Desert Anzacs: the Under-Told Story

For 100 years, the astounding story of Anzac horsemen, cameleers, aviators, rough riders, medics, vets, light and armoured cars hasn’t been told. Until now.

Championed by Australia’s Lieutenant General Sir Harry Chauvel they overcame early feeble British political and military incompetence. Fast, open conflict, rather than septic trenches, suited their outback upbringing.

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For 100 years, the astounding story of Anzac horsemen, cameleers, aviators, rough riders, medics, vets, light and armoured cars hasn’t been told. Until now.

Championed by Australia’s Lieutenant General Sir Harry Chauvel they overcame early feeble British political and military incompetence. Fast, open conflict, rather than septic trenches, suited their outback upbringing. Part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, they recovered the Holy Land after 730 years of Muslim control, even saving Lawrence of Arabia and his cause. Their stunning victory at the Battle of Beersheba was the last mass mounted charge of modern times. The ‘great ride’ offensive of the Desert Mounted Corps, with 30,000 horsemen, destroyed the Ottoman Empire and wreaked vengeance for Gallipoli.

This is the first detailed account of the extraordinary military campaign that set the stage for today’s Middle East. Dearberg’s Anzac trilogy on World War I is now complete – Gallipoli, France, Palestine.

Neil Dearberg

Neil Dearberg was an Army officer for 15 years and principal of a financial planning practice for 23 years before taking up conflict archaeology, military history research and photography. He attended four field projects with the Great Arab Revolt Project of the Bristol University UK and three field trips to assist an American PhD candidate. Focusing on the Sinai Palestine campaign, he has had over a dozen articles published in Australia, Jordan, UK and USA. He has given lectures in Australia for the Australian History Association and Jordan for the Australian Embassy and American Centre for Oriental Research. He has been invited to give a presentation to the 2018 T.E. Lawrence Society conference in Oxford, UK. He was Head of Research for a three-part documentary on the Arab Revolt in Jordan and member of a research team for the Petrie Museum (University College of London) on war in the Middle East 1915-1918. USAID contracted Neil to conduct a project for the establishment of an Arab Revolt museum in Aqaba. Neil has three sons, one daughter and four grandchildren. Still competing in international and national masters surf lifesaving competitions, he also holds a pilot’s licence and has been a scuba diving instructor for over 30 years. This is Neil’s first book, written through the analytical and explanatory eyes of a military officer to better describe events yet with the ability to speak plainly after more than 20 years interpreting wealth accumulation and preservation matters to clients. He lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

from the Introduction

The Great War conflicts in France and Gallipoli gave Australia Anzac Day and its fighting legend. The Sinai Palestine Campaign confirmed that fighting legend and in addition, gave the world the Middle East chaos of today. The link between these campaigns was the Suez Canal. Opened in 1869, the Suez Canal gave international shipping direct access from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and cut weeks off the previous journey around the African continent before this Great War. Whoever controlled the canal in wartime would have a tremendous advantage and it should have been Britain. The British had occupied Egypt and controlled the Suez Canal since 1882. During the war, the canal was strategically priceless to Britain; essential for the supply of men, materiel and millions of Australian gold sovereigns to Europe and the Middle East. German shipping, denied the canal, was deflected down the west coast then back up the east coast of Africa before accessing the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and their East African and Pacific colonies. Control of the Suez Canal dominated British, German and Ottoman strategy throughout the war. When England went to war so did Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, the West Indies and South Africa as British dominion countries. The Anzac dominions gave the British Empire its first victory of the Great War two years after it started, at the Battle of Romani in August 1916. Twenty-five miles from the Suez Canal, the Anzac’s Sinai Palestine Campaign began. Anzacs then rode, flew or drove on for another two and a half years to forge an eternal national heritage. The Anzacs’ Sinai Palestine Campaign has not previously been explained in any detail, despite its greater influence on mankind than anything from this war or WWII. In those days, dominions were simply referred to as ‘British’. Little recognition was given to national identity, even in their home countries. Domestic governments and media lived in a ‘King and Empire’ dreamland of subservience. Throughout the campaign, some politicians and diplomats in England understood the need to hold the Suez Canal and provide the military resources to do so. Others, however, gave priority to the Western Front of Belgium and France while to them, Sinai Palestine became a sideshow. Political confusion often drowned military considerations and trained English soldiers were taken from the Middle East back to France, to be replaced by untrained citizens who had worn their uniforms for minutes, rather than months. This wretched replacing of experienced soldiers with shopkeepers and farmers plagued commanders throughout the campaign, extending its duration. Only the Anzacs, led by Australia’s Lieutenant General Sir Harry Chauvel and New Zealand’s Major General Edward Chaytor, provided continuity from beginning to end. The Anzacs gave stability to the British led Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF). They provided the warrior advantage to British commanders and likely saved the British Empire.

