Beersheba, October 31, 1917
There was far more to the capture of Beersheba on 31/10/17 than the assault by 2 mounted regiments – 4 and 12 – of the Australian Light Horse on the evening of the battle. However it was this charge by the Australian horsemen, with drawn bayonets, overrunning the Turkish entrenchments that created the most vivid image of the day’s fighting, both for those there and, in turn, all those who came to read about the battle, both in the media at the time and the many histories that followed.
For those at the time, here was a military victory from another time – a throwback to the past glories of the Empire – one that was so different from the industrial slaughter on the Western Front. The casualties were negligible. The men, as both horsemen and fighters – were superb. The charge itself was reckless, daring and unstoppable. For those who saw it that day – and perhaps also those who could imagine it – it was also such an over-powering spectacle.
Beersheba proved that highly mobile, lightly-armed cavalry was still very effective, at least in that particular theatre of the War. In the euphoria, other factors tended to be downplayed or overlooked: the accurate artillery support provided, the lack of barbed wire in front of the Turkish trenches and, of course, the strategic victories won on the same day by the infantry, and also dismounted horsemen from other (Australian and New Zealand) light horse regiments.
The following short extracts from Bean’s account of the charge in the Official History begin to explain how and why Beersheba – or more correctly the charge of the light horse at dusk in the battle for Beersheba – came to play such a revered role in the Anzac story:
The fine exploit of the 4th and 12th Regiments, although it occupied less than an hour, and although only 400 or 500 light horsemen actually made touch with the enemy, had a far-reaching effect on the whole campaign. (p403)
This dazzling success of galloping horsemen against an enemy in entrenchments was of vital significance to an army commander who had at his disposal a great force of three mounted divisions. It was a shining precedent to every divisional, brigade and regimental leader. (p 403)
A German staff officer captured in Beersheba said that, when the 4th Brigade was seen to move, its advance had been taken for a mere demonstration. “We did not believe,” he said, “that the charge would be pushed home. That seemed an impossible intention. I have heard a great deal of the fighting quality of Australian soldiers. They are not soldiers at all; they are madmen.” From then to the end of the war the Turks never forgot Beersheba; their cavalry, always shy of the light horsemen, from that hour practically faded out of the war, so afraid were they of a blow from these reckless men who had ridden their big horses over strongly armed entrenchments; and the enemy infantry, when galloped, as after Beersheba they frequently were, invariably shot wildly and surrendered early in the conflict.
The charge had dealt a heavy wound to the enemy morale, from the High Command down to the men in the ranks. (p 404)
Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume VII – The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine, 1914 – 1918, 10th Edition 1941
Chapter XXIII – The Battle of Beersheba
For a general background on Beersheba see,
Beaumont, J 2013, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW. [p363ff]
See also the article in the most recent edition of Wartime-Official Magazine of the Australian War Memorial, Issue 80 Spring 2017:
‘Beersheba and its Myths’, J Bou
Robert Herbert MORLEY (1501)
4LHR KiA 31/10/17
Robert Morley was the third of the Morley brothers from Gormandale to be killed. George Thomas Morley (Post 79) had been killed on 5/8/16 and Ernest Edward Morley (Post 119) on 14/5/17. They were the sons of Mrs Sarah Morley. It was Mrs Morley who unveiled the honor roll for the state school at Gormandale in December 1918. As noted in the earlier posts, while the family was from Gormandale, none of the 3 brothers appears on the memorials in the Shire of Alberton, apart from that for the Gormandale school.
The circumstances of the Morley family of Gormandale have become clearer since the last 2 posts, referred to above. The additional detail comes from an application for leave to return to Australia made by Charles Victor Clyde Morley (1494, 4 LHR) in January 1918. Charles VC Morley had enlisted in the 4 LHR with his brother, Robert H Morley. The application for leave makes it clear that, in all, 5 brothers had enlisted. It also states that by January 1918, three brothers – George Thomas Morley (4479), Ernest Edward Morley (5662) and Robert Herbert Morley (1501) – had been killed, and another brother – Archie Cortnage Morley (5883) – had been discharged as ‘permanently disabled’. The application was for the fifth brother, the youngest, – Charles V C Morley – to return home. This brother had written on his request for the leave:
Ill health of my family at home. Widowed mother, invalided sister and brother. Mother being well aged and failing in health. Brother requires to undergo operation otherwise he will probably lose his eyesight, which would mean my mother and sister being left at home alone, therefore I think they urgently need me.
