Colin F. Jones

~ One Spur And The Arrow ~
Part 11 ~ CHARGE OF THE WAR HORSE

ALT
“It was growing dark, and the enemy trenches were outlined in fire by the flashes of their rifles. Beyond, and a little above them, blazed the bigger, deeper flashes of their field guns, and our own shells burst like a row of red stars over the Turkish positions. In front, the long lines of cavalry swept forward at racing speed, half-obscured in clouds of reddish dust. Amid the deafening noise all around, they seemed to move silently, like some splendid, swift machine. Over the Turks they went, leaping the two lines of deep trenches, and, dismounting on the further side, flung themselves into the trenches with the bayonet.”

– Lieutenant-Colonel R.M.P. Preston
~ 365 ~

As was the way of One Spur
For adventure was his call
The First World War attracted him
He could not resist at all.

~ 366 ~

So he rode down to Sydney
With friend Deacon by his side
To volunteer for duty
Filled with a national pride

~ 367 ~

Both passed the simple testing
To join the Lighthorse team
Both man and horse accepted
Though both were very green

~ 368 ~

Many others joined them
From many different towns
City boys and cattle men
From wide spread station grounds

~ 369 ~

They rode down from the Bucca
From seashore homes and farms
Boys and men alike
With rifles in their arms

~ 370 ~

They left their homes and country
Aboard a gallant ship
That was no place for horses
‘Twas not a pleasant trip

~ 371 ~

But finally they landed
Upon a desert shore
Where the Cavalry troops had banded
To form the Lighthorse Corps

~ 372 ~

Empty was the desert
Devoid of plants and wet
With seas of giant sand dunes
And angular land form tracts

~ 373 ~

Alluvial fans, rock waddies
Salinas on the flats
Where vertifact pebbles glint in sun
Beyond the yardang mats

~ 374 ~

Except in Beersheba
Good wells were scarce to find
Thus water was a problem
The Palm hods were unkind

~ 375 ~

The brackish Palm hod water
Was never good to taste
And horses only drank it
When life might wilt and waste

~ 376 ~

The new men joined a staging camp
Where the Kings of feathers were
They were still but shining lamps
Who had not yet tasted war

~ 377 ~

Grey coats, Grey horses, faces grey
Rode by in dust, fatigued
They had charged the Nek this day
The Turkish camp besieged

~ 378 ~

From Pope’s the swaying skyline fell
In heaps of flesh and screams
In style splendid into hell
They had braved the bullet streams

~ 379 ~

In faces now youths trace was gone
Pale anguish lingered there
‘Tis best to not recall-not one
Who’s eyes such horror bare

~ 380 ~

The Whaler, now a desert horse
That bore the Aussie well
Was seen by British rank of course
As a beast with ‘much to tell’

~ 381 ~

“‘Somewhat upon the lighter side’
This horse a Whaler called
Part Timor, Welsh and brumby pride
With ‘toff’ thoroughbred installed”

~ 382 ~

“Bares cleaner bone than most about
Fine neck, and broader head
A barrel large, but under-stout
A clean and racy leg”

~ 383 ~

In all he is a handsome beast
With lightning hoof as well
A match for any here at least
And defiant of the shell

~ 384 ~

“He’ll carry man a lengthy mile
And bare his burden well
He’s got the spirit and the style
One look, and you can tell”

~ 385 ~

The walled city of the prairie
Mid the wadi saba plain
Is the town called Beersheba
An old and ancient name

~ 386 ~

It lies within a basin
Below the Hebron hills
That feed the Wadi Ghazza
Where the drainage water spills

~ 387 ~

‘Tis held by Turkish soldiers
And German-Yilderim troops
Led by Ismet the Wary
In command off all the groups

~ 388 ~

But the Australian banners flying,
Beyond those windblown dunes,
Rends dread in them of dying,
To the Lighthorse bugle tunes

