[Editor: This letter, written by an unknown Army officer, regarding the Battle of Beersheba (1917), which took place during the First World War (1914-1918), was published in The Sun (Sydney, NSW), 20 January 1918.]
Advance in the desert
Roman wells prove useful
Brigadier-General —— writes thus from “The Hills of Hebron” to Brigadier-General Jobson, of this city:—
“The battle of Beersheba is over, and we have taken it. We have had a pretty rough time, and I am writing at present behind a little heap of stones, which will protect my head anyhow from shells, which are rather frequent. I have just seen about getting eight wounded men into ambulances, and we have 15 horses killed close to us.
“The chief trouble is water, as this is an awful country, and frightfully rough, and no water except in cisterns built by the Bedouins, and some in pools in the waddis left by a storm a little while back — it was lucky for us it fell here.
“Well, we started some days ago, I forget when — it seems years ago — and my brigade was given the post of honor, that is in advance. We came to Esani the first night, and had rather a bad time there for water for our own horses, as arrangements had not been made. The next stage was another night march to As’Luj, and on arrival there we found that all the wells had been blown up, and were full to the top with rock and rubbish. We had the engineers with us, and set them to work to clear these out, and had working parties of 250 men, and they worked like demons. There were hundreds of tons of stuff to take out of them, as they were 12ft. across and 40ft. deep. I think they were built by the Romans. However, it was 24 hours before most of the horses could get a drink. It was a Turkish military station, and there were big sort of barracks there and a minaret, but the country is very rough and barren. We marched again from there at night, and in the morning were in sight of Beersheba (we had come right round it). We then attacked.
“My particular part was to get outside the Hebron-road. The country is quite open there with no cover, and overlooked by high hills, so the only way was to go at it. We raced across the open, and soon the Turks started a barrage of shells across our front, but we never stopped. We raced through the Bedouin camps, scattering sheep, goats, donkeys, and fowls. It was most extraordinary how few men and horses of ours were hit. I think our sudden dash at them made their gunners shoot very wild. The Turkish prisoners all say they were terrified of the Australian cavalry. Our artillery knocked out three of the enemy guns, one they got across the Hebron main road, which was our objective. We captured 10 bullock waggons loaded with forage, with three Turkish drivers, and 59 other prisoners. In the meantime the rest of the Desert Mounted Army Corps attacked the town direct and captured it.
“There was some fierce fighting. They got only about 1000 prisoners, as there was a road going north-west which was open, and they had prepared to go if the fight went against them. Next morning I got orders to push out into these hills. We started out, and went on for a bit in an armored train, but when getting to the foot of the hills along came a shell, and I thought it better to wheel back to get cover until the troop came up. We found these hills strongly held, and although our patrols got to within 1400 yards of the place, we could not get it, as the country is something awful — big gorges with steep hills, and covered with flat rock, very slippery. So here we are shelling this, and they are shelling us. I haven’t had my clothes off, not even my spurs off, for three days. The ground here is awfully hard. I don’t know why people wanted to bother about such countries. A great many people were blown up in Beersheba by mines and traps; anything you touched went off. A nigger took the cork out of a bottle, and was blown to pieces. If you opened a door an infernal machine went off. It was quite an interesting place.
The Sun (Sydney, NSW), 20 January 1918, p. 11
Also published in:
Darling Downs Gazette (Toowoomba, Qld.), 23 January 1918, pp. 5-6
The Daily Examiner (Grafton, NSW), 25 January 1918, p. 4
The Sunday Times (Perth, WA), 10 February 1918, p. 2 (First Section)
The Leader and Orange Stock and Station News (Orange, NSW), 25 February 1918, p. 3
—— = two em dashes (or a variant number of em dashes) used in place of a person’s name, so as to ensure anonymity (sometimes using the person’s initial or initials, e.g. “Mr. Z——”, “A—— Z——”); an em dash is an extended dash (also known as an “em rule” or a “horizontal bar”), being a dash which is as wide as the height of the font being used; em dashes can also be used to indicate swearing or an unknown word
Bedouin = of or relating to the Bedouin tribes (nomadic Arab tribes) of the Middle East; a person of Bedouin ethnicity
Beersheba = a city in Israel
ft. = an abbreviation of “foot” or “feet”; a foot is a unit of length in the British imperial system of measurement (a foot is equal to 30.48 centimetres) (the plural of “foot” is “feet”)
The Hills of Hebron = (also known as the Hebron Hills, or Mount Hebron) a hilly area which is located in the south of the West Bank in Palestine
See: “Hebron Hills”, Wikipedia
Jobson = Alexander Jobson (1875-1933), accountant and soldier; during the First World War (1914-198), he led the Australian 9th Infantry Brigade; he was born in Clunes (Vic.) in 1875 died, and died in Sydney (NSW) in 1933)
See: 1) Colin Forster “Jobson, Alexander (1875–1933)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography
2) “Alexander Jobson”, Wikipedia
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
waddi = (plural: waddis) an alternative spelling (or a common misspelling) of “wadi”: a river, stream, or watercourse in North Africa or the Middle East which is dry except during the rainy season; a ravine, defile, gorge, gully, passage, or valley containing a stream bed or river bed which is dry except during the rainy season (also spelt: wady; plural: wadies)
waggon = an archaic spelling of “wagon”
[Editor: Added a double quotation mark at the start of the paragraph beginning with “There was some fierce fighting” (in line with the start of the other paragraphs).]