The request for the special leave was approved, but the paper work was not completed until May 1918. The son returned to Australia at the end of July and was finally discharged in early September 1918. The case is a striking example of the impact of the War on one family.
Robert Morley enlisted 28/6/15. He was 24 yo and single. He gave his occupation as ‘farmer’ but it is more likely that he worked as a farm labourer. His religion was given as Methodist. His father was dead and his mother was listed as the next-of-kin.
As indicated, he enlisted as reinforcements for 4 Light Horse Regiment and his younger brother – Charles Morley – enlisted with him. Both had been members of the 13 Gippsland Light Horse based at Traralgon. The brothers embarked for Egypt on 29/10/15.
Trooper Robert Morley was taken on strength with A Squadron, 4 LHR at Heliopolis on 2/1/16. There are few details of his service but he was hospitalised with mumps in late January 1916.
He was killed in action at the Battle of Beersheba on 31/10/17 and buried in the Beersheba War Cemetery.
The cable advising the family back In Gippsland of his death was dated 8/11/17. News of the death appeared in the Traralgon Record on 13/11/17:
Our Gormandale correspondent writes, Word came through on Friday last [9/11/17] that another of the local soldier lads had been killed in action in Palestine in the recent fighting. This was Private Rob. Morley, who with his brother Charles, left Australia for the front in October 1915. Both lads were in the Australian Light Horse, and had been in action several times. This makes the third of the Morley boys who have forfeited their lives in the fight for right and honor. The relatives, especially the aged mother, have the respectful sympathy of their neighbours and the former comrades of the fallen one.
The family placed a bereavement notice in the same paper on 4/12/17:
Mrs Morley and Family desire to convey their sincere Thanks to their many kind friends and relations for visits, letters and cards of sympathy in their recent sad bereavement, the loss of their loved son and brother, Trooper Robert Herbert Morley, killed in action in Palestine, October 31st, 1917.
Personal belongings were returned in May 1918: 1 Money belt containing 22 coins & badges, 1 aluminium cap, 1 testament, 1 towel, 2 Handk’fs, 1 Muffler, 2 Prs. Socks, 2 Housewives, 1 bundle P’cards, 2 Negatives (in Testament).
There is correspondence in the service file that sheds some light on the memorial plate (below) to those of the light horse killed in the Beersheba charge. It appears that the plate, described as ‘a metal inscription plate’, which was fashioned at the time to commemorate those killed, was returned to Australia in 1924. Base Records wrote to the families of those men whose names appeared on the memorial:
The plate has been detached from a temporary cross erected in the Beersheba Military Cemetery which was doubtless removed following the provision of individual headstones, and with a view to its future preservation it is suggested that same be handed over to the custody of the Director of the Australian War Museum. Before proceeding to dispose of it in this manner however, I should be glad to learn whether you concur with the above proposal as it is not desired to take any action in the matter that might not commend itself to the relatives of the soldiers concerned.
Mrs Morley wrote back indicating that was ‘quite willing’ for the plate to be entrusted to the War Museum. Presumably the other relatives also agreed.
There is no Red Cross report for Trooper Morley and the war diary for 4 LHR is sparse. For 31/10/17 it simply notes:
The Regiment reached Iswaiwin where it rested till 1600. Headed by A Squadron, followed by B Sqdn with C in close support, the Regiment charged at the gallop the Turkish trenches E of Beersheba, which were carried and Beersheba was taken by 1800.
