Skip to main content

Toughing it out in the Middle East in honour of Light Horse legend Sir Harry Chauvel

Sally Cripps from Blackall is in full Light Horse uniform, with slouch hat and water bottle.
Sally Cripps is all set for her trip to the Middle East to learn more about her great-uncle.

ABC Western Queensland: Ollie Wykeham

Sally Cripps grew up listening to tales about the exploits of her famous great-uncle, Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Chauvel, who fought at Gallipoli and became a legend of the Light Horse regiment.

So there was no way she was going to miss out on travelling to Israel for the centenary celebrations to commemorate the fabled ''last cavalry charge'' at Beersheba on October 31, 1917.

Ms Cripps, a journalist, is setting off with her family from beyond the black stump at her home in Blackall in Central West Queensland to pay tribute to the legacy of the Light Horse and her legendary uncle, who died in 1945.

She said she felt a personal connection to the Palestine Campaign and particularly the exploits of the Light Horse.

"Even though General Harry Chauvel has become a bit of a legend, it's important to know what is the truth amongst the whole legend," Ms Cripps said.

"I'm just really proud of someone like that who I am related to. I really feel that I want to go honour that. It's very important to me.

"Mum had his dress sword for a number of years until she donated it to the Australian War Museum, so this was something we grew up with, this flashing general with his sword."

Lt Gen Harry Chauvel
Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Chauvel in his uniform.

JSupplied: Australian War Memorial. J00503

The trip will include a three-day horseback ride in full dress with woollen replica Light Horse uniforms.

Each rider will be carrying what a soldier 100 years ago would have carried, and will sleep in the open in the Negev Desert on camp rolls.

Just bedrolls and a haversack

"When I mention I am going to Israel, especially to men out here [in western Queensland], their eyes just really light up," Ms Cripps said.

"They know him and what he did as a military campaigner probably much better than I did, and are just so excited that I'm going to have this chance to do this.

"It's just going to be exactly like the soldiers in the First World War.

Sally Cripps is showing off her sleeping sack
Sally Cripps shows off the sleeping sack she will be using to sleep in in Negev Desert.

ABC Western Queensland: Ollie Wykeham

"We can't have accompaniments, big ports, lots of whatever. We're going to have to carry on our horses bedrolls and a haversack.

"We're going to have to have changes of clothes for the next day and that's it."

Ms Cripps said an exciting part of the trip would be the Indigenous riders.

"Their contribution in the First World War in the Light Horse isn't so well known and we're going to go and find a little bit more about that," she said.

Why is Beersheba significant?

Brad Manera, senior historian at the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park, said the attack on Beersheba had been a turning point in the Palestine Campaign.

"The British had always valued the Suez Canal. There was a major threat to the canal because of the Turkish domination of the eastern Mediterranean," he said.

The Suez Canal provided the British connection to its empire and support from its colonies.

"Of course any war in the desert relies on water. Without water you die in the bleached desert sands.

"There is a defensive line beginning with Gaza on the coast stretching inland as far as the water wells at Beersheba."

"With the capture of Beersheba you could roll up the flank of this defensive line," Mr Manera said.

A photo of the charge of Beersheba from a captured Turkish camera
The charge of the Light Horse, said to have been taken by a Turkish cameraman.

Supplied: Australian War Memorial. P03723.001

The Australian troops feinted to make the Germans and Turks think they would attack with the majority of their force in Gaza, when actually they would focus on Beersheba.

"By breaking the line at Beersheba, it opened Palestine to advances and particularly to Britain's pivotal weapon in the Middle East, mounted soldiers, and of course the spearhead of that was the Australian Light Horse," Mr Manera said.

Beersheba and the subsequent Palestine campaign was a much-needed victory for the morale of the armed forces and public back home, which had only been hearing bad news from the Western Front.