In a tribute to the centenary of the Great War and to the most successful and costly battles that Australian soldiers fought on foreign soil, I did this commemorative graphite pencil drawing, with additions, of a famous Australian War Memorial, Canberra photograph (AWM E00019) produced by Herbert Frederick Baldwin in December 1916.
It depicts unidentified men of the 5th Division AIF partaking in cigarettes and resting on a muddy bank beside the Montauban road, near Mametz, France. The men are wearing sheepskin jackets and woollen gloves to combat the terrible Somme winter of 1916-17. The soldiers are on their way to the trenches to face the horrific bloodbath on the Western Front, carrying full kit and .303 Lee Enfield rifles. The only identification that I can recognised on their uniform jackets is the large vertical oblong colour patch on the shoulders which represents the Fifth Division AIF. The absence of colour prevents the determination of their Battalion and Brigade.
The sheepskin vests were made from skins sourced by Sydney butchers and stitched by the hands of women on the home front. Over 75,000 vests were sent to warm Australian soldiers fighting in France, Belgium and Palestine during the bone-chilling winters of World War I.
They were sanctioned by the army to be worn by servicemen as part of the uniform of the day.
Neither cavalry nor professional soldiers, the men of the Australian Light Horse gallantly rode into history. They were frontier Australians of a generation which we will sadly never see the like of again. The charge against the Turks at Beersheba on the 31st October 1917 was the last great wartime cavalry charge. The audacity and ferocity of it stunned an otherwise formidable enemy into capitulation. As one light-horseman would later say, “It was the horses that did it; those marvellous bloody horses. Where would we have been but for them.”
‘THOSE MARVELLOUS BLOODY HORSES’
History’s last great cavalry charge by some 800 Australian light-horsemen of the 4th & 12th Regiments of the 4th Light Horse Brigade on the 31st October, 1917, Beersheba. Approaching the entrenched enemy at a trot, then canter, down a broad sloping valley, three squadrons of mounted infantry spaced 300 metres apart and each stretching 1100 metres across, began their audacious charge at a gallop just under 2½ kilometres from the Turkish trenches and guns.
The classic cavalry charge formation of horsemen swept across the rock strewn plain with wild yelling, even laughter, their handheld sharpened bayonets glinting in the setting sun. Men and horses met violent death and wounding from enemy rifle, machine gun and artillery fire, and attack from two German aircraft. Regardless, they galloped on with great courage and terrible ferocity to hurtle over the trenches of their formidable yet stunned enemy to capture and claim the vital wells of Beersheba. Thirty-one Australians were killed, 36 wounded. At least 70 horses died.
As one light-horseman would later say, “It was the horses that did it; those marvellous bloody horses. Where would we have been but for them.”
Limited Edition of 1917 only –
Original drawing is being raffled
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Graphite Pencil drawing inspired by the proposed establishment of a Memorial in Hay to the Australian Light Horse in time for the centenary of The Charge at Beersheba in 2017.
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