AUSTRALIAN LIGHT HORSE:
The Campaign in the Middle East, 1916–1918
by Phillip Bradley
Allen & Unwin, Sydney
Paperback: 184 pages
Reviewed by Michael E. Daniel
Most books about Australia’s involvement in World War I focus on Gallipoli or the Western Front. Australian Light Horse: The Campaign in the Middle East, 1916–1918 explores the other major facet of Australia’s military involvement in World War I, namely the battles in which the Light Horse was involved against the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East.
Bradley’s survey commences in April 1916. Following the withdrawal of allied forces from the Dardanelles, the Anzac Mounted Division was formed early in 1916. It served in the Near East as part of the British forces.
The immediate threat the British had to contend with – and by implication, the Light Horse – was a renewed attempt by the Ottoman Empire to invade Egypt, and cut off the Suez Canal (there had been a previous attempt in 1915).
The Battle of Romani in August 1916, in which the Light Horse played a seminal role, staved off that threat. Having averted the threat of invasion, the British then took the offensive, and gradually advanced up the Sinai Peninsula.
As the Sinai Campaign drew to a close early in 1917, the Palestine Campaign commenced. The first major target was Gaza. During the Battle of Gaza, in which the Light Horse also participated, troops entered Gaza. However, it was to result in defeat, after effective Ottoman counter attacks.
Perhaps the best-known battle in which the Australian Light Horse fought was the Battle of Beersheeba on October 31, 1917. The tale of Light Horseman charging into battle just before dusk and capturing the town before the enemy had the opportunity to blow up the wells is part of Australian military folklore. This success was followed soon by the capture of Jerusalem.
Light Horse troops continued to be involved in key military actions as the Ottoman forces were gradually driven north.
One particular challenge facing the Mounted Division was the water supply. The horses needed to drink large amounts of water, and unlike camels – which could go for days without consuming water – horses had to be regularly watered. For this reason, access to water supplies was critical, and this factor predicated much of the military action. It was also a reason as to why the British had an Imperial Camel Corps, to which some Australian troops were attached.
Although the work is a rather dry re-telling of the actions in which the Light Horse were involved, through Bradley’s study, readers will gain a glimpse into the life of the servicemen.
For example, what made the Light Horse different from cavalry units, such as those in the British Army, is that the Light Horse operated in sections of four. Soldiers rode into battle, with three of them dismounting and fighting on foot with a rifle and bayonet, while the fourth soldier minded the other soldiers’ horses.
Throughout the work Bradley quotes extensively from the letters and diaries of various servicemen, from troopers to senior officers and chaplains.
The work is also beautifully illustrated with many photos taken by Light Horsemen. Indeed, during World War I, Light Horsemen evidence suggests that Light Horsemen had the reputation of being avid photographers.
Australian Light Horse is a well-researched recount of Australian involvement in the Sinai and Palestine Campaigns.