The ANZAC Museum

We visited the new Australia and New Zealand Armoured Corps (ANZAC) Museum in Beer Sheva that was opened on October 31, 2017, in the presence of the PM of Australia and the Governor General of New Zealand and PM Netanyahu of Israel, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle of Beer Sheva on October 31, 1917.  This battle proved to be the turning point in WWI between the British and Turkish forces in the Holy Land, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire.  The ANZAC forces represented by the Australia Light Horse regiments attacked Beer Sheva unexpectedly in the famous last horse charge in history and succeeded in capturing the town with its essential wells.

This museum is situated adjacent to the British Commonwealth Cemetery that contains nearly 1,300 graves of mostly Australian and New Zealand soldiers who died in the campaign for what was then named Palestine by the British.  It tells the story of the British Expeditionary Force that sent many Australians as well as British and other forces to their deaths in the abortive attempt to capture Turkish territory at Gallipoli, with the intention of thence capturing Istanbul.  This attack was the idea of Winston Churchill, then Lord of the Admiralty, who sought to open a second Eastern Front as the Allies were bogged down in trench warfare on the Western Front.  As a result of this terrible failure he was forced to resign.

The Turks tried also unsuccessfully to capture the Suez Canal by attacking Egypt from Gaza, but were turned back. Then the British under Gen. Murray counter-attacked Gaza twice unsuccessfully. PM Lloyd George replaced him with Gen. Allenby, who decided to outflank the Turks, with their German officers, and attack Beer Sheva instead.  (There are two claimants for the origin of this idea, Aaron Aaronsohn, the famous agronomist, who advised Allenby about the water sources in the Sinai and  Negev deserts, and Richard Meinertzhagen, an Intelligence Office on Allenby’s staff, who dropped a knapsack with plans for a third attack on Gaza, that misled the Turks.)

The attack on Beer Sheva required the transfer of tens of thousands of men and horses through the desert.  The British built a railway to transport materiel part-way and also they traveled at night so as not to be seen by the enemy.  The British attacked Beer Sheva from the west and the New Zealand regiments captured Tel Sheva, but the Australian Light Horse were the ones who were sent in on a charge from the east that proved the victorious attack.  The Light Horse were not cavalry who remain on their horses during battle, but infantry who ride to the front on their horses and then dismount and attack.  In this case, the Light Horse actually jumped over the Turkish defensive trenches and caught them by surprise and won the day.

The Museum tells this story in detail, and then there is a re-enacted movie that is both historically accurate and exciting to watch.  There is no doubt that the bravery of the Australians to some extent made up for their defeat at Gallipoli.  This pivotal battle caused the outflanked Turks at Gaza to withdraw and led soon after to the capture of Jerusalem by Allenby’s forces, the first great Allied victory of the War.  Without the Australian’s sacrifice the British could not have defeated the Turks in Palestine and the State of Israel would probably not have come into existence.

When the movie is finished you exit onto a balcony that overlooks the Cemetery where these brave soldiers are buried and it is a sobering and magnificent sight.  This Museum is a gem that anyone who visits Beer Sheva should not miss.

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