Ion (Jack) Llewellyn Idriess 1889-1979

Dedicated to the Life and Works of

Did Jack really witness the fall of Beersheba?





In the first half of November 2005 there was a series of posts to the Australian Light Horse Association Forum.

On 25/10/2008 Kim Duncan,
wrote, “This page is as accurate a record as I can get of the discussion that actually took place on the Alpha Forum”. 

The subject of that Forum was whether or not Jack actually saw the fall of Beersheba. The debate began on 3 November and faded out on 17 November. Along the way the comments became quite personal. For example:

(Quote) Topic author: Bill Woerlee.

Replied on: 08/11/2005 3:44:28 PM.

You will have noticed that I have ignored the dross you ironically describe as investigations for the “sake of your grandkids.” I am not really interested in your paeans of pap. However this caught my eye. You said: “Bill has proposed that Idriess was a self-seeking liar.” You go too far with the mindless effluvia that you merrily spew upon this site. Pat, if you are going to make outrageous claims like that you either need to substantiate your claim or apologise. State where I have made such a claim. In other words, time to put up or shut up. And when you find out that you have slandered me, I expect an apology. Bill
(end Quote).

How interesting that more than 30 years after Jack’s death and nearly 70 years after The Desert Column was published, his words can raise such passionate debate.

Kim Duncan’s page (edited for readability and relevance) is reproduced on “idriess” to ensure, (a) this valuable material is not lost and (b) to make it more widely available to Jack’s readers. On behalf of those readers the contributions of all the people mentioned below (and whose words are reproduced) are gratefully acknowledged. The complete contributions are on (and hopefully will stay on)


Topic author: Bill Woerlee

Subject: Idriess and Beersheba - fanciful or factual?

Posted on: 03/11/2005 1:12:04 PM

Something that Grant said on the General forum brought me to re-examine the Idriess account of Beersheba's capture by the 4th LHB. Here is the direct quote from Ion L Idriess, "The Desert Column", 1932:

"Then someone shouted, pointing through the sunset towards invisible headquarters. There, at the steady trot was regiment after regiment, squadron after squadron, coming, coming, coming! It was just half-light, they were distinct yet indistinct. The Turkish guns blazed at those hazy horsemen but they came steadily on. At two miles distant they emerged from clouds of dust, squadrons of men and horses taking shape. All the Turkish guns around Beersheba must have been directed at the menace then. Captured Turkish and German officers have told us that even then they never dreamed that mounted troops would be madmen enough to attempt rushing infantry redoubts protected by machine-guns and artillery. At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe-inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points. Machine gun and rifle fire just roared but the 4th Brigade galloped on. We heard shouts among the thundering hooves - horse after horse crashed, but the massed squadrons thundered on. We laughed in delight when the shells began bursting behind them telling that the gunners could not keep their range, then suddenly the men ceased to fall and we knew instinctively that the Turkish infantry, wild with excitement and fear, had forgotten to lower their rifle sights and the bullets were flying overhead. The Turks did the same to us at El Quatia. The last half mile was a berserk gallop with the squadrons in magnificent line, a heart-throbbing sight as they plunged up the slope, the horses leaping the redoubt trenches - my glasses showed me the Turkish bayonets thrusting up for the bellies of the horses - one regiment flung themselves from the saddle - we heard the mad shouts as the men jumped down into the trenches, a following regiment thundered over another redoubt, and to a triumphant roar of voices and hooves was galloping down the half mile slope right into the town. Then came a whirlwind of movement from all over the field, galloping batteries - dense dust from mounting regiments - a rush as troops poured for the opening in the gathering dark - mad, mad excitement - terrific explosions from down in the town.

"Beersheba had fallen."

I have read this extract a few times and found the imagery quite exciting. Only now when I read these accounts, my first question is: Did he actually see this or is this just romantic literature sexed up to sell a story?

Putting this extract into the crucible of evidence I am beginning to believe it is the latter rather than the former. Bryn has an excellent understanding of the actions taken by the 5th on that day so he might like to clarify a few things.

My understanding is that when the charge occurred, the 5th LHR was north east of Tel el Saba at Tel um Butein, having moved there after the fall of Tel el Saba by the Auckland Mounted Rifles. During the assault on Tel el Saba the 2nd and 3rd LHB's were moved up in support of the NZMRB but the action was over before the Australians were engaged. The 3rd LHB moved on to cut the Hebron Road at Khirbit el Omry while the 2nd LHB did the same further east between Tel el Sakaty and Tel um Butein. In between the 3rd and 2nd were the Canterbury Mounted Rifles.