The other light horse regiment involved in the mounted attack was 12 LHR. According to Bean, the total casualties for 4 LHR were 2 officers and 9 other ranks killed – Morley would have been one of the latter – and 4 officers and 15 other ranks wounded.
National Archives file for MORLEY Robert Herbert 1501
Roll of Honour: Robert Herbert Morley
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Robert Herbert Morley
O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 2, The Alberton Project
Alexander WILSON (209)
4LHR KiA 31/10/17
Alexander Wilson, also of 4 Light Horse Regiment, was also killed in the mounted assault at Beersheba on 31/10/17. There was no Red Cross file completed for him so the only details of his death are that he was one of the 9 other ranks killed in the mounted charge at on that day. His name is also on the memorial plate referred to above. He is also buried in the Beersheba War Cemetery.
There was a brother – Adam Wilson – who also enlisted. He survived the War. Both brothers were included on the roll of honor for Blackwarry. Beyond this single connection, the link to the Shire of Alberton was tenuous and the location both men most closely identified with was Traralgon, where they were both born and where their parents were living at the time they enlisted.
When he enlisted very early in the War on 19/8/14 at Broadmeadows, Alexander Wilson was 21yo and single. He gave his occupation as ‘labourer’. When his mother – Alice Wilson – completed the information for the (National ) Roll of Honour she described his ‘calling’ as ‘assistant bacon curer’. She also noted that he had attended the state school at Traralgon.
He was another local who had also served in the 13 (Gippsland) Light Horse based in Traralgon. He joined the 4 Light Horse Regiment.
Alex Wilson gave his religion as Methodist and his mother, after the War, gave as a referee for the (National) Roll of Honour the Methodist minister – W H Scurr – who had known her son in Traralgon. In fact, tributes written after his death focused on the young man’s commitment to his religion. For example, the following appeared in the Traralgon Record on 13/11/17, just after his death became known in the community:
We regret to announce the death of Warrant-Officer Alex Wilson, oldest son of Mr and Mrs R.A. Wilson of Traralgon, who was killed in action in Palestine on 31st October. ‘Alex” as he was popularly called, was one of the first to volunteer for active service when the war broke out, and the call came to Australia’s sons. We well remember when he entered the ranks of the Methodist Young People’s Union, and became a helper in the church, and prior to leaving Traralgon for the front occupied the pulpit. Deceased was a young man of great promise, and what is more, and perhaps the highest tribute that can be paid to his memory, is the fact that he lived up to his profession. Amidst all the horrors, temptations and hardships of the campaign, in Egypt, where he was stationed for some time, Alex Wilson’s life was an example to others, and many of our brave soldier lads will mourn the loss of a good officer and a faithful friend, who was always ready to do what he could to lead them in the right way. Warrant-Officer Wilson was a man amongst men, respected and honoured by all with whom he came in contact. The sympathy of all will be extended to Mr and Mrs Wilson and family.
The same paper announced on 23/11/17 that a special memorial service was to be held for Warrant Officer Wilson:
A memorial service for the late Warrant-Officer Alex Wilson will be conducted by the Rev. W. H. Chapman in the Methodist Church on Sunday evening next at 7 p.m. Specially appropriate hymns and selections will be given by the choir and orchestra.
The family’s death notice published in the paper on 16/11/17 also featured a strong religious emphasis:
WILSON. – Officially reported killed in action at Palestine on October 31st. 1917, No. 209 Warrant-Officer Alexander Wilson, loved eldest son of R. A and A. Wilson, of Traralgon, and loving brother of May, Bob (munition worker), Adam (on active service), Jim and Bosie. Aged 24 years and 5 months.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away: Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Trooper Wilson rose through the ranks. By June 1915 he was corporal. He was promoted to sergeant in September the same year. By May 1916 he was squadron sergeant-major and then regimental sergeant-major by March 1917. The actual warrant for this final appointment was returned to the family in May 1918.