~ 389 ~

For infantry, in mounted mass,
Were fearful troops indeed,
None were eager to address
The lancers charging steed

~ 390 ~

Day had cast its final glow,
And spiral nymphs of dust,
Glowered in the silver light
Along the desert crust

~ 391 ~

But soon the morn with blazing sun
Embraced these fighting men,
As dust clouds rose from stomping hooves,
Then settled down again

~ 392 ~

Good men were here in plenty
Tough Stockmen wild and green
Though Some were almost gentry
A few were quite obscene

~ 393 ~

Take Swagman Jack, for instance
He’s not your family kind
And Breaker Bill is not a toff
Though blessed with genteel mind

~ 394 ~

Some are friends and brothers
Young stalwarts without fear
‘Jackaranda’ he’s from Grafton
Still sporting convict leer

~ 395 ~

Many types from many towns
All here to join the fray
Every lad worth his salt
As might well be proved today

~ 396 ~

Nose bags, now being empty
Were carefully packed to ride
long-boots pulled to guard the leg
Were spurred and cleaned with pride

~ 397 ~

They sheathed their guns and bayonets
Donned bandoliers and belts
Fixed leather saddles to their mounts
Hats slouched to shade the face

~ 398 ~

Pack horses were moved arrear
(‘This looks like it my friend’)
“Pack up your blankets and your gear,
We’ve got a war to tend”

~ 399 ~

“Mount Up!” the troopers moved as one
As they prepared to ride
A rhythmic creaking of the saddles
Eyes ablaze with Aussie pride

~ 400 ~

They rode with three days fodder
With water bottles filled
Bully beef and chocolate
Brief fear of being killed

~ 401 ~

They faced crescents of trenches, redoubts
Strong points and fortified hills
El Saba, Sakat, Beersheba
A foe so lethal he kills.

~ 402 ~

With Squadron line extended
They rode four men abreast
Across the screening ridgeline
To face the ultimate test

~ 403 ~

They galloped along the desert plain
Shell burst across their front
Sheep scattered through the Bedouin camps
As they spurred from mane to rump

~ 404 ~

Women wailed and children fled
Mid goats and fowls and hope
‘Twas such that many laughed, and bled
At such a varied scope

~ 405 ~

Four abreast the Lighthorse rode
Out of the burning sun
From the eastern desert flank
With bayonet and gun

~ 406 ~

Southeast across the flatlands
Towards the fade of moon
Behind the big gun’s silent
Would erupt with violence soon

~ 407 ~

Then shells and bombs exploded
The shrapnel flying wide
That in the sudden fury
Many a Lighthorse trooper died

~ 408 ~

Sakaiti fell to brave advance
The Kiwis claimed El Saba
But thirst did not in horse enhance
It’s will to face such labour

~ 409 ~

Yet the trooper’s horse was gallant,
And brave in face of war,
‘Twas not a mount that shied away,
‘Twas, faithful to the core.

~ 410 ~

Now set in rhythmic canter
With the whalers pulling strong
The horsemen drew their bayonets
Cold in the sheath so long

~ 411 ~

The horses smelt the water
Of the Beersheba wells
Stretching out to lengthen stride
Oblivious of the shells

~ 412 ~

A thousand guns and rifles
Formed the blanket face
And from the sky hot Turkish bombs
Fell to a just disgrace

~ 413 ~

Horses fell and riders crashed
Some horses kept on going,
Lifelike steeds defying death
With streams of red blood flowing

~ 414 ~

Throff belched and bubbled freely
And caught on flaying wind
Splattered those in after ranks
Where the lines had thinned

~ 415 ~

Horses shied and fought the rein
As rifles belched and spat
On their faces fear and pain,
Of most not blooded yet

~ 416 ~

With hat brims pulled down lower
To shade the blinding sun
Heads were buried in the manes
To hide from Turkish gun

~ 417 ~

The light-horse ranks together
Mid smoke and cannon blast
Faced the bullet blizzard
For this was their great task

~ 418 ~

They turned their horses to the east
Spread out across the plain
Sweat beneath a dirty vest
Eyes stricken wide with pain

~ 418 ~

“Charge!” the order sounded,
The bugle rent its tune,
A thousand hooves then pounded
Across the desert dune.

