GOD WAS AT BEERSHEBA when our Light Horsemen charged ...but Col Stringer wasn't!
By Geoff Pickering
Personal opinions and any mistakes below are his—please advise if you find any errors. Your comments are invited on the CWM-Blog http://www.christian-witness.org/blog/?p=10
FROM HISTORY: Fact—31 October 1917. General Allenby positioned three divisions at Gaza on the coast as a diversion while he moved covertly against Beersheba. Gaining surprise, as planned, the day-long battle was concluded with an Australian mounted infantry charge near dusk. Dashing through Turkish wire and trenches and into Beersheba itself, Light Horsemen captured the historic water supply, so vital for Allenby’s next phase.
During 25 years in the Australian Regular Army, tales of strategic professional incompetence and military disasters appalled me.
Today I am a soldier for Jesus Christ. Fallacious stories that downgrade our Almighty God or exaggerate genuine Australian military exploits at the expense of British reputations annoy me even more. They anger God too, it seems:
He who works deceit shall not dwell within my house; He who tells lies shall not continue in my presence (Psalm 101:7).
British documents, including reports by such as T.E. Lawrence “of Arabia”, routinely omitted outstanding exploits by Australian men at arms, eg. Lawrence claimed that he reached Damascus first. In fact our 10th Light Horse Regiment was the first formed group to enter. They, not Arabs, subdued violence and accepted the formal Turkish surrender on 1 October 1918. Please see http://www.awm.gov.au/units/unit_10567.asp
From The Bible: Guard Against Deception
Four times Jesus warned us against deception in Matthew 24 and once against false prophets in Matthew 7:15. Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ, often found himself among bogus brethren and warned us to test what was presented before accepting it. Any good Bible concordance lists dozens of occurrences of “deceit”, “deception” and their derivatives. We are warned in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 of horrific deception and the penalty thereof for those who do not “love the truth”. The Bible records lying spirits eg. 2 Chronicles 18:20-22. We are told to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1).
Today, as prophesied in the Bible, global instability increases. We must therefore scrupulously guard accuracy and honesty. Congregations must be trained to discriminate; to identify rumour and separate exaggeration from fact for their lives will depend upon it! Paul’s teaching to the Bereans was checked for accuracy (Acts 17:10-11). With the resources we have today, we should be more diligent and never blindly accept anything offered by anyone on face value. Jesus warned in Matthew 24:24,
For there shall arise false Christ, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
Some believe that the translation should include the words, “and it is” after “possible”. True servants of Jesus Christ—diligent shepherds—will surely train their sheep to discern truth from error and to identify false prophets.
The facts surrounding the charge at Beersheba are well known. It was a simple case of God bringing together good men to relieve Jerusalem at His appointed time. Researching Mr Stringer’s book, however, I found that the truth was often distorted. Therein both British and Australian fighting men have been maligned, seemingly deliberately. Readers can draw their own conclusions from what is written below, which is presented for the benefit of everyone, including author Col Stringer whose writing I have criticised. Shining above everything is the uplifting certainty of God’s pre-eminence over the conniving of man.
But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive (Genesis 50:20).
Scripture shows that God was at Beersheba with His people on a number of occasions.
Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and there called on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God (Genesis 21:33).
God Almighty was there once more on 31st of October 1917.
Fiction Vs Facts
800 Horsemen—God’s History Makers—Australia’s Place In Bible Prophecy Our Bible shows its characters—warts and all. Those purporting to present Truth and Light should be similarly honest. As shown in our official war histories, the truth is stunning enough. By publishing a colourful narrative, it would appear that Col Stringer may have profited nicely albeit falsely from the allied soldiers’ professionally planned and gallantly executed campaign at Gaza —Beersheba.
Identifying errors in 800 Horsemen is not easy. The text changes from one edition to the next. As I recall, an early printing had Field Marshal Montgomery born in rural New South Wales. The author has removed that obvious nonsense, but has seemingly disregarded other concerns that I raised years ago. Observations below refer to 800 Horsemen —God’s History Makers—Australia’s Place In Bible Prophecy, 3rd printing 2000. Ignoring typos such as, “Antioch Epiphanes” instead of “Antiochus”, and confusion between policies of the Vatican and Jesus Christ, two additional repeated errors need to be corrected. The Australian attack was not a spur-of-the-moment act of bravado, nor did British troops fail miserably in their part of the operation.
