Some articles and events to commemorate this moment in Australian and World history....

A Century Ago - the 'Great Ride' to Damascus

 

by John Boyce

 

It was on 19 September 1918 that General Allenby launched his breakthrough battle at Megiddo and began the final destruction of the Turkish armies, the capture of Damascus, and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

 

A gap in the Turkish defence line was opened near the coast by British Infantry divisions (XXI Corps), and through this poured General Harry Chauvel’s Desert Mounted Corps. The Australian Light Horse and British cavalry had been secretly moved from its inland locations and were now launched in a surprise breakout that covered 80 kilometres in the first 24 hours, another 50 kilometres later the following day. Chauvel had to use wireless and aircraft to maintain contact with his fast-moving leading elements.

 

The Turkish 7th and 8th armies were effectively destroyed within two days. Other Turkish forces further east of the Jordan River were also forced to withdraw as well, in order to avoid being cut off.


 

On 25 Sep 1918, General Allenby conferred with General Chauvel: the Desert Mounted Corps was to maintain the pressure and immediately push on another 110 kilometres towards Damascus. By  30 Sep, the Turkish rearguard at Kaukub was driven off (just south of Damascus), the Turkish 4th Army was intercepted in the east before it could retreat to Damascus, and a Turko-German force trying to escape north of Damascus via the Barada Gorge was destroyed. Next day on 1 Oct 1918, the 10th Light Horse Regiment passed through the centre of Damascus on another task and actually accepted the city’s surrender – several hours before Lawrence of Arabia and the Arab forces made their own triumphal entry! To calm the city, Chauvel ordered a show of force with a large mounted parade the next day.

In mid-October, the Turkish government began general peace negotiations. Meanwhile, the Allied forces continued to press north in Syria, to maintain the pressure. They advanced another 130 kilometres to Homs, then elements including No 1 Aust Light Car Patrol reached Aleppo (a further 220 kilometres, near the actual Turkish border) before an armistice was officially declared on 30 October 1918.

The war in the Middle East had ended, two weeks before that on the Western Front in Europe.

Above: Sir Harry leads the Desert Mounted Corps into Damascus.  A quote from his letters to his wife about the official entry into Damascus: "head of the column are my Corps police, chiefly Australians, next come my staff, with the juniors in front; then myself riding "Aristocrat" my head groom [can't read name] is riding my chestnut mare, and quite wrongfully, carrying my standard, while my three standard bearers are following him (I am only entitled to one, but have always had two, an Australian and a New Zealander & since I got the Corps, I have added a Yeoman."