Chaaarge – The Australian Light Horse at Beersheba

As soon as I’d released TW32C02 the Trooper of the Warwickshire Yeomanry in 2016 I was immediately asked if a mounted figure of the Light Horse would be included in the range, so I’m delighted to be able to oblige!

Sculpted by Nino Pizzichemi this is another outstanding figure in the cavalry range (although the ALH are strictly speaking Mounted Infantry, but I’ll come to that later!). I briefed Nino to sculpt this based on the famous charge on the 31st October 1917 as part of the Third Battle of Gaza, and I hope you’ll agree that he’s done a fantastic job.

The Charge at Beersheba

In 1917 the Middle East campaign had moved into Palestine and following the Second Battle of Gaza the British faced the Turkish army which was entrenched between the city of Gaza and Beersheba which was 46 miles to the South-East with both forces concentrated in front of the city.

The British forces were commanded by General SirEdmund Allenby, while the Australian Light Horse was part of the Desert Mounted Corps under the command of Lieutenant General Sir Harry Chauvel. One of the immediate concerns for Chauvel was finding sufficient water for the horses of his command, using a process of elimination Beersheba was identified as the best option and a deception campaign was implemented to keep the Turkish defenders near Gaza.

Beersheba was defended by 1,000 Turkish infantry, 9 marchine guns and 2 aircraft. Allenby had a force of over 40,000 troops, but the defenders were helped by difficult terrain and had dug-in behind wire. On the 31st October the British attacked and succeeded in pushing the Turkish defenders but they still held the wells. Following a day of tough fighting Chauvel decided to use the 4th Light Horse Brigade to attack the final defensive post,General Grant gave the order personally to the 12th Light Horse Regiment: “men you’re fighting for water. There’s no water between this side of Beersheba and Esani. Use your bayonets as swords. I wish you the best of luck”. The Light Horse were equipped with rifles and held their bayonets as swords, which would have been more suited to a cavalry style charge. Fortuitously their bayonet tips had been sharpened on the orders of Major General Hodgson, on 26 October*.

Grant made the decision to order his light horsemen to charge cavalry-style, when they would normally have ridden close to an objective then dismounted to fight. Trooper Edward Dengate: “we got mounted, cantered about a quarter of a mile up a bit of a rise lined up along the brow of a hill paused a moment, and then went atem, the ground was none too smooth, which caused our line to get twisted a bit . . . Captain Davies let out a yell at the top of his voice . . . that started them all we spurred our horses . . . the bullets got thicker…three or four horses came down, others with no riders on kept going, the saddles splashed with blood, here and there a man running toward a dead horse for cover, the Turk’s trenches were about fifty yards on my right, I could see the Turk’s heads over the edge of the trenches squinting along their rifles, a lot of the fellows dismounted at that point thinking we were to take the trenches, but most of us kept straight on, where I was there was a clear track with trenches on the right and a redoubt on the left, some of the chaps jumped clear over the trenches in places, some fell into them, although about 150 men got through and raced for the town, they went up the street yelling like madmen.” Captain Robey was at their head.
Captain Jack Davies followed Robey’s men towards the town and shouted when three miles away: “Come on boys Beersheba first stop”. Major Fetherstonhaugh’s horse fell shot and was himself shot through the leg. The major put his horse out of its misery then got down behind his dead horse and fired his revolver until he ran out of ammunition. Fetherstonhaugh wrote to Davies congratulating him. In the letter he also mentioned his own injury: “I got a bullet through both thighs, it made a clean hole through the left but opened out a bit and made a large gash through the back of the right which will take a little while to fix up”.While the 4th Light Horse Regiment dismounted at the trenches and tackled their objective on foot many in the 12th Light Horse Regiment were able to get straight through and take the town, Keddie: “we were all at the gallop yelling like mad some had bayonets in their hand others their rifle then it was a full stretch gallop at the trenches . . . the last 200 yards or so was good going and those horses put on pace and next were jumping the trenches with the Turks underneath . . . when over the trenches we went straight for the town.”
Sergeant Charles Doherty wrote that the horsemen who cleared all the trenches came up to an open plane which “was succeeded by small wadies and perpendicular gullies, surrounding which scores of sniper’s nests or dugouts each were holding seven or eight men. After progressing another quarter of a mile, we turned to the right at an angle of 45 degrees to converge on Beersheba. The enemy’s fire now came from the direction of the town and a large railway viaduct to the north. The limited number of entrances to the city temporarily checked us but those in front went straight up and through the narrow streets. Falling beams from fired buildings, exploding magazines and arsenals and various hidden snipers were unable to check our race through the two available streets that were wide enough for 2 to ride abreast.” Private Keddie had a near miss: “I felt a bullet go past my ear and thought if that bullet had been a few more inches to one side” as did Trooper Dengate: “I suppose you heard about the capture of Beersheba by the 4th Brigade, well I was right in it, and came through safe, and with my skin intact, I got a bullet through the leg of my breeches, just above the knee, grazed my leg but didn’t make it bleed.”
The success of the charge was in the shock value and sheer speed in which they took the town before it could be destroyed by a retreating Turkish force. Harry Langtip described Beersheba: “The town is small but has some very nice buildings with tiled roofs. The water scheme is grand. We got into the army stores and helped ourselves to grain for the horses & got bivy sheets and peg posts. We got all the Turkish stores, there was everything from a telephone to a pack saddle. We got lots of horses and bullocks. There was rifles and gear lying everywhere. The Turks left bombs and if you kicked one up it went. One Tommy got both his eyes blown out by a bottle. He just kicked it out of the way and it must have been full of explosives.”
Sergeant Charles Doherty: “The first party sent across to the large cement troughs had just finished when from the east came an unexpected fusillade of bullets. Through this assault made it appear that we had been cleverly ambushed, we retained control over the prisoners and secured what cover there was until further support arrived. Between 8 & 9:30 pm the 11LHR arrived and the 4th MG Squadron came in. Then a complete chain of outposts was established while the main body of prisoners, together with many scattered lots from the various redoubts were taken back to Brigade HQ.”
Thirty One Light Horsemen were killed in the charge and 36 were wounded. Some originals from the Brigade who had enlisted in 1914 such as Edward Cleaver and Albert “Tibbie” Cotter, the famous Australian cricketer, were killed. The next morning Private Keddie rode over the ground to see if any of the horses could be found roaming but he recorded only seeing dead carcases. Keddie: “We were sent looking for the horses whose riders were killed so we made for the other side of the town where several other light horse regiments were . . . met some friends in the first light horse and yarned for a while they asked me what it was like in the charge gave them a full account”.

The figure

I wanted to convey the action at Beersheba and the fluidity and motion of both horse and rider in a similar way to how this had been completed for both previous figures in the cavalry series. We used the bayonet as the weapon to represent this particular battle and to commemorate this charge.

Indeed, Nino has done another spectacular job and I’m delighted with the result, I asked Alex Long to paint the box art and he’s done a wonderful job. In total its another great project and collaboration.

I’d like to thank both Nino and Alex for their fabulous work, and I hope the modelling community love it as much as I do. The painted figure will be at Euro Miniature Expo on the 22nd and 23rd September, where the figure will be available to purchase, so I hope you come along and see it ‘in the flesh’!

* History of the Charge at Beersheba is from The Australian War Memorial website, full details can be found here