Here's where the Palestine Mandate really began – with the Charge of the Light Horse Brigade

General Allenby led a sweep of His British Majesty’s soldiers out of Egypt in 1917 and up to Jerusalem and beyond, claiming a swathe of territory that had belonged, until then, to the Ottoman Empire for some 500 years.

On his way to Jerusalem, General Allenby took Beersheba — in no small part thanks to an apparently magnificent charge by some 800 Australian cavalrymen – the “Light Horse” Brigade.

“On 31 October 1917 British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers captured Beersheva from the Ottomans. This was the first victory in the campaign to capture the Holy Land during World War I.”, says a press release from Shoresh Study Tours, sent around to announce a big 90th anniversary commemorative bash in Beersheva tomorrow.

The Jerusalem Post has a stirring article today, reconstructing and analyzing the event: “Victory by 800 mounted Australians over 4,000 well-trained Turks seems a bit far-fetched. But that’s exactly what happened on October 31, 1917, at the Battle of Beersheba, which 90 years ago arguably changed the direction of the Sinai and Palestine campaign during World War I. It was a day of surprises for the Turks, one that had been planned far in advance: Already in May 1917, General Philip Chetwode wrote his Notes on the Palestine Campaign, which outlined a suggested plan of attack. There he suggested that the approaching Third Battle of Gaza should move inland and center around a relatively loosely guarded east flank of Beersheba. The Turks, he suggested, would not anticipate the mounted attack due to the scarcity of water for horses and soldiers alike. Chetwode, however, claimed that it would be easier and more efficient to secretly engineer water access to the area than to break through the more heavily guarded Gaza area. At the same time, the Turks were led to believe through a series of British subterfuges that they would – for the third time – indeed choose a frontal attack on Gaza. General Sir Edmund Allenby, who assumed command in July, adopted Chetwode’s suggestions and by late October the British were ready for the Battle of Beersheba.

“The attack on the unsuspecting Turks took place at dawn. However, the Anzac Mounted Division was delayed at Tel el Saba, causing the British forces to fall behind in the master battle plan, which had charted the capture of Beersheba before nightfall.

“As a risky last-ditch effort, the commander of the Desert Mounted Corps, General Henry Chauvel, ordered the Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade (made up of the 4th and 12th regiments), under Brigadier William Grant, to secure the capture of Beersheba just before sunset. Charging directly into the sun, the horsemen kicked up thunderous clouds of dust as they rode against the Turkish trenches. The frightened Turks, who assumed this was the beginning of a larger force, fled. The Australian soldiers secured the city and intact wells and reservoirs. (The story goes that a torrential downpour saved the remaining horses from dehydration.)

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