Just metres away from the proposed new Tabulam bridge to span the Clarence River, at Battle of Beersheba centenary commemorations the push was on for the new structure to be named after General Sir Henry George (Harry) Chauvel, GCMG, KCB. Signage promoting Tabulam as the great man’s birthplace was also proposed, certainly catching the ear of neighbouring mayors Peter Petty of Tenterfield and Danielle Mulholland of Kyogle.
Both mayors were among an unexpectedly large throng of people who swelled the population of the small village exponentially for the event.
“We were expecting three horses and two dozen people, and it sort of evolved from that,” organiser Margot Crossing said.
Local Elder Harry Walker delivered a very special Welcome to Country...
Riders and their horses paraded from the Tabulam racecourse to the Light Horse Memorial under brilliant sunshine to start the program. A highlight was poetry written and performed by Dennis Scanlon who certainly allowed listeners to feel the emotion of the events he described.
The history of the Light Horse was celebrated with Australian Light Horse Association president Barry Rodgers offering a glimpse of the importance of the troops’ contributions to the war effort. Mr Rodgers reflected on the undervalued contributions of indigenous members of the Light Horse, whom he said were very skilled horsemen and treated as equals.
“Their due recognition was not awarded,” he said.
He spoke of a commemoration ride of 100 horsemen in uniform later in the year riding into Beersheba, re-enacting the charge over the same piece of ground that the 4th Light Horse Brigade covered in 1917.
“I feel profoundly privileged to be a part of that ride,” Mr Rodgers said.
Ray Finn will also be part of that ride. He comes from Kidman country at Anna Creek near Lake Eyre, and due to his history with horses is very keen on Kidman’s story of selling horses to the army. As horse breakers were also needed, Aboriginal men went with them.
His association with the Light Horses goes back to 2013 when he was part of starting up a small group at Hermannsburg, which does an annual ride into Alice Springs (a mere 130 kilometres) each year. He said several of his fellow riders are participating in the Beersheba ride, and he’s enjoying teaching them about the history of Aborigines in the Light Horse.
After “busting their arses” as ringers he said there’s little horse work around there now and a lot are wanting to join him on the Beersheba ride, and he can’t wait to get there himself.
“I’ll actually see the land and hear the stories,” he said.
He’s confident of relating to the dry landscape of Israel once he gets there.
“It’s too green and there are too many trees here for me,” he said of Tabulam.
Below Peter Walker speaks of his great-grandfather’s mentoring of Harry Chauvel, and his own visit to Israel seven years ago…
Harry Chauvel Memorial Ride
While plans are in hand to re-enact the great charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade under the command of Harry Chauvel over the actual ground in Beersheba later this year, a little closer to home the Harry Chauvel Memorial Ride will take place in October.
Organised by the Grafton RSL Sub Branch, the three-day event begin with a memorial services at the Light Horse Monument in Tabulam at 6pm on Tuesday, October 31.
The next morning riders will mount up and cross the Clarence River from the Tabulam Racecourse at 8am, proceeding on to Chauvel Road, and following Plains Station Road to their next camp, eventually arriving at Copmanhurst.
All are welcome to attend the Memorial Service, and to watch the 200 rider embark on the first leg of their three-day ride.
Riders must register to participate. To do so contact Ted Brown on 0447 473143. Anyone interested in riding or driving carriages can also register. A risk assessment has deemed the route safe, but any carriage participants who don’t wish to to cross the river Wednesday morning can leave camp early and meeting up with the rest of the riders at Chauvel Road.
Who was Harry?
General Sir Henry George (Harry) Chauvel GCMG, KCB, was one of Australia’s most distinguished and decorated army generals. He was the first Australian to rise to the rank of Lieutenant General and later General.
By the end of World War 1, he led five brigades of Light Horse and cavalry to a successful sweep to break the Turkish cordon and defeat three Turkish armies to end the war in the Middle East.
Harry Chauvel was born on April 16, 1865 in Tabulam and educated at Sydney Grammar and Toowoomba Grammar schools. His father had served in the British army and began his own unit, the Upper Clarence Light Horse, which Harry joined.
He managed his father’s cattle properties and became an excellent horseman. In 1890 he was commissioned as a captain into the Queensland Mounted Infantry.
In 1906 he married Sibyl and produced four children, with both sons serving in the army. He retired in 1930, but never stopped his community involvement.
He died in Melbourne on March 4, 1945 and was given a State funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral. At Chauvel’s funeral procession a riderless horse – with boots reversed in the stirrups – followed the gun carriage to Springvale Crematorium, signifying a warrior has fallen in battle and will ride no more.
Loyal mounts had to be destroyed
Jamie Gibbins and his father Martin Gibbins – better known as ‘Joe’ – were among the descendants of Light Horsemen who shared their stories at the centenary commemoration.
Martin Joseph Gibbins Snr was working on a station when he joined the war effort, and at that time the enlistees were able to take their station horses with them as Martin did.
“It soon became clear that they were no longer in an adventure, but in a horror movie,” Jamie said.
Martin had various postings in Egypt and Palestine before finding himself in the trenches of Gallipoli, leaving his horse behind in Egypt. Surviving that, he and his horse were in the charge on Beersheba, after a long period of water rationing where the soldiers shared their precious canteen water with their dehydrated mounts.
During the charge the horses smelled the water beyond the Turkish line, and many fell into the trenches where the enemy sat with bayonets raised.
“It was the last great charge, turning the course of the war,” Joe said.
Barred from returning to Australia, the horses had to be handed over to other troops and face an uncertain future, or destroyed by their rider.
“He said it was the hardest thing he’d ever done,” Joe said of his father.
“They took them down to the beach and shot them.”
Joe said Martin often spoke of war atrocities, convincing his son, “There’s no future in war.”
Here are some more photos from the Tabulam event…