A Port Macquarie man has been presented descendants’ medals for the efforts of two great uncles who took part in the history-changing charge of the light horse on October 31, 1917.
David King said he is proud of his great uncles James and Wallace Hearne who took part in the charge, both serving in the 12th Light Horse Regiment.
“My mother has vivid memories of both James and Wallace. They were hard men for hard times. Both James and Wallace survived the war with James having a couple of fingers blown off. Australia should be very proud of this great victory and those marvellous Australian bred Waler horses,” he said.
“The charge of the light horse is considered the last great cavalry charge in history, some say the greatest charge of all time. It certainly changed the face of the Middle East and wrote the 12th and 4th Light Horse Regiments into the history books.”
The charge of Beersheba medal presentation coincided with Reserves Forces Day and was commemorated at the Hyde Park War Memorial on July 2.
Guests included His Excellency the Honourable Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales T F Bathurst, and the Chief of the Australian Defence Force, Chief of the Australian Army Lieutenant General Campbell, and senior leaders of the Navy and Air Force.
Mr King said the charge came after orders from General Harry Chauvel and General Hodgson that General Grant’s 4th Brigade, made up of the 12th and 4th Regiments, were to charge the trenches of Beersheba heavily lined with 4000 Turkish soldiers head on.
The charge of the light horse is considered the last great cavalry charge in history, some say the greatest charge of all time.David King
“The attack would take place immediately as the day was running out of light. General Chauvel said failure was not an option due to the desperate state of lack of water in the Sinai Desert,” Mr King said.
“The Light Horse men only had bayonets and rifles so the bayonet tips were sharpened to be used like a sword. Previous attempts to break the Turkish lines by the British Forces had failed.
“It was imperative that Beersheba and its wells were taken as 58,000 Light Horse men and 100,000 horses were desperate for water as the horses had not had a drink in three days and the hot Sinai Desert was taking its toll.
“The 800 Light Horse men of the 12th and 4th regiments saddled up and commenced the charge with A squadron from the 12th Light Horse Regiment from which my Uncle James Samuel Hearne was a member leading the charge.
“It wasn’t long before the Light Horse men were at full gallop which was unheard of as a cavalry charge would typically start from 800 yards out from the enemy line, the Light Horse maintained full speed from 2000 yards out.
“Typically the Light Horse men would also dismount just before battle lines and take up their attack positions.
“On this occasion they didn’t dismount and the Turks could not believe their eyes as the Light Horse kept charging. It is said that the horses could smell the water in the wells of Beersheba which contributed to the lightening pace of the horses.
“The thunderous roar of 800 horses at full gallop and the Light Horse men fast approaching who at this stage were yelling and screaming, some even laughing waving their bayonets and rifles in the air must have been a frightening sight.”
Mr King said the ‘sheer audacity and what the Turks thought was impossible caught them by surprise’.
Against all odds, facing Turks dug into the trenches, machine gun fire, heavy artillery and overhead bombing, the Light Horse men overcame all odds to claim victoryDavid King
Such was the panic amongst the Turks that many of them failed to lower their rifle sights and by this stage were firing wildly over the top of the Light Horse men, he said.
“The 12th Regiment jumped straight over the trenches with some horses landing on enemy bayonets. They then headed straight for the town of Beersheba before the Turks could destroy the wells.
“The 4th Light Horse Regiment took the trenches and under less than hour it was all over. The wells of Beersheba had been captured with very little damage and it took 1,800,000 litres of water to quench their battle thirst.”
Mr King said the capture of Beersheba swayed the battle against the Turks in Palestine and enabled the British Empire forces to break the Ottoman line near Gaza. The 12th and 4th Regiments managed to capture and kill 4000 Turks, taking 700 prisoners of war.
”Against all odds, facing Turks dug into the trenches, machine gun fire, heavy artillery and overhead bombing, the Light Horse men overcame all odds to claim victory which changed the face of the Middle East and how it looks today with Beersheba now Israel Territory,” he said.
“One of the sadist things to come out of WW1 was that only one Waler made it back to Australia that being a sandy horse belonging to Major General Sir William Bridges, with a significant number shot by the Light Horse men as they felt that was more humane than handing them over to the Turks in fear that they would be mistreated at the end of the war.
The charge of the light horse has seen several feature films made and numerous books written which is testament to those Australian Commanders and Light Horse men who faced what many thought was impossible and sheer madness and won.
The Australian bred Waler became our greatest ever war horse, he said.