90th Anniversary of the Charge of Beersheba
Areas we visited North of Beersheba
Following the steps of the Light Horse to the north from the coastal plain we visited Megiddo (the place of the Armageddon Battle), which has been excavated in detail, and one of the Old Testament cities which lies in the Carmel range.
The site sits high overlooking the plain of Esdraelon and the Jezreel valley and from where the whole of the land can be surveyed leading to Nazareth nestling in the opposite hills across the valley with Mt Tabor and Mt Moriah and the Judean Hills in the background. It was in Nazareth that the German General Limon von Sanders, who commanded the defence of Gallipoli, and was commanding the Turkish forces in the northern part of Palestine, had to evacuate in his pyjamas as British and Indian troops entered the town.
In many areas of this dry land, there is evidence of small fires breaking out. When I queried what was causing the small fires we were told it was rockets from Lebanon, Syria or Gaza that had landed. These rockets are fired indescribably not being aimed at anything so they do not hit much other than start these small fires in the terribly dry herbage
It was from here to the Sea of Galilee that the Light Horse experienced tough resistance, eventually arriving at the Sea of Galilee in a two-pronged attack: One at Semakh, at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee where it enters the Jordan River, and one at Tiberius and Capernaum, bordering the western side of the Sea of Galilee.
There are a number of paintings and photographs of the light horse regiments watering their horses at Tiberius, Taghaba and Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The Taghaba area is in a fertile valley totally different to the remainder of Israel. It has rich red-brown soils derived from the basalt hills of the region with well-watered streams and is the land of the often mentioned milk and honey with magnificent olive groves, vegetable, dates a variety of agricultural products. It is not a large area but stands out in relation to the surrounding country.
From here we headed up to the Mount of Beatitudes, a rocky hard looking area. We then moved past Rosh Pinna and to an area in the north where Sir Rodon Cutler (former Governor General of NSW in the 1970’s who was awarded the Victoria Cross) fought in the Second World War with the AIF 6th division during 1940-41.
We travelled east across the Jordan River to the Golan Heights with all the remnants of the six-day war in 1967. The Australian Light Horse regiments passed through here on the way through to Damascus in 1918. The whole area is steep hard rocky basalt country which would be terrible country for horses to traverse and no doubt difficult for the modern tank and military equipment of today.
We visited Katzrin, the ancient village where Jesus healed the blind man and the site of the Sermon on the Mount where he fed the five thousand with five loaves and three fish. The area is still subject to landmines left from the conflicts here of recent times and warning signs are on all the fences. In some of the more open and plateau locations, there are olive groves and vineyards where the soils are good and the rock can be removed.
We travelled along the Syrian Israeli cease-fire line to a high peak, Ben Tall, the highest of three old volcano sites. Here we studied the whole region and could see Damascus, Syria, in the distance to the north and traced the route taken by the Light Horse on the approach to Damascus in 1918. Ben Tall is full of trenches and bunkers, barb wire and anti-tank defences. These remnants of the 1967 war are still maintained, in case there should be any attack from Syria. From here you can see Mount Hermon in the distance, usually snow-capped, and from where the River Jordon emanates.
The following day we travelled from Tiberius south following the Jordan River valley. After a swim in a National Park where another one of the springs feeding the Jordan River is harnessed into a tourist park and swimming centre we continued down the Jordon valley along the border with Jordon and Israel. The border is made up of give and take boundaries were both countries have certain sections of the river. The Jordon valley is a mass of irrigated crops of all varieties, including vegetables, grains, cotton, orchards and nuts, all on dripper irrigation and grown on the fertile alluvial soils of the valley. The valley itself is in stark contrast to the barren hills and highlands of the Judean wilderness on the Israeli side and the parched country of the Jordon lands towards Amman and Es Salt.
We stopped at the site of an enormous battle between the Australian Light Horse and German forces at Abu Tellul near Jericho where many Australians were killed in 1918. This is a harsh barren area, with many spent bullets and ordinances still lying on the ground.
We continued past Jericho and up the road leading to Jerusalem through the harsh barren wilderness country. Major road works are underway on the road with the construction of a four-lane highway as this is the main route through to Jericho and Jordan. We passed many terrible looking Bedouin camps with a few goats, donkeys and camels, and also went past the site of the story of the Good Samaritan where a Church is erected
Then and now: the Railway station at Semakh
We arrived in Jerusalem on Tuesday the 23rd of October 2007 close to dusk and were taken to the Mount of Olives for a view over the old city of Jerusalem, the garden of Gethsemane and the wider expanse of Jerusalem. It was amazing to see the sun setting through the dust haze of the region hanging over Jerusalem. We were booked into a variety of Hotels in Jerusalem, in our case the Novotel Hotel, outside the walls of the old city.
The following day we were taken on a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem through the Damascus Gate and down the ancient alleyways in the Arab Quarter following the Stations of the Cross to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the location of the death on the cross, the tomb and the great complex of the Church. The place was crowded with people mostly tourists.
Later in the day we were all taken by bus to Nebi Samuel (Samuel’s Mount) that gave a panoramic view over the whole region and we had the battle procedures of the advance in 1917 into Jerusalem explained.
From Samuels Mount we preceded to the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Mount Scopus were many Light Horsemen of the First World War and the 6th Division of the Second World War are buried.
The next day we had a tour of the Holocaust Memorial Museum dedicated to the death camps and carnage of the gas chambers in Germany during the Second World War. Lunch was arranged at Christ Church Jerusalem located adjoining the platform and gate into the Tower of David where General Allenby took the surrender of Jerusalem in December 1917. We later went to the Jaffa Gate into the old City where the Australian and New Zealand forces entered the city at the time of the surrender.
The following day, October the 25th Matt Brown, the ABC reporter, came to interview several of us and to say he was going to be present during the ride through the Negev desert as the ABC were to do a major report on the ride and re-enactment for the 7.30 Report.
We were loaded into buses in Jerusalem for a trip back to the Jordan Valley, down the road to Jericho, to head towards to the commencement of the ride. On our way we stopped at the site of Chauvel’s command post where he orchestrated the Jerusalem campaign. We then continued onto the Dead Sea at Erin Gedi, where many of us went for a swim.