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Remarks by Ambassador Paul Griffiths at the Battle of Beersheba Commemoration 2020

Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, Be’er Sheva
30 October 2020

On 31 October 1917, almost 103 years ago to the day, young Australian light horsemen faced an uncertain future. Some British and ANZAC objectives had already been achieved, but Beersheba was still in the hands of the Ottomans with only a few hours of daylight remaining.

Private Walter Mundell Keddie chronicled: “We began to talk among ourselves saying Beersheba will be taken and us not doing anything when about 5 o’clock our major came and said that Beersheba had not been captured but we were going in.”

Under the command of Lieutenant General Harry Chauvel, the men of the 4th and 12th Light Horse regiments were ordered to carry out a bold cavalry charge with the aim of taking control of Beersheba and securing the town’s wells before dark. The charge was unusual in that as Light Horse they did not dismount to fight, but rather were to run over the top of the Ottoman positions armed with bayonets and not the sabres of traditional cavalry. 

Despite being outnumbered, the ANZACs’ daring mounted charge was a success – ensuring the capture of Beersheba and significantly impacting the course of the Sinai-Palestine Campaign. 

Upon receiving the orders for the cavalry charge, Captain Jack Davies stood up from his saddle and roared: “Beersheba next stop!” These soldiers had fears about their fate and their futures, but they continued to gallop. Under adversity and heavy fire, they galloped on. 

Far from their families and friends, they kept going until the mission was complete. The ANZACs displayed courage, mateship, persistence, and leadership during this crucial battle and throughout the First World War. 

The 1241 Commonwealth soldiers (175 Australian) buried here, the Beersheba War Cemetery, made the ultimate sacrifice in defence of those values and in service of their country. 

The lessons of Beersheba don’t only reside in the history books or in the distant past, but are just as relevant to us standing here today. In my short time in Israel, I have enjoyed learning more about the Beersheba story, including speaking at the ‘Ride Like An ANZAC’ webinar this past Wednesday.

As we face quite uncertain and challenging times, all of us can draw strength from this remarkable event. 

In the diplomatic sphere, these times demand we strengthen our mateship and collaboration in the fight against COVID-19. In the defence arena, it means reinforcing our already strong security links in the region. 

Australian First World War correspondent and historian, C.E.W. Bean, wrote that the ANZAC spirit “stood, and still stands, for reckless valour in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship and endurance that will never own defeat.”

Ultimately, regardless of one’s vocation or station in life, each and every one of us has an opportunity to exemplify the spirit of the ANZACs described by Bean.

Aside from commemorating this anniversary each year, there is no better way to honour their memory. 

Lest We Forget.