The Great War: Racing and the 'Great Ride' (continued)

Less than two months later, Chauvel and the Desert Mounted Corps were in a race of a different kind in which, following the losses of the two battles at Gaza the previous spring, the Promised Land Stakes couldn’t have been higher late in the afternoon of 31st October 1917 to the east of Beersheba.  Describing the battle in February 1922, Chauvel said, ‘The 4th Brigade got off about half past four, trotted onto the plain, & then rode at the trenches, charging them mounted, & galloping straight on into the town which was in our possession by dark. By this mounted action, Grant had done in a few minutes, with two regiments & fewer casualties, what it would probably have taken two brigades, dismounted, a couple of hours to do.  So far as I know, such a charge by mounted men against entrenched infantry is unique in the annals of cavalry.’

 

The Wells of Beersheba didn’t yield all the water that was needed and in the days following the charge at Beersheba Von Kressenstein kept the Desert Mounted Corps busy to the north of the town.  On 15th November Sir Harry wrote to his wife’ ‘I wrote to you last from a place called Huj, north-east of Gaza.  Since then I’ve had no time to write as we have been moving so quickly, & fighting all the time.’  In Chauvel’s letters, it seems that the 1917 Melbourne Cup results were lost in the fog of war, having given way to a much bigger race – the British Prime Minister wanted Jerusalem as a ‘Christmas present for the British people’, - the Promised Land Stakes had never been higher.  Some called it ‘The Great Ride’ that finished a year later in Damascus.

 

Almost a year later in March 1918, equine events were back on the agenda with Hodgson holding a horse show and sports.  Chauvel wrote ‘There was great competition between the Australians and the yeomanry regiments, & the Australians held their own very well.  The turn-outs of the wagons and teams would have graced any show ring, & most of these events were won by Australians.  One of the jumping events was won by a young doctor from Rockhampton, Stuart, & one of the finest efforts was put up by an Australian chaplain who would certainly have won had not his horse fallen at the last fence.  This event was won by an English chaplain, a hunting parson from Leicestershire!  The officers’ race was won, to our great surprise, by the A.D.M.S of the Australian Mounted Division, Lt Col Dixon, who rode himself, & who is one of the last men one would accuse of being even a horsey man'.

 

‘I had a great day’s racing with Fitzgerald’s Brigade[2] (22nd Mounted Brigade).  They did the things so well.  It was close to Gaza & on such a pretty course. I have never seen a race meeting better carried out.  There were seven races, of which three were steeplechases.  In the big steeple – the Palestine Grand National – my old horse Bally which was very unfit, ran fourth in a field of eighteen, nearly all of which were English hunters, & several steeple chase performers in the Old Country.  He was very nicely ridden by young Gilpin, Claude Roma’s A.D.C. who thoroughly enjoyed his ride.  I did not expect him to win as the old horse was very soft, & short of work.  He got very low in condition last summer, so I sent him back to Allan [Chauvel who was serving at the Remount Depot in Moascar], & he has been feeding him up on green stuff. I ran another horse in one of the flat races, but he did not do any good.  I am glad I ran them, & the Brigade was very pleased at my doing so.  I won a few pounds on the tote, too! I’m running both horses again at the races of Clarke’s Brigade (7th Mounted Brigade) next Saturday.

 

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[2] Fitzgerald’s and Clarke’s Brigade were Yeomanry and not Light Horse.  It was the bit about Bally that made my grandmother include the account.​