Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Capture of Be'er Sheva by the Australian Light Horsemen in 1917 -- Arguably the Most Important Battle of WWI in Palestine

Forthcoming publication
New Collection of World War I Photos Discovered in Australian Museum

Our reader "Gary" alerted us to a digitized photo resource in the Mitchell Library of the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. 

The Library contains private diaries and albums of Australian soldiers who served as part of the British expeditionary forces in Palestine.  Their pictures show their three-year combat action from the Suez Canal, the Sinai, Be'er Sheva, Jerusalem, and all the way to Damascus. 

Be'er Sheva, a Turkish army garrison, on the eve of the battle of Be'er Sheva in 1917 (Library of Congress)

Aerial view of Be'er Sheva in 1917 with its new railroad station used for army supplies. (Source: Australian Light Horse Studies Centre

The legendary cavalry charge made by the Australian Light Horsemen to capture the wells of Be'er Sheva  in October 1917 was a turning point in the war, particularly after two disastrous attempt by British forces to push through Turkish defenses in Gaza.  After Be'er Sheva the way was open to Jerusalem, Jaffa and beyond. 

Until now, only one controversial picture of the cavalry charge was known. Some argued that it was actually a photo of a re-enactment. 

The Light Horsemen's charge -- a reenactment or Elliot's photograph? (Australian Light Horse Association)

The testimony of a forward artillery spotter, Eric George Elliottconfirmed its authenticity: 
To my surprise, I saw horsemen in extended order coming over the crest of the ridge, I packed my gear, and then came another line of troops in the same order, I then moved around to the other side of the knoll, and by this time the third line appeared, bewildered by what was happening I just lay there and gazed in astonishment, as the front line drew nearer I saw that their bayonets were drawn and that they were approaching at a hard gallop, having a camera in my haversack I got it out and took a shot, got on my horse and went as fast as I could further out to a flank and then back to H. Q.
The New South Wales Museum published a collection of photographs by Captain Robert Valentine Fell, including this picture of the cavalry charge at Be'er Sheva:

Fell's picture of the First Light Horse Brigade "going into action" at Be'er Sheva, October 31, 1917

Captain Fell's picture of the aftermath of Be'er Sheva's capture one week later


  1. The book about them by Col Stringer can be purchased on Amazon and is one of the best books I have ever invested in.

  2. I purchased a second-hand copy of the official Australian history of the Siniai Palestine campaigns with an intention of doing a personal battlefield tour while working in the Middle East a few years ago. Unfortunately, the places that were battlefields in 1917 are still battlefields now.

    1. Dear Anonymous, I really do think you are exagerating. Yes, there is dissention in the Middle East, but Egypt, Sinai, and even Israel are far far from being "battlefields"!!