March 18

Head of State to open memorial park at Beersheba



…Australian, Israeli Heads of State to open “The Park of the Australian Soldier” …

The Governor-General, Major General Michael Jeffery, and Mrs Jeffery will travel to Israel at the invitation of the President of the State of Israel, His Excellency Mr Shimon Peres, in late April to represent the government and people of Australia at the 60th Anniversary of the State.

According to Government House, this historic visit is the first by an Australian Head of State.

The two Heads of State[i] will on 28 April join together to open The Park of the Australian Soldier in Be’er-Sheva, as Beersheba is known in Israel.

The Park features a landscaped recreational area and playground catering for children with disabilities. The central feature is a sculpture by the  Australian sculptor, Peter Corlett, commemorating the charge of the Australian Light Horse Division’s 4th Brigade against the Turkish positions at Beersheba on 31 October 1917.  

The Park is a wonderful initiative of the Pratt Foundation, whose benefactors are Richard and Jeanne Pratt. In this the Pratt Foundation, one of the largest and most generous private sources of philanthropy in Australia, is associated with the Beersheba Foundation.  

….Chauvel, Allenby and Bourchier at Beersheba …

The charge of the 4th Light Horse was a major Australian military event and a significant chapter in our glorious past.[ii]

That glorious past is dominated very much by the great Sir Henry (“Harry”) Chauvel, the first Australian general to command an army corps, the Desert Mounted Corps. He reported to the British Field Marshal Allenby who planned to break the Turkish line of defence which came up from Beersheba, with its crucial water reserves, right to the Mediterranean.  Allenby rightly calculated that if he could break that line, it would open the way to Jerusalem and Damascus.   

Chauvel intended to take Beersheba with an infantry attack, but because of time constraints decided to make a cavalry charge. The choice lay between the Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade and the British 5th Mounted Brigade, a cavalry brigade. The commanding officers of both brigades were eager to make the attack, but Chauvel, with time running out, chose the Australians who were closer to the town. 

According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, the story that Chauvel launched the 4th Light Horse Brigade only as a last desperate throw after a “brusque” order from Allenby “does not sustain examination”.   Allenby's signal, which arose from misunderstanding an earlier message from Chauvel, was actually sent after the light horse had entered the town.

The 4th Light Horse Brigade, commanded by a distinguished soldier, Brigadier William Grant, was made up of three regiments, the 4th (Victorian), 11th (Queensland and South Australia) and 12th (New South Wales) Light Horse Regiments. The 4th and 12th were ready to make the charge under Lieutenant Colonel Bourchier, later Sir Murray William James Bourchier.

…the charge of the 4thLight Horse re-enacted…. 

The charge began at 4.30pm. The Turks relied on Austrian artillery, whose fire proved ineffective. The Turkish officers did not allow for the speed of the charge and, as Bourchier reported lost “all control over fire discipline. When the troops came within short range of the trenches the enemy seemed to direct almost all his fire at the horses."

 The light horsemen rode across the front trenches and dismounted behind the lines, attacking with fixed bayonets. The Turks, who thought the Australian force was larger than it actually was, were demoralised, and soon surrendered, abandoning the town. The Australians took over 700 prisoners, as well as valuable artillery.  They lost 31 men with 36 wounded. The charge  is portrayed in the 1987 film The Lighthorsemen, which is available as a DVD.

…the re-enactment…

On 31 October, 2007 seventy Australians, including several descendants of the Australian light horsemen, wearing uniforms of the time, with emu plumes in their slouch hats, armed with Lee Enfield 303 rifles and led by the Flag of the Commonwealth of Australia, rode proudly into the centre of Beersheva ( as the city  is now known) to what Martin Chulov, in The Australian on 1 November, 2007 reported as a “rapturous welcome from hundreds of Israeli children waving the Star of David along with Australian flags. “

It was of special significance for us that our Queensland Patron, Major General “Digger” James and Mrs Barbara James were there.   Digger James has been intimately involved in this project. Australians owe a debt of gratitude to the men of the 4th Light Horse and those who have laboured to make this project succeed, Major General James , and of course those wonderful philanthropists Richard and Jean Pratt. 

This is the sort of project normally undertaken by government. On this occasion it is a  private initiative. If and when Australians are informed about this, they will no doubt be grateful to Digger James and Richard and Jean Pratt for this great service to our nation.  



[i] Under international law and diplomatic practice, the Governor-General is the Australian Head of State. Soon after Federation, on 8 August, 1907,  the High Court of Australia ruled that the Governor-General is the “constitutional head of the Commonwealth”  and the State Governors are the “constitutional heads of state” :  R v Governor of South Australia [1907] HCA 31; (1907) 4 CLR 1497;  see this column, 9 January, 2007, “High Court resolves Head of State debate.” 
  Significantly, the bench in that case was made up of five Founding Fathers of our nation, Sir Samuel Griffith, Sir Isaac Isaacs, ( later our first Australian born Governor-General) Sir Edmund Barton ( our first Australian Prime Minister),
  Justice Richard O'Connor, and Justice Henry Bournes Higgins,  who was to hand down probably the most significant industrial relations judgement in the life of our country: Ex parte HV McKay (Harvester Case), (1907) 2 CAR 1.
In the meantime, The Queen of Australia is the Sovereign or Monarch, and the Australian Crown remains our oldest institution and indispensable to our constitutional system: see, on the ACM site, the discussion in  The Australian Crown.

[ii] See this column,” The Charge at Beersheba: the legend of our glorious past,” 3 November, 2007   


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