The President’s Speech
ANZAC Day 2017 – Torquay
2017 is the centenary year marking a remarkable military action conducted by the Australian Light Horse in the Middle East. The action was part of a massive campaign by the allied forces to drive the Turkish army back to Turkey. The Middle East campaign commenced in 1916 following the disaster on Gallipoli. The Australian Light Horse division at the time was led by General Sir Harry Chauvel, a regular soldier, born in Tabulam NSW. He commanded the largest and most successful mounted military force ever assembled. It was to become known as the Desert Mounted Corps and was made up of 32,000 Light Horsemen and cameleers from Australia, New Zealand, English Cavalry Horse Artillery, Indian Cavalry, French Colonial troops and Egyptian cameleers.
The commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force was British, General Sir Edmund “Bull” Allenby who regarded Chauvel as the only commander that he trusted to lead such a formidable force to be known as The Desert Mounted Corps.
Chauvel was an extraordinary commander, well trained and experienced. He saw action during the Boer War and was highly decorated for his achievements during that campaign.
The story about Chauvel is more than what I say here.
The leadership characteristics that he displayed have not been widely publicised because Chauvel did not seek publicity and on the many occasions that he was asked to write his biography after the war his response was:
“No, every General who has written a book has lost prestige. Leave it alone. These things will come into focus in time.”
It is now time for Chauvel’s life to be revealed and this year it will be revealed through the centenary commemoration of the famous Charge of the Light Horse at Beersheba on 31 October 1917 and the launch of the Chauvel Memorial Foundation.
The story of the charge is now legendary and was undertaken as part of the enormous effort during the Middle East campaign to drive the Turks out of the Sinai and back to Turkey.
In October 1917, Chauvel was ordered to capture the wells at Beersheba. The action was to secure water that was essential to refresh the horses of the Mounted Division and allow for the continuation of the attack north. By mid-afternoon on 31st October, the horses had been without water for 48 hours. Beersheba had to be taken. It was heavily defended by over 1000 Turks entrenched with artillery and air support. A deception plan had been put into place to suggest to the Turks that the main attack would be elsewhere.
Chauvel gave the order for BRIG William Grant of the 4th Light Horse Brigade to capture the wells. It was late in the afternoon and daylight was fading fast.
Grant gave the task of the charge to the 4th and 12th Light Horse Regiments. The two Regiments formed up in Squadrons line abreast. They had 3kms of open ground to cover. They were ordered to draw their bayonets.
The CO of the 4th Light Horse, LTCOL Murray Bouchier, a Victorian, gave the order to move. The Formation started at a walk and then broke into a trot and then a canter. When they were about 2kms from the Turkish lines, they moved into a full gallop. The horses could smell the water and they gathered pace. The sound of 800 hundred horsemen, yelling and hollering as they were approaching the Turks was daunting. The Turks thought that the troops would dismount as usual and fight on foot. This did not happen. The charge continued. The Turks were surprised by the changed tactic which resulted in the Turkish artillery being unable to fully engage the charging horsemen as their gunsights could not be lowered quickly enough and the entrenched soldiers also were unable to adjust their rifle sights. Their fire went over the heads of the horsemen. Some of the troopers dismounted and fought on foot; the remainder jumped the trenches and headed for the town and the wells.
The charge resulted in minimum casualties to the Australians. 31 were killed and 36 wounded. A remarkable outcome. The wells were captured and the horses were watered.
The fall of Beersheba swung the tide of battle against the Turks in Palestine; and changed the history of the Middle East.
This event is only one of the successful actions by the Desert Mounted Force during the 3 years they spent in the operations to drive the Turks back to Turkey.
I turn to the men of the 4th Light Horse. Most of the original members of The Regiment were Victorian but as the war progressed, reinforcements came from other parts of Australia.
The memorial cairn on this site includes a member of the 4th Light Horse. No. 158 SGT Herbert James Marendaz, Born in Geelong on 8 October 1893, lived in Waurn Ponds and was an orchardist and vigneron. At age 20, he enlisted in the 4th Light Horse on 18 August 1914 at Broadmeadows. He was posted to A Squadron. SGT Marendaz was sent to Egypt on 8 October 1914. He returned to Australia and resumed his farming activities. He died in 1963.
He is one of 15 community members from Waurn Ponds whose name is recorded on a memorial plaque at the start of an avenue of trees planted to honour the service of its World War 1 members.
There were a number of men from the Geelong district who also joined the Regiment at the same time but, this Lighthorseman has some direct connection to family who are still with us today. His great great great grandson Nathan Marendaz and family are with us this morning. Nathan’s grandfather, Victor Herbert Marendaz born 23 August 1918 also joined the 4th Light Horse Regiment on 15 July 1940 however on 6 Mar 1943; he transferred to the RAAF and served in it until the end of the war.
Before the Light Horse left for return to Australia, General Allenby wrote a remarkable tribute to them. He concluded by saying:
"The Australian Lighthorseman combines with a splendid physique a restless activity of mind. This mental quality renders him somewhat impatient of rigid and formal discipline, but it confers upon him the gift of adaptability, and this is the secret of much of his success mounted or on foot. In this dual role . . . The Australian Lighthorseman has proved himself equal to the best. He has earned the gratitude of the Empire and the admiration of the world."
The last great action of the war for the Light Horse was the 3rd Light Horse Brigades entry into Damascus on 1st October 1918. History currently records that Lawrence of Arabia was the first to enter the city but this is contested. In fact it was 10th Light Horse under the command of its 2IC Major A C
Olden who accepted the surrender by the mayor of Damascus at least two days before Lawrence arrived.
The Lighthorse lives today. There are Light Horse Regiments and Squadrons as part of the Australian Army playing an active role in ongoing Defence activities.
The story of Australia’s Light Horse is a tremendous one. The Light Horse of the 1st AIF had existed for five remarkable years. We will never see the likes of such a force ever again.
On this day, we must remember the service and ultimate sacrifice of all of those young Australians who served with all the Light Horse Regiments formed around Australia.
Lest we forget