to a period of rest, due to the common phrase “to rest for a spell” and variations thereof)
Taube = an Austrian-designed areoplane; it was first produced in 1910, and was used by the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the First World War (it was also used by several other countries)
See: “Etrich Taube”, Wikipedia
travelling per boot = travelling on foot (especially whilst wearing boots), walking, marching
Wal. = a diminutive form of the names “Waldo”, “Wallace”, and “Walter”
yarn = chat, talk