There is also a steady stream of popular works that deal with some aspect of the Light Horse at war which, sometimes, can be quite readable and worthy in their own right but which do not offer serious analysis. 800 Horsemen: God’s History Makers is the barely coherent effort of an evangelical pastor and represents . . . possibly the worst that the mythology around this campaign can produce.
—Extract from The Palestine Campaign 1916-18: causes and consequences of a continuing historical neglect by Jean Bou: Journal of the Australian War Memorial No 40, http://www.awm.gov.au/journal/j40/bou.htm © 1997-2007 Australian War Memorial.
On pages 56 and 60 (3rd printing, 2000) Mr Colin Stringer writes that after Napoleon’s efforts around 1798, the Jews had to wait for Australians to set them free. He states on page 60 that the establishment of the modern nation of Israel would lie in the hands of some 800 Australians. According to Stringer on page 64:
These Light Horsemen achieved what the greatest military genius of his day, Napoleon, could not do, what 58,000 British troops with tanks could not do.
Then on page 67:
Chauvel concocted a crazy plan. Why not let his 800 horsemen charge the Turkish artillery?
References are also made to sporting emu plumes fluttering in soldiers’ hats, (pages 66 and 83). Under a heading, “Beersheba—Well of the Oath”, beginning on page 66, we find the false assertion that constant attacks by Australians and 50,000 British with tank support were driven back into the desert by the Turks. We also read that our (Australian) “desperate” general ordered the last great cavalry charge in history. Facts do not support such silly concepts.
1. Perhaps the author has never heard of Wellington. Napoleon was not the “greatest military genius” of the time as his failures at Waterloo, Eylau, Borodino, Leipzig attest. A two-front war in Iberia was fatal. His campaign in Egypt failed and what an error to attack Russia in midwinter? Does Stringer think that God failed by not adequately helping the Roman Catholic Bonaparte? Could it be that God’s End time plan for Israel was timed for the 20th and 21st centuries not 1798?
2. The liberation of Palestine was an allied operation, at the British Prime Minister’s initiative, involving soldiers from the UK, New Zealand and other nations as well as Australia. 3. This was no “crazy”, “sporting”, Boys Own Annual type adventure, but the dirty rotten business of men methodically killing or horribly maiming other men or being destroyed or mutilated in the process. 4. There were NO tanks at Beersheba. 5. All British infantry objectives near Beersheba were secured as planned. 6. Reports show that the 4th Light Horse Brigade did not wear emu plumes. 7. The British Mandate and the League of Nations had more than a little to do with the establishment of modern Israel long after the dust had settled at Beersheba. 8. The mounted attack at Beersheba was a case of infantry getting quickly onto the objective.
The Light Horsemen were not cavalry, nor were they equipped as such. It was not until August 1918 that some ALH units were issued with the cavalry troopers’ sabre. The last great cavalry charge may have really been on the morning of 2 October 1918 when the 3rd Light Horse BDE charged down a column of about 1400 Turks and Germans, capturing the lot, machine guns, artillery, cavalry and infantry.
The previous day they rode through Damascus chasing fleeing Turks and Germans. Another report states that a troop under Lt P. Doig, C SQN, 10LH charged about 1000 Turks near Jenin in September 1918. Other troops of C SQN joined in and all Turks surrendered.
Chauvel's 1928 Letter
On page 82 Mr Stringer assumes the right to fabricate an account of the charge at Beersheba. Here are his words:
After devoting much time to the study of the charge I feel I am in a position to write my own account.
He also repeats the canard that attempts at Beersheba had failed that day with heavy Allied casualties. He has Brigadier Grant, of the 4th Light Horse Brigade stepping forward to speak to Lt-General Sir Harry Chauvel who commanded the Desert Mounted Corps.
