There will be mountain bikes instead of mounted horses, and riders for peace instead of soldiers, but the pride Australians and New Zealanders feel for the Desert Mounted Corps remains true.
This October, to mark the centennial of the Battle of Beersheva, an intrepid group of Australians and New Zealanders will ride 100 kilometers in the footsteps — or more accurately, the hoofprints — of a battle that involved what war historians consider the last of the great cavalry charges.
The DMC was a British Army corps that fought during the First World War. It was made up of the ANZAC Mounted Division, the Australian Mounted Division, and the Yeomanry Mounted Division. (These later were joined by Indian cavalry and a small French cavalry detachment.)
The DMC’s first operation was the Battle of Beersheva, fought on October 31, 1917, when the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force, commanded by General Edmund Allenby, attacked and captured the Ottoman garrison at Beersheva. That morning, the DMC launched successful limited attacks, and soon afterward a series of attacks by the ANZAC Mounted Division resulted in the capture of the eastern side of the city.
Late in the afternoon, the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade — bayonets in hand and rifles slung across their backs — broke through two lines of trenches to enter the town. That was the cavalry charge that made history.
The unusual decision to charge from east to west, into the setting sun — meaning that both horse and rider essentially were riding blind — also is considered to have been decisive because it was so completely unexpected. The surprise may have contributed to ANZAC’s success.
The battle was the beginning of an offensive that would result in the British Empire forces capturing Jerusalem in December 1917.
To mark the centenary, there will be a series of events including a reenactment of the horseback charge as well as special ceremonies sponsored by the Israeli, Australian, and New Zealand governments.
These include the Ride Like an ANZAC tour that will start at the ANZAC memorial near Kibbutz Beeri and end at Beersheva Park. Organizers report that some 120 riders from Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain — including a few Bedouins — already have signed up.
“Most Israelis have never heard of the ANZACs, while for us Australians it’s a very significant ride into history,” says Dan Hakim, Australian-born chairman of Kids Kicking Cancer and founder of Budo for Peace, who is organizing the tour as a fundraiser for the charities.
A new museum dedicated to the 1917 ANZAC Battle will open its doors as part of the celebrations, he added.