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An Account of the Charge at Beersheba

An Account of the Charge at Beersheba

A personal account of the charge in a letter by Colonel Jack Davies  MC  OCB Squadron, to his brother Reg, dated at Belah 29/1/1918

From his earliest days the late Colonel Davies took a keen interest in the army.  He gained his commission in the Commonwealth Military Forces at Duntroon in 1912 and on the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 accepted a commission in the 12th Light Horse on its formation under Colonel P. P. Abbott who was commanding officer at that time.  Early in 1915 he went to Egypt and was taken on the staff of General Harry Chauvel.

He participated in the battle of Romani and several other major engagements after which he returned to the 12th Light Horse into Beersheba and was awarded the Military Cross in the field by General Allenby.  Throughout the Great War as it was known he kept a complete record of events both documentary and pictorial through Egypt, Syria , Palestine and ending at Tripoli.

A letter written by Jack in reply to his brother Reg gives a personal description of the charge at Beersheba.

Belah 29/1/1918

My Dear Reg

Your long letter to Mill from Hospital Temporaire No 8, dated 4/12/1917, came along a few days ago and jolly glad I was to get it, as I was beginning to think something might have happened to you.

Your letters or some of them must be at the bottom, same as some of mine.  I have just been hunting for the copy of the last one I wrote you, but the book seems to have gone astray, I think.  I wrote just prior to the start of the last operation, which started about 24th of October.  I should have written before, but one is kept going on these things and it is only during the past few weeks that one has had much facilities for letter writing.

We are very comfortable now back “resting” at Belah which was railhead for so many  months, whilst Johnny hung onto Gaza.  Just about 7 miles from here and old Alymunter smiles sweetly on all things now, previously it used to frown.  Alymunter is the hill where Sampson deposited the gates of Gaza.  Anyway it took some time to get through the gate and really we did not like the Yank who said to Bullen “we went round”.  That was the Beersheba stunt, where yours truly was lucky.

It was rather peculiar you referring to the polo game in connection with it.  I made the remark to Cameron that night, after the charge was over and I had just finished counting my little lot of prisoners and sent them away under escort (it was a beautiful moonlight night and I counted them like a lot of sheep with Marnie and Haft keeping tally.  647 and 38 officers was the number as well as I remember the odd figures - the other right (4th Light Horse got 350 odd more and we collected about 30 strays during the night).  Well to get back to the afore mentioned remark I said, “Well I,’ve had some good games, but that was the best run I ever had, from start to finish it was just about 6 miles.

1st half mile at walk and slow trot, getting into line.  Two squadrons each in line with 5 yards between each man and 300 yards from A Squadron back to B (my squadron).  The next mile I should say was a trot, then the fire started and we went at it hell for a split, we struck the trenches 1 1/2 miles from the town, some of them went over them.  I feel certain only a few. Some went round end; myself round the left flank.  Providence guided me that day and I rode into the town as if I knew all the roads leading into it.  I think I can say quite without fear of contradiction, that I was the first officer, or man into the town, but really it was only just easy going once we passed the trenches, everyone we saw after that was getting for his natural.

I’ve seen some surprised people, but  those Turks were certainly not expecting us, just then.  Though I have no doubt they thought we’d be along on foot sometime that night.  The greater majority were evacuating the place and it was just a camp rounding up as many as we could handle.  We had been told that the ANZACs on our right and the 3rd  Brigade were also going to ride into the town, where we did and expected to find about  7 or 8 regiments concentrating where we got through past the mosque, but to my surprise I found when I got through that I had about 80 men with me and the troop had followed on to the Railway.

I got a message back from the troop leader that he wanted help as he had more prisoners than he could handle.  Aubrey Abbott was also close by with another troop and that was about all the Desert Mounted Corp that I could see and I began to think it was time to go home, then I sighted another troop that had come around the right of the town, so we just grafted as many as we could and made back to the wells which was what we were really after as the whole troop engaged were depending on them for water.  Johnny got out in such a hurry that though he had the wells and the Railway Station and the approaches to the town mined ,he forgot to let them off, or when he tried and they failed to explode properly he did not try again. 

The 4th Light Horse on our right got about 350 prisoners on the right of the town, the reason they were there when we got through was that they were forced to dismount, also we were the lucky men and rode practically straight through.  To make it a little easier to understand how such a thing was possible here is a diagram. 

