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  • Writer's pictureHannah Phillips

1917: Remembering Australia's War History

100 years ago in 1917, Australia experienced what is considered by many, as the single worst year in our nation's history.

World War I was raging on, and Australian troops suffered massive casualties in battles right around the world - including on the Western Front in France and Belgium, as well as in the Battle of Beersheba, which occurred 100 years ago today.

Image: Australian soldiers in a trench on the Western Front, Circa 1917. Source: State Library of Queensland

The Battle of Beersheba played a pivotal role in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, with Wayne describing the historical events, and how they are being commemorated today, on the Mid Morning Show.

According to Member for Barker, Tony Pasin, "Beersheba was a heavily fortified town 43 kilometres from the Turkish bastion of Gaza. It anchored the right end of a defensive line that stretched from Gaza on the Mediterranean coast. The capture of Beersheba would break the Gaza—Beersheba line and enable the British, Australian and New Zealand forces to enter Gaza."

"At dawn on 31 October 1917 the British Corps launched an attack on Beersheba but by late afternoon they had made little headway toward the town and its vital water wells.

"With only a few hours of day light remaining, in one last desperate attempt, the Australian Light Horse Brigade was ordered to charge straight at the Turkish trenches. Failure would mean languishing in the desert and dying of thirst.

"General Grant gave the order personally to the Regiment “men you’re fighting for water. There’s no water between this side of Beersheba and Esani. Use your bayonets as swords. I wish you the best of luck.”

Remarkably the Australian light horsemen took less than an hour to overrun the Turkish line and enter Beersheba."

During the battle 36 Australians were wounded, with a further 31 losing their lives, including Tantanoola farmer, Private Donald James Morrison.

Mr Pasin commented on the significant event in Australian history, saying: "This Tuesday I will take a moment to reflect on the actions of the Australian Light Horse Regiment at Beersheba and the brave souls like Private Morrison who lost their lives in what is remembered as the last great cavalry charge. Lest we forget."

To view the Beersheba Commemorative Services live, visit the Department of Veterans' Affairs YouTube channel at 5.35pm AEDT today.


2017 also marks the centenary of Australia's involvement on the Western Front, where almost three times the number of men were killed during that year, than in the entire Gallipoli campaign.

Dr Brendan Nelson is the Director of the Australian War Memorial, was an Australian Ambassador to Belgium, and joined Anita on the Country Viewpoint in the lead up to Remembrance Day on November 11.

Anita began by asking why 1917 is such a defining year for Australia.

Gallipoli and Kokoda are battles that seem to be etched in our nation’s history, while those on the Western Front – some of which Australia won – are less well known. Anita asked Dr. Nelson why.

Australia played a significant role in the overall war effort, with Dr. Nelson describing some of the more significant battles for Australia during 1917.

Back at home, Australian families were struggling to deal with the loss of war, and the lack of knowledge surrounding the whereabouts of many of our troops - Dr. Nelson explained how people coped during that time.

With Remembrance Day less than 2 weeks away, Anita asked Dr. Nelson if the important date that marks the anniversary of the end of WWI was losing its relevance with younger Australians.

To find out more about Australia's War History, visit the Australian War Memorial website, or the Department of Veterans' Affairs ANZAC Portal.

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