ISBN : 9781925231625
ISBN: 9781925231625, 9781925231632
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Page Length: 294
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Customer Reviews

1-5 of 6 reviews

  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    It was a pleasure to read a well researched and interesting story on the experiences of the Anzacs in the Middle East during WWI. It is good to see a focus on individual soldiers as opposed to the war in general.
Recommended to anyone who wants a good understanding of the trials and tribulations endured by Anzac soldiers 1916-1918.
    – John Meyers, Queensland President, Military Historical Society of Australia

    July 14, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    One hundred years on we can honor those from Australia and New Zealand whose stories are captured by Dearberg with the intent of providing the soldiers’ perspective. He offers insights into the course of the campaigns in the Sinai, Gaza, Palestine, and Transjordan during WWI and includes many unforgettable details.
    – Barbara A. Porter, Director, American Center Of Oriental Research (ACOR), Amman, Jordan

    July 14, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    Neil’s book is written through the analytical and explanatory eyes of a military officer to better describe events yet, with the ability to speak appealingly to a wide non-military audience.

    We see a clearly well researched publication that, unlike many other military history publications, does not need a staff reference list delving down to platoon level to follow the who’s who of the story. We see a book easily read and skilfully written, reflecting an understanding of the needs of the intended audience. Desert Anzacs provides such detail as necessary to understand the chronology of events across the Sinai-Palestine campaign as well as the traits of the key commanders. It provides a graphically realistic representation of the harshness of conditions faced by both sides including the value of the main campaign commodity of water and how this drove many tactical, operational and strategic decisions by commanders at all levels.
    The book holds wide appeal not just for the military enthusiast; but also for the people wanting an easy to digest but informative story of what is genuinely an under told and at times under appreciated part of Australia’s rich national and military history.

    I commend Neil for his efforts in producing such a fine addition to the repository of military historical research and storytelling that is Desert Anzacs.
    – Michael Liddelow, President, Maroochy RSL

    July 14, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    To be totally honest this is a subject I usually go out of my way to avoid, I hate war. All things considered though I did enjoy the read. I really enjoyed the spirit that you captured of the time, the lands and the people involved which I found engaging.
    – Melissa Morante, Newcastle

    July 14, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    I found Neil Dearberg’s book most informative about a period in Australia’s history that should never be forgotten. Neil has put in an incredible amount of research into this subject and he writes in a way that makes you feel you are actually there.
    – Fay Chamoun, Director, Floral Art School of Australia and International Floral Design School, Melbourne

    Neil Dearberg has based Desert Anzacs on research, analysis, more than ten years of travel and living throughout the Middle East, plus 15 years of military service. He has presented a part of WWI history of which many of us know little. As he points out, Anzacs went to Gallipoli and exposure to incompetent British generals and a determined Johnny Turk. Evacuated to Egypt, they would once more face incompetent British generals and a determined Johnny Turk as they crossed the heated sands of Sinai.

    The troops continually faced the hesitancy of the British War Office—until Allenby. After devastating failures at the Dardanelles, Kut in Mesopotamia, and stalemate in France, British morale was “rock bottom” while Turkish morale was “stratospheric”. Moreover, in defending the Suez Canal, General Murray split his forces into smaller, isolated pockets forward of the canal, thus ensuring that they would be defeated—until the appointment of Henry Chauvel.