“I believe we can take the town!“, he quipped to Chauvel. The Australian Commander glanced at the Light Horse Officer and inquired, “And how do you propose to do that?” He replied, “A cavalry charge sir! But I must have a free hand!” Chauvel hesitated for some time and then turning to his staff he barked the order that would change history and the course of nations: “Put Grant (4th and 12th Regiments) straight at it!”
However, a copy of Chauvel’s 6 August 1928 letter to a famous historian shows that Grant was not at that conference. That strikes out any such discussion, let alone Grant’s alleged request for “a free hand”. Chauvel quietly instructed that Grant’s troops should attack as those men ought to have been ready to go quicker than any others in the area. The 11th Light Horse Regiment was spread out to the 7th Mounted Brigade positions and not immediately available.
The alleged conversation between Grant and Chauvel typifies the author’s ignorance of military matters, as does his reference two pages earlier to “two little brigades”. There were about 1100 men in a mobile light horse brigade. Well over 2000 soldiers are scarcely a puny force.
Stringer writes on page 83:
The galloping squadrons were so densely packed together that one rider would sometimes touch knees with the trooper next to him, as they charged on seemingly almost nonchalant about the grim task ahead.
In the 20th century that only happened in the movies. In reality trained soldiers keep well away from each other when moving so as not to present a tempting target. Bunching up is only for Hollywood. In “artillery formation” men were about 10 yards apart. Some reports of the Beersheba attack say there were 15 feet between men at the start.
800 Horsemen—God’s History Makers holds numerous romanticised descriptions.
As an ex-member of an Australian armoured reconnaissance unit, I admire the Light Horsemen and must protest these false descriptions. On page 34 they were inaccurately described as “a bunch of mad ” … or “dashing” (on page 56) horsemen. On 31 October 1917, many having ridden for days without proper sleep or water, that was hardly true. The horses were not “huge war horses, snorting and stamping” (page 83) nor “huge prancing battle horses” (page 100). Their average height was around 15 hands, about 5 feet or 1.57 metres, not tall for a horse. The last thing our military wanted were giant, cavorting horses that were impossible for tired men wearing battle order to mount.
On page 44 we read that “800 Light Horsemen charged into Bible prophecy”. The actual number was much less and my searching in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation produced no mention of Australian Light Horse units. The charge was variously described by Stringer as, a “forlorn hope”, “suicidal” and “impossible”. Clearly it was none of those.
Why not report the facts which are stunning enough. Scripture warns in Revelation 21:8:
But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and ALL LIARS shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
The Roman Catholic Crusades, mentioned on pages 37-44, are hardly a subject for celebration or records of Christian evangelism. They reportedly resulted in the murder of thousands of Jews and the introduction of rosary beads, flagellation and other non-Christian, non-biblical practices to Europe. The Crusaders should not be favourably compared to our S.A.S.
NOT A PROPHET: On page 63 Stringer states that he is not trying to create new doctrine nor is he a prophet. However he writes that Australia is in the forefront of God’s end time plan for the last days and that “Aussies were used as no other nation in history has been used by the Lord.” We must wonder if Mr Stringer has ever read Genesis or Exodus.
He also states, on page 107, that when Jesus comes back to earth His feet will touch down on the Mount of Olives and the dead in Christ will rise first. Many Bible students believe that two separate events are involved; the dead in Christ rising well before Jesus returns to rule on earth. Stringer continues to write that one of the first sights that Jesus will see will be emu-plumed hats. This seems to be a contradiction of Zechariah 12.
TURKISH ADULATION OF AUSTRALIAN VICTORS? Stringer writes on page 69 “As the Light-horsemen leapt the trenches laced with machine gun bullets even Turks stood up and applauded.” General Allenby’s dispatch doesn’t mention that, or his later letters to Chauvel, or any other record I’ve ever read. It’s apparently plain fantasy!
PHOTO NOT GENUINE: Pages 70 and 71 show a reputed photo of the charge. It is claimed to be taken by a Turkish soldier. It is the same photo, a copy of which sits framed on my office wall. It was given to me by Eric Elliot in 1964. He was in the 4th Light Horse Association and said that he “took the snap as the boys rode past” when he was at Beersheba. For many reasons I now doubt Mr Elliot’s claim and the Turkish camera story more so.