The cable advising of his death was dated 8/11/17. Personal belongings were returned to the family in June 1918:
1 suit Pyjamas, 7 Prs Socks, 6 Handk’fs, 2 Knee warmers, 1 Pr Mittens, 2 Towels, 1 face cloth, 2 combs, 1 Muffler, 1 Balaclava Cap, 1 Tin ointment, Envelopes, 2 Testaments, 9 Devotional books, 1 Tin containing Note paper & pencils, 1 Diary, 1 Mirror (broken), 1 Electric torch, Writing paper, 1 pipe, 1 key chain, Cotton, Australian badges, 1 note book, 14 Military training books.
In June 1918, the mother – Alice Wilson – wrote to Base Records in Melbourne to inquire if she were eligible for any sort of ‘pension’ or ‘allowance’. In the letter she made it clear that at the time her son was killed she did not apply for any pension … as I was not dependent on my late son at the time of his death. However, since then family circumstances had changed dramatically and she was keen to know if she was entitled to any support. At the same time, she stressed that she was not prepared to claim that, at the time of her son’s death, she had been dependent on him. As she stated in the letter:
I have been told that I could get a pension by virtue of my son being killed in action but if I had to make a declaration that he (my son) was my support I will never do that, for truth above all things is what I have taught my sons & is what has been my comfort in my bereavement to know that my late son was loved & trusted by all in the Regt. for his truthfulness and clean life.
The advice she received from Base Records was to contact the relevant authorities: Deputy Commissioner of Pensions (pension) and District Paymaster, Victoria Barracks (separation allowance). The contents of the service file do not give any further details as to any outcome.
The letter also detailed the changed circumstances the family faced and revealed just how dependent families were on the labour and support of their sons. In this particular family, the War took the labour of 3 sons – 2 enlisted and 1 went overseas as a munition worker – and, in effect, the family farm was lost. Admittedly, the mother gives a range of contributing factors – floods, injuries to both herself and her husband which limited their ability to work on the dairy farm – but the key factor was the lack of support from the sons. The ‘heavy payments in wages for hired labor’ forced them to give up the farm. This was another variation on the ‘sacrifice’ that families made to support the War effort.
On 14/12/17, about one week before voting for the second referendum on conscription, the Traralgon Record published a poem entitled The Anzac Call which was … written by the late Warrant-Officer A. Wilson. There is no indication when it was written – and how it came to be supplied to the paper – but the sentiment and intentions are clearly evident from the first of its 4 verses:
Why don’t they come when we call them?
Why do they linger a day?
They promised us all sorts of things on the wharf,
On the day we sailed away.
Old pals farewelled us with handshakes and cheers
And told us never to fret
They said they’d be with us to help us soon
But thousands have not come yet.
Linda Barraclough pointed to a letter in the Trarlagon Record 15/1/18 which offered more information on the details of RSM Wilson’s death. According to the writer – H F Bolding – Wilson was killed after the charge had taken place. He was escorting 2 Turkish prisoners when one of them shot and killed him.
National Archives file for WILSON Alexander 209
Roll of Honour: Alexander Wilson
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Alexander Wilson
O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 3, The Alberton Project
Archibald Sturt TREGILGAS (1762)
3LHR DoW 1/11/17
Archibald Sturt Tregilgas is another person with only a limited connection to the Shire of Alberton. On the honor board for the district of Devon North there is an A S Tregilgas. Similarly, on the honor roll for the state school at Devon North there is an entry for A Tregilgas. The name Tregilgas is not common in the National Archives AIF data base. There are only 13 entries. And there is only 1 entry for A Tregilgas and that is (Trooper) Archibald Sturt Tregilgas (1762, 3 LHR).
Apart from this obvious Devon North link, there is nothing else to tie him to the Shire of Alberton at the time of the War and when he enlisted he did so in Adelaide. Further, his place of birth was also given as Adelaide (Sturt) and the location was even used in his name. Also, on the (National) Roll of Honour, his school was given as Strathalbyn, in country SA.
