90th Anniversary of the Charge of Beersheba
Commemorating the 2017 Charge of Beersheba
Wednesday, October the 31st 2007 the day of all the activities commenced with the usual horse and gear preparation and surrounded by the usual gang of TV cameras and reporters filming every move. The troop formation rode across the plain to the Wadi Sabah that leads under the railway viaduct depicted in many of the 1917 photos, and on to Merkaz Zeirim near Abrahams well.
From there we proceeded with a street parade past the Allenby memorial to the British Commonwealth Cemetery at Beersheba, parading through crowds lining the streets and police blocking off roads as we passed. We tied the horses up to a line of trees in a street beside the cemetery then marched into the commemorative service honouring the charge ninety years ago. The Catafalque party for the service included Australian, New Zealand, English and Turkish military personnel who stood at the four corners of the Cenotaph, as you see at the Anzac ceremonies at Gallipoli. There was a large crowd attending the service. The temperature was around 36 C degrees, resulting in some people becoming dehydrated from the heat and needing first aid!
Following the conclusion of the service, we walked to the Turkish Memorial nearby and participated in that service as well. Lunch was provided in the usual cardboard boxes before returning to the horses and riding back through back streets and the Wadi Sabah to our campsite at Beit Eschel to prepare for the charge re-enactment.
At 3.00 pm we again groomed the horses and mounted up moving into our troop lines.
We moved out from the cover of the trees we had been camping under just on 4.30 pm, the exact time of the charge in 1917, 90 years ago.
We followed the plan practiced the previous day walking the first 100 metres breaking into a trot for the next 200 metres and then cantering for the remaining two to three hundred metres and coming to a walk up to the roped semi-circle around the area where all the dignitaries of the region, Israeli parliamentarians Beersheba Municipal councillors and the Australian Ambassador David Larson were assembled.
Many onlookers lined the sides of the parade area with TV cameras and photographers taking shots. Speeches were made by a number of dignitaries followed by the Mayor of Beersheba and Australian Ambassador David Larson, who later presented the entire riding group with a medallion each to commemorate the event. The crowd were allowed to come forward and pat the horses from the far side of the roped area.
Dusk was starting to settle over the land as we turned and rode back to our campsite. We had a person take a photo of our Upper Murray section before getting too dark.
As it was the end of the ride Elan Peleg had all the trucks lined up for us to hand our horses back for their return to their home base. It was quite sad as we all had become attached to the horse we were issued with at the start of the ride
Before leaving with the horses Ilan Peleg presented all the riders with a framed photo of the picture he took of us leaving the schools march past at Bir Asluj. The picture I have hanging in a prominent place in my home and I use it in the power point presentation I prepared for speaking engagements relating the tour.
After assembling all our gear we were transported by bus to the Golden Tulip Hotel in Beersheba for the night. The following morning, Thursday, November the 1st, we boarded buses for a tour of Beersheba, including a trip to the top of Khashim Zanna (Chauvel’s command post). Here I took a photo of Dee Binnie holding a replica of her grandfather’s banner looking across the plain toward Beersheba.
Friday, November the 2nd we flew from Tel Aviv (Ben Grunion Airport) to Istanbul. We arrived at 12.45 pm just as what seemed like eleven million Muslim people were attending mid-day prayers. Friday is the only day it is compulsory for Muslims to attend prayers when the Imam of each Mosque makes a proclamation. This grid-locked the city with traffic and resulted in us taking 2 hours to travel 4 km on a bus! Later in the day, we flew out of Istanbul heading for Singapore.
All our flights from Australia to Istanbul and Tel Aviv and return to Singapore were with Turkish Airlines. To my mind, they were superb with good food, entertainment and service. At Singapore we were placed on a Qantas flight to Melbourne where seats were tighter, entertainment broke down and service only reasonable, quite a contrast to the experience of Turkish Airlines.
It was a privilege to be part of this great tour and experience in the lands that have played an integral part of the Australian character and history.