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The Beersheba Chargers by Neil Smith

The focus of my work is on those who charged from the 4th Light Horse Regiment. This has necessitated an examination of the service of all men who were with the Regiment from its inception, through the Gallipoli and European campaigns to the end of hostilities in the Middle East, exactly a year after the charge. To better identify chargers I have compiled a complete and accurate nominal roll using original hard copy War Gratuity Registers, Embarkation Rolls, handwritten roll books and pay records held by the NAA plus some anecdotal input. The records of many men on RecordSearch at NAA have been studied to determine whether a man was with the Regiment on 31 October 1917. Clearly those who had been transferred elsewhere or perhaps died before that date can be discounted immediately. Likewise, many others arrived later as reinforcements. There have also been instances where a soldier’s Repatriation Department records have yielded clues. Sloan Bolton’s dossier is a case in point. These records often cover the soldier’s medical history decades after the conflict but can still be illuminating. Remembrance books published by organisations such as banks, schools and the Victorian Education Department have been of great use as well.

Those men whose records indicate that they were with the 4th Light Horse Regiment on 31 October 1917 total 475. This is probably a little high for the number that actually charged as some men may not have charged simply because they had duties elsewhere. Perhaps they had been minding supplies to the rear or were sick. Unfortunately official records rarely make mention of a man’s duties on the day, so for a few we will never know where they were at the time of the charge. As it stands 136 men from the Regiment are confirmed as chargers. The supporting evidence varies from those who were casualties or decorated on the day to family records or similar correspondence initiated by veterans of the charge. Many names have been gleaned from diaries in which a man’s pals are mentioned in connection with the action. Arthur Pickford’s diary is an example.

But what of Sloan Bolton? He survived the charge and from Beersheba accompanied his Regiment’s northern advance, constantly clashing with the Turks, who still showed plenty of fight. Jerusalem fell and the Australians pushed through the malaria infested Jordan Valley. As he had at Gallipoli, Bolton was struck down by sickness but recovered. Then, on 3 May 1918, his luck finally turned at a place called Black Hill. While defending a rocky outpost he edged forward to gain a better vantage point with his overheated machine gun. Suddenly a Turkish shell exploded next to him mangling both his legs.

The rest of the story is one of unending pain. For months Bolton could only sleep under a merciful cloud of morphine. His suffering continued long after he returned home and to read the soldier’s Repatriation Department dossier is heartbreaking. Until the day he died, Bolton’s two stumps bothered him. He and Elsie faced countless trips to hospital from Geelong to have the stumps trimmed. Their experiences begging for refunds of a few shillings for the tortuous train trips to the Caulfield Hospital defy comprehension. Bolton never gave up. He tried to ignore his injuries and succeeded in riding again, even though he fell and broke an artificial leg. He started several new ventures but the Depression interfered and the visits to hospital continued. Bolton’s health deteriorated and worry over a son flying Spitfires against the Japanese added to the strain. Finally on Christmas Eve 1947 he fought his last battle, although Elsie’s torment continued even after Sloan’s death. Six months later her home was destroyed by fire and the gallantry medal was lost.

Officialdom refused to replace the medal until 1970.

The losses among the 4th Light Horse Regiment at Beersheba had been incredibly light. At Beersheba the Australian Light Horsemen had written themselves into the history books and annals of Australian legend for evermore. We must remember them and make every endeavour to identify them using resources such as those mentioned herein. We must also seek out the stories of men like Sloan Bolton who were part of that last, great mounted charge.

Medical supplies carried by members of an Australian Light Horse Field Ambulance. Courtesy Australian War Memorial,  ID REL03824.
Medical supplies carried by members of an Australian Light Horse Field Ambulance. Courtesy Australian War Memorial, ID REL03824.
Light Horsemen and their Waler horses take a short break. Courtesy Australian War Memorial, ID J05982.
Light Horsemen and their Waler horses take a short break. Courtesy Australian War Memorial, ID J05982.

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