At the same time, there were Tregilgas in the Shire of Alberton – at both Yarram and Devon – in the 1880s and 1890s and it appears that there were links with the Tregilgas family in South Australia. It is possible that as a child/youth he spent time at Devon North with another branch of the family. Also, his occupation – ‘stockman’ and ‘drover’ – suggests a highly itinerant life and he could well have worked with relatives in Gippsland.
As indicated, he enlisted in Adelaide on 20/9/15. At the time he was 31 yo and single. His parents were living in Prospect, a suburb of Adelaide. He gave his religion as Church of England.
Trooper Tregilgas enlisted as reinforcements for 3 Light Horse Regiment. His group of reinforcements left Adelaide on 18/11/15. Initially in Egypt he was attached to 1 LHR but then he was taken on strength in 3 LHR in June 1916. In March 1917 he qualified as ‘1st class gunner’ (Lewis Gun). A more detailed account of his service was provided by his brother on the (National) Roll of Honour:
Took part in every engagement from Romani across the Sinai Desert including Romani, Katia, Bir-el-Abd, El Arish, Magdhaba, Rafa, and the second battle at Gaza Palestine.
The younger brother – Thomas Ernest Tregilgas – who completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour also enlisted and also served in 3 LHR. It appears that he too had links to the Shire of Alberton because there is a T Tregilgas on both the Devon North District Honor Board and the honor roll for the school at Devon North; and there was only one T Tregilgas who enlisted in the AIF.
Archibald Tregilgas died of wounds – ‘G.S.W left thigh’ – on 1/11/17. He had been wounded in the assault on Beersheba the day before. There is a brief note that suggests that he was ‘dead on admission’ when he reached the 4th Light Horse Field Ambulance. He was buried at Beersheba on 5/11/17. The cable advising of his death was dated 3/11/17.
There is no Red Cross report of his death. At Beersheba on 31/10/17, 3 LHR had been involved in the ground assault on Tel El Saba, not the mounted assault on the Turkish trenches outside Beersheba. The casualties for the day were light: 1 officer and 4 other ranks killed, 24 other ranks wounded and 1 missing; and 12 horses killed and 11 wounded. However, there was a single incident which was very costly. At 1715 that day an enemy aircraft bombed the regiment’s lines. This action was responsible for the greater part of the casualties – to both the troops and horses – that day. It is ironic that on a day when a cavalry charge proved successful, the threat of aerial bombing was so real. Bean wrote:
All day the German airmen were bold and effective in their bombing. (p 406)
Personal kit reached the family in May 1918:
2 Watches in case, 1 Shaving tidy, 1 Tobacco-pouch, 5 Handk’fs, 2 House wives, 1 Cigarette holder, 1 Jack knife, 1 Pr Scissors, 1 bell, 2 Tins of insect powder, Writing paper, Australian badges, 1 piece Aluminium, 1 spoon, 1 shaving brush, 1 brush, 2 combs, 1 toothbrush, 4 Prs Socks, 1 Pr Mittens, 1 Muffler, 2 Balaclava caps, 1 body belt, 1 Pr braces, 1 wallet, Post cards, a bottle of tabloids, 1 canvas holdall containing powder, bandage pins etc.
It appears that for those killed in Egypt, the packages of personal items returned from the front were greater than the equivalent ones being returned from France.
After the War, in October 1922, the AIF had to write and apologise to the family for entering ‘Archibald Stuart Tregilgas’ on the Memorial Plaque. They wanted to make sure that the second name was indeed Sturt, and not Stuart; and they also asked the family … in the event of the Plaque being incorrectly embossed, if you are prepared to accept same in its present form. Otherwise it will be necessary to arrange for the provision of a fresh Plaque, and I am afraid some considerable time must elapse before this can be obtained.
The mother replied:
With reference to the late No 1762 Driver A. S. Tregilgas his second christian name was Sturt, not Stuart, but if the plaque is made out in that way we are prepared to accept it in its present form.
National Archives file for TREGILGAS Archibald Sturt 1762
Roll of Honour: Archibald Sturt Tregilgas
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Archibald Sturt Tregilgas
O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 3, The Alberton Project