Almanac (Australian) History: Remembering the charge






Each and every year, Halloween becomes a bigger and brighter tradition in Australia. The shops have been stocking half-price chocolates and plastic pumpkin buckets for weeks. Neighbourhoods around the country are putting out balloons for the houses that want to participate in the trick-or-treating fun. Kids are choosing their costumes and parents are wondering how to limit their sugar intake. Whether you agree with the tradition or not, in recent years Halloween has proven an ever-expanding novelty, which has leached into the towns, suburbs and streets of Australia and I can’t begrudge it…I mean who doesn’t love eating a bucket of chocolate and lollies?


But, this year I’ll be teaching my kids something different on October 31, which has nothing to do with hollowed-out pumpkins. The last day of October, also marks the hundred and second anniversary of the last great cavalry charge, by the Light Horsemen at Beersheba in World War 1.


On October 31 1917, the objective of capturing Beersheba and its wells of life-preserving water was becoming desperate, and the 4th Light Horse Brigade were ordered to make a mounted attack towards the town.


Starting at dusk, the Brigade rode towards Beersheba, at a trot before launching in to a full galloping charge towards the Turkish defences which were held by 1000 Turkish riflemen, machine guns and aircraft. The Light Horse were equipped with rifles, and carried their bayonets as swords. The success of the charge was in its speed – and the fact that the charge was completely unexpected. Many soldiers and their horses jumped the front trenches, while others dismounted for hand-to-hand combat with their Turkish enemy.


The Australian Light Horse Association publish the poem, The Wells of Beersheba, where Warren Eggleton describes the action of the day:


Six thousand yards to the Turkish line must these gallant horesmen ride
At full gallop they must go till they reach the Turkish side.


Artillery shells flew overhead, as across the sand they raced
Not fast enough were the Turkish guns to check their lightning pace.


As they cleared the Tukish trenches, machine gun bullets filled the air
But they sped on to Beersheba with the Turks now in despair.


With bayonets drawn, they charged the town, they were a fearsome sight
But they had fulfilled their orders, they took the town by night.



The triumph at Beersheba was followed by the fall of Gaza a week later. Despite the success of the attack on Beersheba, there were 31 Light Horsemen were killed and 36 wounded, as well as at least 70 horses killed. These soldiers of the Light Horse, many whom had already seen battle at Gallipoli, suffered through horrible desert conditions. In spite of this victory, one which was under Australian command, why do so few people know of it and its significance?


The Australian movie, The Lighthorsemen, released in 1987, immortalised the characters and stories of those involved in the charge at Beersheba. Featuring famous Australian faces including Sigrid Thornton, Peter Phelps and the tragically talented Jon Blake; it was a movie that has become synonymous with the famous action.


So this October 31st, I will watch The Lighthorsemen again, and I’ll talk to my children about the soldiers who raced on their horses towards their enemy, feathers in their slouch hats. I’ll make sure that I still have a bowl full of chocolate goodies to hand out to the sticky faces who come knocking on our door. But, as we hand out those lollies, I’m hoping that my own children will also have the sound of galloping hooves in their thoughts and not just sugar in their bellies.



Join Nicole Kelly as she (Zoom) launches her debut novel Lament on October 22. All welcome. Details HERE.



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About Nicole Kelly

Is a teacher, mother, writer and all-round lover of words!


  1. Great comments Nicole – good mate and champion footballer Bill Serong – a very literate man – regailled me some years ago of the Beersheba lighthorseman When I was selling a home in Myronong Cres ascot vale – part of the travencore estate where many a pony was bred and the area I sold and where now sits the MVRC on the flats of the MOONEE valley creek (now concrete culvert) some of the horses were schooled And cavalrymen stationed

    Well done for teaching the kids and pity our schools no longer have mandatory Australian history

  2. Luke Reynolds says

    Good teaching Nicole. All for Australian history over American custom.

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