The capture of Beersheba on 31 October 1917, as part of the third Battle of Gaza, was a complex operation, involving weeks of careful planning by Light Horse commanders.
Secret operation orders held by State Library as part of the OM78-70 David Gifford Croll Papers 1914-1919; 1944-1948 provide a great insight into the many facets of the operation, and an appreciation of its scope.
Colonel Croll was a doctor, and the commanding officer of the 2nd Light Horse Field Ambulance (2LHFA). By August 1917 he had been appointed Assistant Director of Medical Services (A.D.M.S.) for Anzac Mounted Division, and was one of the key personnel responsible for ensuring medical services in support of the operation.
Two secret orders were sent to Colonel Croll by Lt. Col. R. M. Downes (D.D.M.S. Desert Mounted Corps), shortly before the battle for Beersheba:
Colonel Croll also issued an order:
The three orders outlined the intended movement of medical units before, during and after the impending operation. Immobile sections were to be concentrated at Rashid Bek under the command of Major J.R.M. Beith, and under direct control of the D.D.M.S. of Desert Mounted Corps. Mobile sections were to follow their Brigades, as were trotting camels. Cacolet camels were to be managed by a 2LHFA officer, and follow in the rear of the Australian Mounted Division.
The orders outlined what do to with casualties while on the march, and when a Divisional collecting station should be established, and when and how casualties should be evacuated.
They also gave directions regarding the movement of Receiving Stations, Operating Units and Sanitary Sections, indicated when the Rest Camp should be evacuated, and what should happen to all tents and flags.
Motor Ambulance cars were also accounted for, to ensure that all casualties would be successfully evacuated to the hospital train at Shellal.
While the 4th Light Horse Brigade, which participated in the charge on Beersheba, suffered a total of 35 killed and 39 wounded, the strategic capture of the town capitulated Turkish withdrawal away from Gaza and further into Palestine.
Attack on Beersheba. Australian War Memorial.
Robyn Hamilton – Coordinator, QANZAC Content, State Library of Queensland