Martin Balsarini and the Charge at Beersheba



"We came around a hill and lined up. I was in A Squadron, and it was in first, with Major Lawson in the lead. Our horses were about a yard apart. The Turks started shooting when we were about a mile away.


"No jockey rode better than we did, not even in the Melbourne Cup! We jumped one of the two trenches and were in the middle of the Turks. It was all bloody shooting. We had to get the bastards and send them to hell before they did the same to us.


"People who say we charged with bayonets have got it wrong - neither us nor the Turks had bayonets and there was no artillery as some say. Both sides just had rifles and machine guns. You can't do much with a bayonet on a horse. We had military Colt .44 revolvers with only five barrels, but luckily I had bought a .32 pistol in Melbourne and it had a spare magazine.


"That was the one I used when I got in the Turkish trenches. I was no Tom Mix but we had practised with pistols against desert wolves. The horseman beside me, Bob Morley (of Gippsland), was killed. Our ammunition horse got hit on the side of his mouth and reared up and toppled backwards. Our group captured 70 Turks."


"We went into Beersheba, where the railway station and a train were blown up. At last our horses were able to get water from the wells of Beersheba and at 10pm half the regiment lay down to sleep and the rest held the line."


Martin continued with his regiment in battles in the Jordan Valley and on to Damascus and its capture. In May 1918, during or just after the El Salt Raid,  he was shot in the neck, a wound described officially as slight.


His regiment, he said,  was headed for France when the war ended suddenly, and they came home. (However, the regiment was called to quell a revolt in Egypt in March 1919). Martin and his mates arrived back in Melbourne exactly four years after he had enlisted.


"After the war I worked on the roads and later cut sleepers. I started dairy farming in 1937. When the second war broke out, I volunteered but the doctor passed me unfit because of my heart" (the Nominal Roll states he served in the Volunteer Defence Corps from 1942 to 1945).


Martin thought the TV series The Anzacs was disgraceful. "The war was never like that," he said of the series starring Paul Hogan. "We were well-trained soldiers fighting some of the world's best soldiers. We were disciplined and never went around with our shirt tails hanging out.


In September 1987, Martin, then 92,  went to Albury to see The Lighthorsemen, with his sister Catherine.


"They have got it all wrong in the film." he told me (The Border Mail, 17 September 1987).


He pointed out the mistake about carrying bayonets. Also, he said the film had wrongly portrayed the riders a breaking up in the charge. And he didn't like the scene where Dave (actor Peter Phelps) finds he cannot pull the trigger at the crucial time. "I never saw a soldier who hesitated at the height of battle," he said. "There were some soldiers who never saw the front, but they became medical orderlies and stayed well back. Some said their backs were crook."


Martin wondered why the movie included a pretty nurse who fell for Dave: "I don't remember women being out there (in the desert) - all I remember were the male orderlies."


Martin Balsarini, a bachelor, died in 1989, aged 94. He treasured his Light Horse hat to the end.