Line shaded #### was the 4L.H on our right, rode practically perhaps square onto the redoubt ==== the 12th Regiment, right flank of which you see is messed up with the 4th Regiment. I was riding on extreme left flank (so you see had no personal trench worries until the last, when I only had to ride round one end) I suppose about 20 or 30 yards.

One troop of A Squadron struck the redoubt and dismounted on the order of their Squadron leader had his horse shot here and was later wounded himself.  This left me the senior officer with the two Squadron though I knew nothing of this until it was all over.

Guy Haydn from Blandford was wounded badly and has since gone back to Australia by the next boat.

We had 20 men killed and 20 wounded, of whom one has died since. It was a rum day.  We did a 38 mile march the night before so you can imagine Adbul hardly expected us where he found us at dawn, but we just sat there until a few minutes after 4 P.M., at a few minutes after 5 P.M. we had the town and then nothing to do but collect and consolidate, though I was not very frightened of the Counter Attack which is what one always has to prepare for.

Colonel Cameron (long on from Rouchel) got a D.S.O Featherstonhaugh and Hyman a D.S.O each.  Robey and myself an M.C, three D.C.M.s and 5 MM's.  Grant our Brigadier got a bar to his D.S.O. Bouchier of the 4th a D.S.O., one of his Majors D.S.O. and two Captains M.C,s 2 D.C.M.s and 4 Military medals. Not bad going for an hour’s job, more especially as Allenby personally gave Grant his bar next day and gave his orders for the immediate decoration of us other lessor lights. They were all though inside four days i.e. by the 5th November. I was jolly pleased that Featherstonhaugh got a D.S.O., because he thoroughly deserved a recognition for the splendid cool way he deployed the Squadron in action, when his horse was wounded the first thing he did was shoot his horse out of pain, shortly after he was hit through both legs – he’ll soon be back with us now. He’s a great old bird, son of the old man who drove horses four in hand in the old days - Hyman thinking he could not possibly get past the redoubt gave the order to dismount for action, fortunately only one troop heard the order and acted on it.  The rest going on all finding some way through the odd gap or down the left side, anyway Hyman was left with the troop of men who did dismount and most of our casualties were I think amongst them, but of course one could not tell if the killed had dismounted or shot on their horses, anyhow Hyman and a few others accounted for 60 dead Turks which was not bad seeing that they were in the open and the Turks were in a beautiful trench.  All it lacked was wire and why they had not wired it I don’t know.

I think I have written enough about that stuff now  old chap except that when General Hodgen was giving out the ribbons he made a general speech to us all.   When he came along to me he said “Captain Davies has done exceleant work.  I hope soon to have the pleasure of pinning a D.S.O. along side that.” And he tapped the M.C. he had  just put on.  Well I don’t mind taking one you know, but I am not anxious to be winning one again.

Well I’ll have a chance now for Pukka promotion to the rank of Major has gone in and I have no reason I suppose it won’t go through, in fact I wish I was as certain the war would be over in 6 weeks.  I have been commanding a Squadron all the time since February when I joined the Regiment so I shall be glad to have the rank, also glad I did not have to get anyone killed.  Major Birder the late squadron leader has been appointed A.P.M.A.I.F. in Egypt and o/c ANZAC Provost Corps which should be a good soft job and one the old chap should get along O.K.  He is the soul of uprightness and is getting too old for the field.  I am writing by candlelight old chap and cannot see what I am doing so I will stop now.  I will get a copy made of what I call my official account of the Beersheba action with a copy of plan and sketch made of the place the next day which will give you a better idea of what happened.

I hope by this that you are settled down again and getting a little more appreciation for your work.  I often regret that you did not wait and join the AIF, you would certainly have your majority by now and a grand job at one or our general hospitals, but one never really knows.  I often say one wants to leave one self in the hands of providence at the game and try to get through.

Goodbye now old chap.  I hope Phyl and the children are well.  Give them my love when you write as I understand they are in England.

Mill will soon be shifting to Port Said.  She is following No. 14 General to that place as they asked her to do so.

Your affectionate brother Jack R.Davies.

 

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In memory of those who lost their lives
at the Charge of Beersheba
(Be'er Sheva)
October 31st, 1917

 

The Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery

Be'er sheva, Israel


 

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