Heylen rides with Beersheba charge

Francesca MannGeraldton Guardian

Judy Heylen was among 100 Australian riders to travel to Israel for a once-in-a-lifetime World War I re-enactment.

The secretary and mother-of-two spent three days recently following the tracks of the 4th Light Horse Brigade to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the charge on Beersheba.

On October 31, 1917, the final phase of the Battle of Beersheba culminated in the brigade storming Turkish defences, seizing the town.

The capture of Beersheba allowed British Empire forces to break the Ottoman line near Gaza and advance into Palestine.

Ms Heylen said although the conditions of re-enactment were tough, she felt honoured to participate in the commemorative event.

“It was very special and emotional,” she said.

“We had to camp in the desert for three nights and it dropped down to three or five degrees.

“I was freezing cold. But I had to remind myself these poor guys that did it 100 years ago, they didn’t even have a tent and were doing it for weeks and weeks.”

Ms Heylen said the re-enactment of the charge on the trenches was a “bit of a non-event” because of large amounts of dust startling the horses and preventing people from watching.

Although Ms Heylen said the charge still looked “specky”, the highlight of the trip for her was the street parade beforehand.

“Thousands of people came out to clap, wave and cheer — it was pretty humbling with all the positive support we got,” she said.

“(We rode) three horses abreast and in the front we had the Perth Hills and Wheatbelt Concert Band.

“They were so good. So many times when we went to places they would play the anthems and always the last post.”

While taking part in the parade, Ms Heylen said she could hear someone in the crowd yelling out her name, despite not knowing anyone in Israel.

The mystery person turned out to be Geraldton resident James Thompson, who had taken the opportunity to travel to Israel to pay respects to his great-uncle.

Trooper Sloan “Scotty” Bolton was part of the 4th Light Horse Regiment and was among the 800 men who charged on Beersheba.

After leaping over the first row of trenches and galloping into the town, Bolton saw a German officer about to blow up buildings and wells and managed to arrest him.

Later he saw a German officer taking off with seven men and a Turkish field gun and took off in pursuit.

When Bolton’s gun misfired, he hit the German officer over the head and stopped the escapees by pretending his gun was loaded.

For his bravery, Bolton was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Mr Thompson said the trip was emotional but well worth the visit.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see where he’d been,” he said.

“Israel is very appreciative of Australia as they drove the Ottomans up to Turkey.

“The Aussies went against British orders, our horses dying from dehydration, but we haven’t celebrated or acknowledged this great win we had in war.

“It’s finally being acknowledged worldwide.”

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