For most of the people in the World the WWI events belong to the past. Definitely, this is right for the story of the war in a distant sand washed Palestine. But there are two nations for whom these events are still vivid, like it happened yesterday.
Back in 1917, British Army moved from Egypt in a direction of Gaza, in an attempt to capture Palestine easily and fast. But this did not happen. The First and Second Battles of Gaza in March and April 1917 ended in a stalemate.
The new commander of the British Army in Palestine, General Edmund Allenby, a veteran of the Boer War in South Africa, chose a completely new direction for his offence. On October 31 1917, Australian and New Zealandian soldiers from the Light Horse regiments, 800 men altogether (they were called ANZAC Corpse), did something what had considered impossible. They rode straight onto the Turkish positions with dozens of thousands of well-armed soldiers and German cannons and machine-guns, at the outskirts of Be'er Sheba. The ANZAC riders continued their assault in spite of heavy German artillery bombardment. They lost 65 of their comrades but managed to break Turkish lines. Beer-Sheva was taken.
The Third Battle of Gaza was fought just two days later, on the night of 1/2 November 1917. The British carried out an enormous land and sea bombardment. During the fighting, there were great casualties on both sides. Eventually, the occupation of Gaza was not strongly resisted and a general advance during the morning of 7 November found the generally town abandoned. British artillery had destroyed all the homes of the 40,000 people who had lived in Gaza before the war and expelled the rest of the population from the town.
Fall of Gaza opened the road to Jerusalem, and the city was taken on December 9 1917, and that symbolized the end of the 400 years of the Turkish rule in Palestine.
These events are considered as crucial historical chapter in the Australian and the New Zealandian history, and are still celebrated yearly. Altogether 544 Australian and 186 New-Zealand warriors rest in the British War Cemetery on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, and the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Beer Sheva. Israel pays a deep respect to those who had made the efforts and lost the life to shape the Holy Land and, through that, to make the creation of Modern Israel possible.
And for those Australians whose ancestors fought in Palestine, visiting of the ANZAC Memorial sites is always exciting. The grand parents of the retired Australian couple used to fight in Palestine, and they wanted me to take them following their grandpas trace.
We started at Be'er Sheba, which is a Southern Capital of Israel today, with a population close to 250,000, Hi-Tech Industry and famous Ben Gurion University. Here, in 2017 the ANZAC Memorial Centre was built and dedicated on the 100th anniversary of the liberation of Beer-Sheva.
ANSAC Museum in Be'er Sheba
ANZAC Cemetery Be'er Sheba
Our next stop was the ANZAC Memorial, in the heart of Be’eri Forest, commemorates the ANZAC Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fell in the Third Battle of Gaza during the Great War (WWI) in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign to liberate this area from the Ottoman Empire. The monument overlooking the Gaza battlefields was designed in the shape of the letter A, the first letter in ANZAC, and viewed from a distance it resembles a horse’s head.
Gaza was the site of some of the heaviest fighting during the First World War, with many ANZACS losing their lives, particularly in the battles that raged here in March and April 1917. It is for this reason that a permanent ANZAC war memorial was built at Kibbutz Be’eri in the northwest Negev, just meters from the Gaza Strip. The memorial is set appropriately in a eucalyptus forest (the eucalyptus is Australia’s most distinctive and widespread tree).
Finally, at the next day we travelled to Jerusalem, to visit the British Cemetery, standing at the top of Mount Scopus. Here the monument in memory of all the Australian soldiers fall in Palestine and Syria in 1917-18 is established by the Australian Government.