    General Henry Chauvel, an Australian, became “commander of Anzac, British, and dominion soldiers, the first non-British officer ever to do so.” This was “an unheard-of honor that horrified traditional caste-conscious relics of the empire.” The battle of Romani would be the first bright spot in 1916 for British arms, after which the combined forces chased the Turks east into Beersheba and Gaza, on to Palestine and Jerusalem. Then, in 1918, after two failed “raids” across the Jordan River (More than “raids”, these were failed campaigns, whitewashed for the War Office), and coordinating with the Northern Arab Army, Amman was captured.

    A three-pronged attack, including “the great ride”, “the greatest cavalry operation of all time,”, or “the greatest mounted ride in history”, by nearly 30,000 horsemen of the Desert Mounted Corps, faked out the Turks and ensured victory and a northward chase to Damascus and beyond. The spoils were 75,000 prisoners (Turkish soldiers along with numerous Germans, including staff officers), more than 360 guns, 800 machine guns, 3,500 transport animals, rolling stock, trucks, a wagon loaded with gold and silver, plus other booty.

    This three-week operation was the culmination of three years of work in which the Suez Canal was saved, major contributions were made to the Arab forces and their support of Sharif Hussein’s revolt, the Holy Land was reclaimed after 730 years of Muslim control, and a springboard was provided for victory in the west.

    The Sinai campaign “showed that Australians and New Zealanders continued the spirit of mateship, pride and national identity, begun at Gallipoli.” However, while praising the “other ranks” and many of the lesser British officers, the author is devastatingly firm in his disdain for most senior British officers until Allenby. After all, he IS Australian.

    – Bruce Sloan, roadstothegreatwar

    July 14, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    The stories of the ANZACs at Gallipoli, and the Australian Corps on the Western Front are well known, but the story of the ANZACs who fought in Sinai and Palestine is not. Neil Dearberg, a former army officer and historian of the Sinai, Palestine and Arabian campaigns sets out to correct this ignorance in DESERT ANZACS, the under-told story.

    After the withdrawal from Gallipoli, the ANZACs returned to Egypt on their way to the Western Front, but Australian influence in London ensured that the Light Horse Division remained in Egypt as part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. This was a wise decision as the Australians and New Zealanders were mostly countrymen, used to riding in difficult and remote country and better suited to the desert than their English counterparts. Although some learned to ride camels (ANZACs formed almost half the Imperial Camel Corps), the Light Horse units rode large, strong Australian ‘whaler’ horses that, like the riders, could survive with limited water in the desert.
    The desert ANZACs began to establish their reputation when a force attacked and defeated Turks building water cisterns at Jifjafa. The next success was the capture of Ramadi, by a force under Major General Chauvel, driving the Turks back to El Arish and removing the threat to the Suez Canal. The Allied advance into Palestine was now held up by the strong enemy position at Gaza, and after two costly attempts to capture it by direct assault had failed, 800 Light Horsemen under (now) Lieutenant General Chauvel carried Beersheeba by a cavalry charge and forced the enemy withdrawal from Gaza.

    Rather than writing “a rambling description of one battle after another intended for academics and historians”, Dearberg writes about the ANZAC men and nurses, and their roles and recollections based on diaries, letters and photos. He has taken part in several archaeological expeditions along the Hejaz Railway in addition to his archival research and interviews, and his knowledge of the subject is obvious. The Arab Revolt in the Hejaz and the Arab advance into Jordan and Syria is well covered, as is the importance of the Australian Flying Corps to the success of the Allied advance.

    The style is down-to-earth and incompetent generals are given short shrift. Expressions such as ‘Australia’s Government received the news like free beer at a wedding’ are initially surprising, but I soon found the book difficult to put down. The strategies of the ‘good guys’ (the Allies) and the ‘bad guys’ (the Turks and the Germans) are clearly described, as is the course of the desert war and the major battles.

    – Roger Buxton, RUSI, Victoria

    July 14, 2023

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