~ 420 ~

Pistonic hooves gained impact
That made the rock chip fly
Hock-bone cracked and riders yelled
And screamed their battle cry

~ 421 ~

Chafed shoulders stout and willing
Flanks thinned from want of wet
Stretched necks with nostrils filling
With the smell of water yet

~ 422 ~

Far-flung across the valley
Al-Nabis Lighthorse spanned
Waves of charging horsemen
A sight so vibrant grand

~ 423 ~

Loud Cooee yells, and screaming
The thunderous pound of hooves
Grit tempest in their faces
Belched from the blasted grooves

~ 424 ~

Felled by shot and dying
Some writhed upon the sand
Trampled to horrific pulp
Blood splattered on the land

~ 425 ~

Slashed and cut from flying steel
Some in the saddle dead
Rode along with those alive
Who had yet their blood to shed

~ 426 ~

With broken limbs that could no more
Wield a bayonet true
They gripped the reins between their teeth
They were the braver few

~ 427 ~

Forward, bravely forward
Into the realms of hell,
The battle bugle sounding
Mid the blasting of the shell

~ 428 ~

The thunder of the hoof beats
The loud yelling of the men
The hot air filled with smoky sheets
Split by a score and then…

~ 429 ~

Under the guns the light-horse swept
Turk trunnions far too slow
To halt the waves of flailing hooves
And the tenacity of their foe

~ 430 ~

White faces upward peering
From black trenches harshly searing
With frenzied bodies leering
At the vibrant sweeping fray

~ 431 ~

For none could stop these horsemen
As they swept beneath the cannon
Drove back the Turkish gunner
In a terrifying way

~ 432 ~

Nor could they kill his horses
That were thirsting for his water
As they galloped into bedlam
And a new historic day.

~ 433 ~

They had ridden beneath the cannon
And through the torrid trenches
Now they rode on Beersheba
In dauntless fine array

~ 434 ~

No cavalry horseman bolder
None daring nor more dashing
With gun and bayonet flashing
Had described such fine display

~ 435 ~

As These wearers of Kings feathers
Plumed slouch hats grimly low
Whom in charging bold together
Struck the Turks a vital blow

~ 436 ~

The Australian bugle sounded
The lancer banners flew
As the valiant cavalry horses
Nearer Beersheba drew

~ 437 ~

There were never men more gallant
Than those Lighthorse troopers then,
As they swept in lines of battle
Into history once again

~ 438 ~

What artist ere could paint them
What king could not applaud
These dauntless lines of Aussies
This proud and gallant hoard

~ 439 ~

Soon ‘twas Beersheba fallen
And a British victory won
By the brave young Aussie horsemen
Who had charged out of the sun

~ 440 ~

None would share their glory
Who had missed this vibrant ride
Nor ever here their stories…
Of those who bravely died

~ 441 ~

None would see the slaughter
Who did not ride that day
Nor see the maimed and tortured
Flail helpless in the fray

~ 442 ~

None left at home in comfort
Would ever smell the stench
See the crippled horses
Belly-cut in Turkish trench

~ 443 ~

Bold they rode those horsemen
Who rode with Aussie pride
Brave they fought undaunted
And proudly many died

~ 444 ~

They had captured Beersheba;
They had proved their worth this day,
The last great charge in history,
To mark the cavalry way

~ 445 ~

The great charge now was over,
But many men had died,
Some were badly wounded,
Some too hurt to ride

Received: HIGHLY COMMENDED AWARD by Returned Servicemen’s League/Department of Veteran Affairs in 2000 writing competition.