90th Anniversary of the Charge of Beersheba
The ride commemorating the lead up to the Charge of Beersheba
On the afternoon of October 26th, we arrived at Park Eshkol, a tourist site near Shellal, where we were to commence the ride. The proprietors of the park had arranged tents to be set up for us to camp in but it was so hot that I and many others camped on the ground with our ground sheets etc. as it was more comfortable than in the tents.
The proprietors had also arranged for a great smorgasbord meal for us and an amateur entertainment group that provided a most enjoyable music and dancing concert. During the night truckloads of horses arrived from Ilan Peleg’s equestrian centre for the commencement of the ride. Jackals could be herd howling in the surrounding countryside through the night.
The following morning we all packed our gear and were issued with a horse by Peleg’s staff. The horses were all bred by the Equestrian centre from Stock Horse - Appaloosa cross, also with some Arab. They were all around the 14.2 to 15.2 hand high and ideal for the ride. The horses all had soft mouths, a quiet temperament and were used to being in a group situation.
We practiced a little “F troop” drill and working in different formations to settle down the horses and riders. After this, we proceeded on in single file along the Wadi Bezoar. There was a great entourage of cars, TV cameras and people following on for some time until we moved away from the road formations into the more open country. We came to a copse of spindly looking trees near a roadside where a truck came up with cardboard lunch boxes which contained a bread roll, tomato, cucumber some processed meat and a carton of fruit juice. Some reporters and photographers from the Sydney Morning Herald turned up to photograph the group and interview some of the riders.
Road water tankers arrived with water for the horses. Several large plastic bath-like troughs were placed on the ground, filled with water to which we brought up eight horses at a time to drink. This was the method of watering horses all through the ride.
After lunch, we continued through the undulating dry country to a Bedouin Settlement at Ze’elim near the village of Bir Asluj. This is an area where there are hot springs which have been harnessed into a swimming complex for tourists so we availed ourselves of a swim in the pools which was most refreshing. Here we were made welcome by the Bedouin’s who provided a nice smorgasbord meal and entertainment including belly dancers. We were housed for the night in an enormous tent with a wooden slatted floor. As I and many others were quite exhausted after the day's ride, I did not last out the whole entertainment and climbed into the swag before it finished.
The next day being Sunday the 28th October 2007 we attended a Church Parade led by Padre Darryl of our group before thanking our hosts and heading off to a march past and salute at a small oasis park where local schools had been assembled to see us pass.
We were formed up in section fours for the parade. As much of the ride from here on was to be in the section four formations we found that the horses I, Kathleen, Matt Lynch and Dee Binnie were riding were all compatible and worked together. We thus formed what we called the Upper Murray Section and kept together for the remainder of the ride. We settled into the being the 6th of 7th section from the lead. One km or so after the school's parade we were walking along beside a road when the ABC vehicle and Matt Brown arrived to film us. Elan Peleg, the owner of the horses, also took a photo of us and prior to leaving after the re-enactment gave everyone a framed copy of the photo he took on this day.
The temperature was very hot so we took the opportunity of taking off our woollen tunic jackets and putting them in the ABC vehicle as Matt Brown was to be at our campsite that night to hand them back. It made the riding through the hot desert a bit more pleasant.
During the day TV Channel 9’s “60 Minutes” film crew and reporters caught up with us and filmed some of the ride through the desert. We were visited by a couple of Black Hawk helicopters flying overhead probably to check where we were and if there was any danger in the surrounding areas.
Beersheba has a large Israeli airbase and as we were only about 30 km’s from the Gaza Strip with the constant turmoil there was some concern about what was going on in this militarily sensitive area.
We continued through some undulating low sandy hills to Ramat Beka (Wadi Mashash) as the campsite for the night. This was in a sandy valley close to a road where tankers with water were brought in to water the horses and provide us with personal washing facilities. Channel 9 spent quite some time with us that night filming for their “60 Minutes” program which included singing around a fire and settling down in our swags on the ground.
The horses were handled at each stop by the staff supplied by Elan Peleg who tethered the horses in a roped area and handled all feeding and watering through the night. The horses were fed Triticale hay. Patrols were conducted through the night by the equestrian staff as we were in Bedouin territory and a high danger area there were also armed staff that patrolled the campsite through the night.
The next day October the 29th was the usual hot dry dusty day. We started off with the usual breakfast of boiled eggs, yoghurt, cheeses and bread rolls. After breakfast, the horses were groomed and saddled before setting off through the dry dusty hard landscape. We had more Israeli TV channels filming us as we groomed saddled and mounted the horses. At the luncheon stop, the ABC carried out a long interview with Dee Binnie, asking her about her grandfather Sir Harry Chauvel.
The ride continued through some deep wadis and very dry areas eventually coming out past Khashim Zanna (Chauvel’s command post) onto some sealed roads on the plain approaching Beersheba. Considerable traffic started to appear and many stopped to take photos of us as we rode along some of the roads. We eventually came to the camp site for the night at Beit Eschel. This was in the middle of the plain that was the area of the 1917 charge. Adjoining the camp site was a plantation of trees that provided good places to tie the horses for the night and shelter for us.
The usual supply of hay and water tankers turned up for the horses and ourselves, which everyone took advantage of to bathe in after the heat and dust of the ride.
The mayor of Beersheba, Yaakov Terner, together with Elan Peleg and his staff set up a stage and seating area to provide a meal and a concert for the tour group. The superb meal comprised grilled steak with many salads, vegetables a great variety of sauces and cheeses.
A very nice gesture occurred when my daughter Kathleen had organized a huge cake from a bakery in Beersheba which was presented to me for my 75th Birthday that day. Naturally, I had to respond to the assembled gathering. As I started, three Israeli F18 fighter jets flew over the top of us with the incredible noise they make, and everything I said was completely drowned out.
The cake provided sweets for all the people present which they all enjoyed. The Party continued with dancing and comedy acts well into the evening. The non-riders of our party went to the Golden Tulip Hotel in Beersheba while we settled into our swags on the ground close to the horses.
Communications diagram for 31-October-1917 from the War Diary of the 1st Signal Squadron. Note: Khashim Zanna, Tel el Saba (seized by the New Zealanders) and Beersheba (Source: Australian War Memorial)
Tuesday, October the 30th was spent cleaning our horse tack and general preparation for the activities the following day. The area running up to the railway viaduct was over a land filled rubbish dump. We all spent several hours emu bobbing over the area that the horses were to travel, to make sure there was no glass of sharp objects to cut or injure the horses.
Troop formations for the re-enactment were practiced for much of the afternoon. Ilan Peleg was concerned about cantering as he felt that many of the riders were too old to be cantering horses. As the afternoon progressed he eventually was satisfied. The plan for the re-enactment was to form into troop lines of 10 horse’s six metres apart, with each row 10 metres apart. The process was to walk for 100 metres, trot for another 200 metres then canter for the remaining 250 to 300 metres up to the finishing area close to the railway viaduct.
Above: part of the re-enactment
Right: Deryn Binnie with Chauvel’s pennant at Khasham Zanna (position in relation to Beersheba can be seen the bottom right corner of map above)