Australian Screen

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Clip description

The campaign to take Beersheba has begun amid great secrecy. The Australian Light Horse regiments travel by night, resting by day. Other British units do the same, in order to conceal the build-up of forces around Beersheba. As the Australians arrive on the ridge above Beersheba, early on the morning of 31 October 1917, the British artillery barrage strikes the town. Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Chauvel (Bill Kerr) watches as the New Zealand mounted troops set off to take Tel el Saba, a heavily fortified hill near the town. In Beersheba, the Turkish commander (Gerard Kennedy) tells the German adviser that the Australians have at least a division of mounted troops. The German officer reassures him that this attack is simply a diversion. The main attack will still come at Gaza, he says.

Curator’s notes

The charge at Beersheba is credited as one of the last great cavalry charges in history, although it should be described as a mounted infantry charge. It had been recreated on film twice before, once by the Australian war photographer Frank Hurley, in Palestine in 1917, and then in 1940 by the director Charles Chauvel (nephew of Sir Harry Chauvel) for his feature film, Forty Thousand Horsemen. Frank Hurley had used real members of the Australian Light Horse for his re-creation, but that footage is lost. Hurley was one of several cameramen used by Charles Chauvel to recreate the charge more than 20 years later. We see the influence of Frank Hurley in this clip. The way in which the Australians are shown in the desert is partly based on his famous still photographs of the Australian Light Horse, taken in late 1917.

For the 1987 film, the town of Beersheba was recreated in the desert near Hawker, in South Australia. That allowed maximum flexibility for the camera team, headed by the brilliant Australian cinematographer Dean Semler. We see the work paying off in this sequence in the wide shot of the town at dawn on Z Day, 31 October, as the British barrage opens up above the town. The artillery simulation is very impressive. In 1987, The Lighthorsemen was one of the most expensive and logistically complex films ever attempted in Australia.