Page 71 also carries the oft repeated false assertion that the Australians had achieved what 50,000 Brits and tanks could not do. Anyone wishing to check the facts can examine the many fine reports provided by unit war diaries, official histories, eg. (http://www.awm.gov.au/histories/chapter.asp?volume=8) the Royal Australian Armoured Corps, the Australian Light Horse Association and others. Just search at Dogpile or Google for, “Battle Beersheba Australia”, but don’t believe everything on sight.
Stringer Ridicules General Allenby
On page 106 is the astoundingly ignorant statement,
. . . the only real notable deed Allenby performed was to put Chauvel in command of the cavalry.
Firstly, our men at Beersheba were mounted infantry not cavalry. They are two separate types of units with different roles.
Secondly, a quick survey of General Allenby’s military professionalism in Palestine reveals that within three weeks of his arrival in theatre on 28 June 1917, he had transformed a tired, dispirited, listless group of 80,000 men. Before Allenby took command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force it had been demoralised by bad leadership and defeat. Allenby turned the men into a well motivated, optimistic, efficient and co-ordinated victorious fighting team.
To the soldiers delight, Allenby moved headquarters from the luxurious Savoy Hotel in Cairo to tents at Kelab. He reportedly arranged the issue of Bibles, thus giving every soldier not just some vital reading, but a map of the area so they could see where they were! Any man who has ever been a soldier knows the enormous value of that!
It was Allenby, the soldiers’ soldier, not the arrogant, self-assumed “military expert” Stringer, who upgraded the aviation element to achieve air supremacy, initiated observation teams, some in balloons, to report enemy movements and to correct artillery fire. General Allenby organised wireless sections (some carried on camels) to not only upgrade communications within his army, but also to intercept Turkish radio communications and to transmit false radio messages to mislead the enemy.
The speedy acquisition, analysis and dissemination of intelligence was another feature of his generalship. Artillery fire correction and co-ordination were practised almost daily. Co-operation was developed between aviation and mounted ground troops. Aerial photography of the battle area was organised; units could have pictures within four to five hours of the camera shutter clicking. Allenby directed strategic and tactical planning to proceed based upon “mounted” warfare characteristics such as mobility, boldness, flexibility and offensive action.
He had the logistical systems much improved because a mounted division needed 120,000 gallons of water daily and an infantry division about half of that. Unlike, modern-day houses in Robina on the luxurious Gold Coast of Australia, where Stringer resides, feeding tens of thousands of men, camels and horses all moving over a desert was more complicated than opening the door to a fridge!
Medical matters were highly important in Allenby’s Egyptian expeditionary force. His personal attention to military medicine and battlefield surgery was far superior to what was common in the Boer War and WWI Europe. Allenby was a Christian leader whose staff often found him on his knees in prayer seeking directions from our Father. Stringer has maligned him and his true, untarnished memory.
Known for his decisiveness and energy, Allenby had been selected by the British Prime Minister to liberate Jerusalem by Christmas 1917. As a good general, he did so, and, in addition, went on to destroy two Turkish Armies, the 7th and 8th and put the 4th Turkish Army to flight. In the process, Allenby’s men captured about 50,000 prisoners, all by October 1918. Not bad for 15 month’s work.
Unlike some who strut today’s evangelical and charismatic platforms, General Allenby is recorded as an unpretentious man of quiet voice and good manners.
None of this may be noteworthy to some “military experts” such as Mr Stringer from Robina. But from what I note of Stringer’s teaching and leadership skills, I would caution all against following him even out of idle curiosity.
About the Author
GEOFF PICKERING Three years after leaving school Geoff joined the Army Reserve as an Infantryman. Two years later he transferred to the Australian Regular Army to attend the Officer Cadet School. In 1963 Geoff graduated to the Royal Australian Armoured Corps. He resigned his commission in 1985 to take up farming. Geoff Pickering accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour in 1993.