Busting Beersheba: Australians in the Campaign to defeat the Ottoman Empire
Lieutenant General Sir Philip Chetwode wrote to Lieutenant General Sir Harry Chauvel in October 1918: “You have made history with a vengeance and your performance will be talked about and quoted long after many more bloody battles in France will have been almost forgotten”.
General Chetwode was right about the importance of the Allied victory in the Middle East and the extraordinary contribution of General Chauvel and the Australian mounted troops to that victory. But he may not have been right about the importance this campaign would be accorded in historical writing and popular imagination. So much has been written and so much is popularly known about the Gallipoli campaign and the battles on the Western Front that they take centre stage in the Australian memorialisation of war. As we approach the centenary of the final and conclusive battles of the Middle East campaign it is timely to review the importance of this heroic episode in Australian military history.
MHHV will host a one day seminar on Saturday 18th November 2017 on the subject of Australia’s campaign in the Middle East with the aim of exploring the events and the personalities involved and evaluating its significance in Australian military history. The seminar will address the campaign’s place in the Allied strategy, follow the overall narrative of the campaign and look at the course, the outcomes and the significance of the major battles, Gaza, Beersheba, Megiddo and others.
We will hear about the key personalities who moulded the outcomes, including General Chauvel and some of his senior commanders, but we will also dwell on the experiences of the soldiers, troopers, gunners and infantrymen. We will hear about their hardships and their resilience, their courage and their humour. We will acknowledge the central place of the horses, the ‘Walers’ in the campaign and hear about their origins, care and fate.
The Australian Light Horse formations and units are, of course, at the centre of our considerations but there were other arms in the battle. Most of the infantry and artillery units in General Allenby’s force were British but there were Australians in the Royal and Australian Flying Corps units, in Armoured Car units and the Camel Corps. The logistics of this campaign were exceptionally difficult and the solutions bold and innovative; we will explore these too.
We will look at the strategy and fighting skills of the Ottoman Empire’s army and try to gain some insight into the commanders and soldiers on the other side of the battles.
Finally, the seminar will consider the ways in which Australia has remembered and memorialised the Light horse and their Middle East campaign.
The speakers will include academic historians, journalists turned historian and family members of key personalities. We will aim to bring not only a rigorous analysis to the campaign but also to evoke an understanding of the experiences of all the participants and an appreciation of the importance of this campaign to Australia’s memory of war.