Tag Archives: Lighthorsemen

Trip 3:Friday, September 8, Part 1

We’ve decided to stay where we are, since it’s a nice little cabin and quite near the Flinders Ranges. But first things first. After a hearty breakfast, we jumped in the ute, took our damaged trailer to the repair shop, and spent a couple of hours immersed in insurance forms (though I was just there for moral support—Nikki and Richard did all the work). But that out of the way, we headed for the mountains.

Approaching the Flinders Ranges

Road into Flinders Ranges


On the far side of Pichi Richi Pass, with stopped in Quorn, to buy train tickets for tomorrow—because Pichi Richi is not just the name of the pass, it’s also the name of the railway that was built from Port Augusta northward. The Pichi Richi Railway, opened in 1879, was originally intended to stretch all the way to Darwin, though that never happened. However, it did make it to Alice Springs by 1929, and it became an important route, especially during World War II. Service on this line ended in 1957, but that was not the end of the railway. Local train enthusiasts formed the Pichi Richi Preservation Society and, since 1974, the rails have carried historic steam trains filled with visitors to the area. (I wondered if Pichi Richi Pass was named before or after the train reached Alice Springs, where Heavitree Gap, the break in the mountains that gives access from the south to the Alice, is also called Pitchi Richi, with the added “t.” It was explained to me on my first trip that Pitchi Richi means “break in the range,” which is certainly also appropriate for Pichi Richi Pass, so perhaps it was geology rather than the connection that led to the similarity.)

Quorn Railway Station


We drove across the Willochra Plain, passing the Kanyaka ruins, which we visited on my list trip. Showing nothing of the harshness that led to the ruins, the plain today was very green, with orange, yellow, purple, and white wildflowers running riot over the rolling terrain. Birds were everywhere, not just here but throughout the day: galahs, corellas, kites, eagles, kestrels, magpies, Port Lincoln parrots, and more.

We stopped briefly in Hawker, where Richard was greeted warmly by friends from his days as a guide in this area. The roadhouse at the center of town had a display of souvenirs and photos from the making nearby of the film “The Lighthorsemen.” One of Richard’s friends pointed out the locals who had bit parts in the movie—all much younger in the photos than they are now, as they movie was made a while ago. But it was a remarkable bit of history, and I have no doubt taking part in reproducing it would be a memory not readily given up. (If you have any interest in the history behind the movie, as well as a clip of the key battle, I posted about it after mentioning a monument to the Light Horse that I had seen in Western Australia. You can see it here.)

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Light Horsemen

Monument to ANZACs, Albany, W.A.

Monument to ANZACs, Albany, W.A.

“Erected by their comrades & the Governments of Australia and New Zealand in memory of the members of the Australian Light Horse, the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, the Imperial Camel Corps & the Australian Flying Corps who lost their lives in Egypt, Palestine & Syria, 1916-1918.” So reads the inscription on the wall surrounding the monument pictured here, which stands on Mt. Clarence in Albany.

I related a fair bit about the ANZACs—the Australia New Zealand Army Corps, which saw some of the worst of the action in World War I—in my March 23, 2007 post about ANZAC biscuits (delightful cookies that honor the brave warriors). Australia and New Zealand were both young countries when World War I began, and yet they rallied to England’s aid and headed for the Middle East and Europe. The ANZACs sustained incredible casualties—but they also scored some astonishing victories—including the almost legendary battle of Beersheba.

Beersheba— in the area known as Palestine, though in 1917 it was part of the great, sprawling Turkish Ottoman Empire—was the key to breaking through the Turkish lines. The Allies, but most especially the British, had fought for months, but the Turkish forces were strong and well armed. The decisive battle came on October 31, 1917, a seemingly doomed effort to take Beersheba before nightfall. The British turned to two regiments of Australian mounted soldiers: the 4th (Victoria) and 12th (New South Wales) Light Horse Regiments. The plan—charge. Have a few hundred Australians, bayonets in hand, simply run their horses over open ground at the several thousand Turks, in trenches, behind rifles, cannons, and machine guns. But the Turks never imagined a charge. They assumed that, like the British cavalry, the horsemen would get off a few thousand meters away and then attack on foot, using their rifles.

But this wasn’t the British. The Aussies yelled bloody murder and ran straight at the guns. By the time the Turks figured out what was happening, their cannons were almost useless, as the Light Horsemen were too close. After a dangerous gallop of a few miles, the horses were vaulting over the Turkish trenches. Aussies dismounted, and fighting was now hand-to-hand. The Light Horsemen were still hugely outnumbered, but the charge had demoralized the Turkish troops, many of whom fled. By nightfall, Beersheba had been taken.

The movie “The Lighthorsemen” is not the best movie to ever come out of Australia—that would probably be “Breaker Morant,” though that’s about a different war. For movies about ANZACs in World War I, “Gallipoli” is probably more reflective of the grim reality and is better acted and constructed. But if you simply want to be amazed by an astonishing piece of history that is little celebrated outside of Australia, or if you just like heroes on horseback, I do recommend the film. And the battle, while the heart of the movie, is not all the movie contains—there is background, build-up, and even a bit of romance.

To give you a sense of the film, here is an excerpt–the attack on Beersheba, from “The Lighthorsemen.” It makes the statue mentioned above a bit more understandable.

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