So in the middle of yet another political brawl, Malcolm Turnbull jets off to the ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba. The battle was significant, Australia’s participation in the death throes of the Ottoman Empire possibly less so. But as somebody who was paid for many years for teaching military stuff, can I plead for our leaders to spend less time playing up the anniversaries of conflicts in which this country fought. It is never going to happen, but what about the PM attending a well-publicised celebration for medical scientist Howard Florey – or musician Margaret Sutherland or actor Peter Finch? There is more to Australia than its soldiers, brave as they might have been and are now.
Richard Trembath, Mount Pleasant
Serving a political cause
The claim that the charge by the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba was the last successful mounted cavalry charge in the history of modern warfare, overlooks the 4th Light Horse Brigade charge at Sheria on November 7, 1917, plus several other mounted charges at Irbid, Kiswe and Kaukab that all occurred in 1918. Still later there was the charge of the Savoia Cavalleggeri at Izbushensky near the Don, August 24, 1942. Here 700 Italian cavalry took on and drove back over 2000 Siberian infantry who were attempting to encircle them.
The charge at Beersheba was overlooked and not regarded, with the importance it is now, for many years. Perhaps there was a good reason for this. It was one of several cavalry charges during the campaign and one of many, many battles in the war. In relatively recent times, it has been resurrected as part of federal government policy promoting all our past martial triumphs.
In World War Two, Charles Chauvel’s war film about the Beersheba charge Forty Thousand Horsemen was clearly a propaganda weapon, to aid in recruitment and lift the pride of Australians on the home front. The current re-enactment of the “last great cavalry charge in history” and day of commemoration serves a similar purpose.
Liberation a relative concept
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulates the Light Horse for “liberating” Beersheba after 400 years of Ottoman rule. If they liberated anyone, it was the Arab inhabitants of the town, mostly Bedouin, who were subsequently driven out by the Zionists. Hardly an Arab now lives in Beersheba. And how many of the Arabs wanted to be liberated in 1917? Not one Arab regiment in the Ottoman armies went over to the Allies before the very last month of the war; most of them proved loyal to the Empire.
And, of course, the Light Horse were not cavalry, but mounted infantry. They were not armed as cavalry with lances and sabres, but had to use their rifles and bayonets. Which only makes their brave charge more wonderful.
David Cunningham, Castlemaine
How about some accuracy?
My concept of a re-enactment is to portray as accurately as possible historical events as they occurred. The Israeli flag was not carried by the light horsemen at the charge into Beersheba since it was more than 30 years before the establishment of the state of Israel and as far as I know Australian soldiers did not go into battle flying the flag of a foreign nation. Whose idea was it to include the Israeli flag in the re-enactment and for what reason? Because Beersheba is now part of Israel does not seem a satisfactory reason to rewrite historical events.
Brian Tait, Blackburn North
[These letters appeared in The Age, Nov 2nd]