The Governor-General, Patsy Reddy is in Israel for the centennial commemoration of the ANZAC victory in the battle for Be’er-Sheva.
This is the first visit of a reigning Governor-General of New Zealand to Israel. Along with commemoration events, the visit will see the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in the field of aviation which has been touted as an opportunity to strengthen bilateral ties.
New Zealand and Israel have a long history of positive cooperation dating back to the Battle of Be’er-Sheva, but also share modern values and a great enthusiasm to promote, inter alia, future cooperation in the fields of R&D, High Tech, Agriculture and Cyber Technologies. (MFA Spokesperson’s Bureau)
The focus of the commemoration is the Battle of Beersheba which has become popularised through movies and fictionalised portrayals of the Australian Lighthorse Brigade’s charge into Beersheba to capture the town. The role of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, which included the Auckland Mounted Rifles, the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, the Wellington Mounted Rifles, and smaller sized support units, has not received as much attention.
The battle for Beersheba raged for much of the day. The Anzac and Australian mounted divisions first had to capture two redoubts, Tel el Sakaty and Tel el Saba. Tel el Sakaty was taken around 1pm after a four-hour fight. Tel el Saba, which had been allocated to the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, was a tough battle. It finally fell around 3pm after the ANZAC Mounted Division’s reserves and artillery provided support for the the New Zealanders.
New Zealander Lieutenant-Colonel McCarroll recorded the day’s events in his diary. He received the order at 8am to take the hill at Tel el Saba. His plan was to cross the Wadi Saba with the Auckland Mounted Rifles in advance to take the hill, Canterbury Mounteds on the right and the Wellington Mounteds in Reserve.
He describes their ascent up the wadi to take the hill, under heavy shell fire:
I signalled the Artillery to lift up 200 yards and we advanced very quickly, the ground was very rough, large boulders covered the ground, we were now near the second position, Turks were shelling hard, this hill was the key position – then the final rush we took the hill. My signallers got in touch with Brigade and reported that we had gained the hill – the Turks lashed at us with shells and it was quite impossible to stay on top.
I got to a position where I could see ahead and a great sight suddenly sprung up – on our left lines and lines of horsemen moving. The Turks were on the run and the Aus Division was after them – we could see the horses jumping the trenches – dust everywhere. The fire slackened and it seemed that Beersheba was ours. We came in for a very heavy shelling. The country on our front was too rough for horses, there was no doubt Tel el Saba was the key to the position, when the Turk lost that he had to retire.”Lieutenant-Colonel James McCarroll
The contribution of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles was significant in securing Tel el Saba. This opened the way for the famous Australian Light Horse Brigade charge to take place late in the day.
Field Marshal Sir Edmund H. H. Allenby, spoke well of New Zealand troops.
When I assumed command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, in June, 1917, the New Zealanders were already veteran troops proved in many a battle. Two more years of hardship and danger were to pass before they saw the end of their labours. Two years of unceasing toil, crowned with much glory…Nothing daunted these intrepid fighters; to them nothing was impossible. I am proud to have had the honour of commanding them; and they have my congratulations, my thanks and my good wishes. Sir Edmund H. H. Allenby
Many descendants of those who served in the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade have made the trip to Israel to visit the graves of loved ones and attend commemorations. This year’s commemoration attended by the Governor General is expected to ‘ further cement the ties between Israel and New Zealand, on all levels’.
Parts of this article were adapted from an earlier published item on Shalom.Kiwi
Governor General, ‘Israel in NZ’ facebook.