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Beersheba: A Journey Through Australia's Forgotten War

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It was a glorious triumph of arms for Australian forces, a romantic moment of dash and bravura that stood out in the tragedy of World War I. Yet it barely registers in Australia's national consciousness.In October 1917 members of the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade took part in what is now known as the 'last great cavalry charge'. Waving bayonets overhead, they charged across six kilometres of open ground, cheating bombs, shells and bullets before capturing, in a desperate hand-to-hand battle, the Turkish trenches that held the key to the strategic stronghold of Beersheba. The charge was the last daring act of a day-long fight by combined British forces to capture Beersheba, and also a turning point in Britain's war against the Ottoman Empire, sending the Turks fleeing north to ultimate defeat.Yet the story has slipped through the cracks of history.Journalist Paul Daley's journey in search of Beersheba takes him from Australia to Israel, from past to present, and from the battlefields to the archives, where he discovers a dark episode in Australian history that sits starkly at odds with the Anzac myth and legend. For Daley, the Beersheba of then and now comes to take on new meaning.

480 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2009

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About the author

Paul Daley

29 books7 followers
Author and journalist Paul Daley's books—Canberra, Collingwood: A Love Story, Beersheeba and Armaggedon—have been finalists in major literary awards, including the Nib, the Manning Clark House Cultural Awards and the Prime Minister's History Prize. He is the winner of the Walkley Award for Investigative Journalism and the Paul Lyneham Award for Press Gallery journalism. In 2013 he co-wrote, with Katie Pollock, the acclaimed political play, The Hansard Monologues. He also writes essays and short stories, and about history and national identity for The Guardian and Meanjin. He lives in Canberra with his wife, Lenore Taylor, and their children. This is his first novel.

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Displaying 1 - 9 of 9 reviews
Profile Image for Geoff.
4 reviews
September 24, 2017
Fascinating history and a journalist's personal journey to uncover it make great reading. I appreciated the way he gave air-time to various points-of-view on the events. How fortunate that he wrote it while there were still some living participants he could talk to! Without trying to do so, it gives an insight into the Australian character - the good, bad and ugly sides. A pleasure to read and thought-provoking.
377 reviews1 follower
August 24, 2021
More than a history of the Lighthorse up to and beyond Beersheba. Also covers the importance (or not) of the charge to modern Israel..... I hadn't even realised that some people saw this campaign as
a crusade with all the negative feelings that causes. I was completely unaware of the atrocity committed by some of these troops after the war had finished and subsequently covered up. Bought a book on Allenby based on this book too.
Profile Image for Patrick Harrison.
87 reviews14 followers
July 9, 2018
One star deducted for not interrogating the present-day politics of Israel-Palestine and Australia's relationship to it, but regurgitating key points of the conventional narrative.

Otherwise, this is an amazing book about an episode of Australia's history that should not be forgotten.
Profile Image for Lester Nathan.
27 reviews1 follower
January 14, 2020
Very enjoyable. Daley blends history with his own adventures in Israel and the West Bank to tell a more complete picture of the ANZAC liberation of Beersheeba in 1917.
I'm glad I got to read this book.
Profile Image for Melkor  von Moltke.
66 reviews10 followers
August 2, 2018
In his book on the charge at Beersheba Mr. Daley has crafted a superb account of the Great War in the Levant, the Australian role in the campaign, the massacre at Surafend, and the enduring legacy of Beersheba in Australian and Israeli history. Mr. Daley has made an admirable effort to not just describe the battle but its place in the larger campaign and subsequent century, digging through archives, interviewing surviving family members, and speaking with scholars and enthusiasts.

The military portion is competently done. The actions of the various UK and Commonwealth forces are all given their due and the various tactical and strategic decisions are examined. Oddly enough, the battle section was a bit difficult to get through, largely because the various players were difficult to distinguish between. I, perhaps unfairly, compared it to Mark Bowden's book on Hue where each actor, although they share similar backgrounds, is distinct in the narrative. Here it was simply an Australian Soldier with a familiar name did something, while another Australian soldier with a familiar name did something else. It was just a bit difficult to invest in the narrative.

However, the rest of the book was superb. The reader is introduced to surviving relatives of the light horsemen, often complaining about Colonel Lawrence (of Arabia), religious enthusiasts convinced that the battle and the Australians' role in it was God's divine will to help establish Israel, to Israeli generals who recognize the success of the charge but downplay it in the overall campaign, let alone as a pivotal moment in the founding of Israel.

An important feature of this book is the amount of time that it devotes to the massacre of Arabs at Surafend. Mr. Daley studies the various descriptions, often brushing it off in a line or two of text, as well as General Allenby's verbal reprimand of the Australian light horse. In this work it can certainly not be said that Mr. Daley has brushed over Surafend, it gets four or five chapters devoted to the actions of the ANZACs and other British and Commonwealth soldier both during the massacre and in the subsequent years of brushing the atrocity under the rug.

Overall, this was an excellent and in depth work on this much romanticized, though often forgotten, battle of the First World War, from its place in the larger campaign to it's legacy stretching a century to the modern day.

I received a free copy of this book from netgalley.
Profile Image for Kerry Hennigan.
496 reviews12 followers
April 28, 2013
Knowing the movie 'The Light Horseman' and its famous predecessor - the vintage 'Forty Thousand Horsemen', plus visits to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, had me thinking I knew pretty much all about the battle for Beersheba.

Not so, as Paul Daley's retelling reveals much that was not covered in the movie media or explored in the AWM exhibits.

The background of the Australian Light Horse, their previous engagements, potted histories of their leaders as well as 'average' troopers give us greater insight into the men and circumstances involved in that famous last great cavalry charge of modern warfare.

The Light Horsemen were, after all, mounted infantry - they rode to their destination, and then dismounted to engage the enemy on foot. While Beersheba was not the only charge they attempted, it is certainly the largest and most famous - a part of ANZAC folklore.

Daley explores the facts behind the legend, walks the terrain over which it took place, and features at times moving excerpts from the letters and memoirs of those who took part in it and other Light Horse engagements.

As is nearly always the case with famous historical events, there is much more to Beersheba, including more men, more battlefronts, more unrewarded heroics, than the movies and museum displays could possibly encompass.

Here too, is the now familiar account of frustration with British commanders who failed to utilise the Commonwealth forces to best advantage, and similarly failed to acknowledge the debt due to the actions of these men.

Daley's book is a thrilling recounting of events before and after Beersheba and a fascinating travelogue of his own journey of discovery of the people and places who took part in it - and their descendants and admirers.

History should always be this well told.
16 reviews1 follower
June 2, 2012
If you are a genealogist or family historian you will want to read this book. Beersheba traces the soldiers who fought in WW1 from Ausralia and NewZealand India and England. General Allenby is well known in history as the first into Damascus. A must read is the investigative accounts given by Paul Daley as he interviews soldiers still living and the family of fallen soldiers. Paul Davey is a writer who writes the truth as it happened during the Great War while taking you on an adventure into the Judean hills and beyond, your thoughts will be different to those you had formed before reading this remarkable book.
Profile Image for Shaun Major.
116 reviews1 follower
July 24, 2012
It is an amazing tale, & Daly intersperses handsomely small snippets of tales from the Lighthorsemen themselves. For a journalist, though, it is far wordier than it should have been resulting in a less enjoyable read than the tale deserved. Twice the necessary length unfortunately!
Displaying 1 - 9 of 9 reviews

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