The most remarkable cavalry campaign that liberated a city and a religion

Last year New Zealand commemorated the centenary of the Battle of Bersheva – where the Australian Lighthorse Brigade and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade made a significant contribution to the defeat of the Ottoman forces in World War I. The event was marked with the first ever visit of a reigning Governor-General of New Zealand to Israel, the opening of a new museum, and other events. This year marks the centenary of another important battle against the Ottoman Empire that led to the liberation of Israel.

The Indian Army celebrates ‘Haifa Day’ every year to commemorate Battle of Haifa on the 23rd September. That is the date in 1918 that the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade undertook what is considered one of the most bravely-contested battles of World War I.

The Brigade was formed from Imperial Service Troops provided by the Indian Princely States of Hyderabad, Mysore, Patiala, Alwar, and Jodhpur. They came under ANZAC command for some campaigns against the Ottomans and worked closely with Kiwi and Allied troops.

Fighting under the leadership of British General Sir Edmund Allenby, the Jodhpur Lancers were tasked with capturing the slopes of Mount Carmel, which were defended by Ottoman gunners and artillery, while the Mysore Lancers moved around to attack the town from the East and North. This was required to capture the strategic city of Haifa, with its rail network and harbour.

The campaign remains the only known incident in military history when a fortified town was captured by cavalry on the gallop. The bravery of the Indian troops, armed only with lances and swords against the Turkish artillery and machine guns, was recognised by General Allenby, who commented

“No more remarkable cavalry action of its scale was fought in the whole course of the campaign”General Edmund Allenby

A  total of 1,350 German and Ottoman prisoners were captured by the two Indian regiments. Meanwhile, Indian casualties amounted to eight dead and 34 wounded soldiers plus 60 horses were killed and another 83 injured. Among the fallen Indian soldiers was Major Thakur Dalpat Singh MC, dubbed the ‘Hero of Haifa’ for leading the charge and commanding his men with valour.

One of the residents of Haifa in 1918 was ‘Abdu’l-Baha, the son of the Founder of the Baha’i Faith and designated by Him as His successor. The commander of the Turkish forces in Syria and Palestine, Jamal Pasha, had threatened to crucify ‘Abdu’l-Baha and destroy the Baha’i holy places in Haifa and nearby Acre. With the liberation of Haifa by the Indian soldiers, the threat to ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s life was lifted. Haifa is now home to beautiful Baha’i gardens and headquarters.

Israel released a commemorative stamp for the Battle of Haifa this year and presented it to H.E. Pavan Kapoor, Ambassador of India to Israel during a special ceremony that took place last month in Haifa.

In Auckland, the Battle of Haifa was remembered during an event celebrating 70 years of Israel’s independence. Honorary Consul, David Robinson, recalled the bravery of the lancers and their contribution to liberating Israel and presented Veer Khar, Chair of the Indian Association of New Zealand, with a certificate from The State of Israel.

Zionist Federation president, Rob Berg, also presented Mr Khar with a letter from Chairman of the Jewish Agency, Isaac Herzog, which ended with “The heroism of the Indian People will forever be a part of our history, and the bond between India and Israel will never be broken”.

Mr Khar told the Israel Institute of New Zealand he was honoured to attend the event and

A strong 200,000 Kiwi-Indian community appreciates the gratitude shown by ‘The State of Israel and The Jewish Agency for Israel for the critical role played by Indian Lancers at the crucial ‘Battle of Haifa – exactly a century back – starting a trend of victory for the civil society in this part of the world. The mementos received shall be used to decorate the wall at the new diversity center (currently in its final phase of construction at 25 Tui Road, Papatoetoe, Auckland).

We note that centuries back when the Jews were fleeing their homeland, India as a responsible, humane and tolerant nation, welcomed them and it can be proudly emphasized that it may have been the only country where Jews faced no atrocities. Today, the changing political environment has brought these two proud nations close together yet again and it would be a pleasure for the Kiwi Indians to be part of the journey ahead.Veer Khar

On ANZAC day, 2017, the Indian Association of New Zealand hosted an event to remember the ANZAC and Indian troops who fought against the Ottoman Empire. At that event was Ravi Kumar, who wrote a book titled “Indian Heroism in Israel” to chronicle the contribution of the Indian forces and also touches on the connection between Israel and India. Kumar writes “it can be safely said that most Indians admire Israel and India is the most pro-Israel country in the world.”

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