Now here is th conundrum - on the route to Tel um Butein, it falls directly north of Tel el Saba and thus the charge by the 4th LHB could not possibly have been seen by anyone being deployed to Tel um Butein - it is just not physically possible. No where in the Idriess account does he state that he tarried around the south western side of Tel el Saba which would have given him a view. Nor does he mention that he was on top of Tel el Saba which would have given him such a glorious view to write this thrilling first hand account. But he makes no mention of this. One can only assume that he was a dutiful trooper and followed his regiment for deployment at Tel um Butein.

The booms of explosion he would have heard. The noise of fighting he would have heard. There is no way that he could have observed the charge. So the description of Beersheba's capture was not from his diary but a retelling of the popular account some 15 years after the event when he inflated his diary entry for that day.

None of this is to take away from the Idriess account as a piece of literature. It has none of the hallmarks of an eye witness account and I don't really think it pretends to be that. However, there are some anecdotal stories regarding the Turks in the story which I am not sure Idriess is able to substantiate as historically accurate.

He raises the rifle story - the sights being set too long. Some will have been found as such. However, to make this as a general claim it was necessary to collect all the rifles and quantify the numbers set at long range. This was not done so the old chestnut was circulated from a couple rifles to all the Turks.

What he doesn't mention is the work of the Notts Battery laying down suppressing fire in the front of the Turkish trenches. This in itself kicked up - deliberately - huge amounts of dust which obscured the horses charging towards them while forcing the Turks to keep their heads down.

Again, no mention that the Notts Battery knocked out the Turkish Machine Guns on the first salvo so there were no machine guns to face.

It is the absence of this pertinent information that leads me to conclude that Idriess never witnessed the charge but that he was quite happy to recycle the popular myths in a romantic and exciting retelling of the tale. Good for book sales but it is dreadful history.

Topic author: Kim
Replied on: 03/11/2005 6:33:28 PM

I think it is as you suspect. He decided to write the war time stories later and from the small amount I have read of his works, it seems to come over as a bit 'Boy's Own.'
When reading his work after reading factual accounts, I'm afraid I kept stopping and checking as some things did sound quite right.

Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 03/11/2005 6:51:00 PM

Agreed he's following the style used by a number of writers of that time of seeing things they could not see or couldn't see well and added to the story by accounts by others.

We had a similar talk over what Parsons could have seen of the Tank redoubt battle from his local (location) at Atawineh ridge.

A camel corps writer (Hall) has the same style which is misleading but adds to their story.

That’s why its hard using these sources as gospel and like you, I get them quoted to me as an on the spot source.

His use of the rifle sight not being lowered, gives his source away as its only been used by a certain writer but repeated by others.

But he was correct in that this type of shooting (high) was common in most battles I have read by Frank Reid (Camel Corps).

Topic author: Bill Woerlee
Replied on: 03/11/2005 7:29:03 PM

G'day mate
You said: "But he was correct in that this type of shooting (high) was common in most battles I have read by Frank Reid (Camel Corps)."

Your comment reminded me of a program on killology conducted by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman on Background Briefing, ABC RN, where the research on the habits of Great War soldiers in shooting practices was analysed. He was at the time promoting his book "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society". I believe he also has made an appearance on Phillip Adams' Late Night Live. He has a web site. The URL is:


Anyway, long story short, it turns out that only 25% of men actually aimed at another human being. The rest either pretended to shoot at other human beings or just shat themselves, a normal human reaction under stress.

The flip side of the coin is that about 4% of the population are sociopaths so killing in war is a great way of life.

Now here is the darnedest thing - this inability to kill other human beings is not confined to any group, race, creed or culture. It is pretty well universal - the revulsion that most humans feel when confronted with the notion that they are obliged to kill another human being.

Segue back to the Turkish trenches on that afternoon in front of Beersheba. The Yilderim battalion facing the 4th LHB may have been seasoned troops but they had maybe just a little higher propensity to kill - read this as having more sociopaths in the unit - than other units but their lack of willingness to fight to the last man indicates that they too were no different to the Australians. 75% of all the combatants fired high to avoid killing other human beings. Hence casualties on both sides were very low considering the number of combatants and the actions in which they took place. It might be able to be attributed to a mutual desire to survive the war.

Topic author: Bryn
Replied on: 03/11/2005 8:11:15 PM


As far as I know, Idriess would not have been able to directly view the Beersheba action. I've never come across any eye-witness account by any member of the 5th Light Horse Regiment. As you point out, they were not in the immediate vicinity.

Following is the full account of the action from the History of the 5th Light Horse Regiment:

"On the night of 30th October, the full Regiment ("B" Squadron having returned from outpost duty with the Canal Brigade) started with three days' rations from Asluj with the Anzac Division for the attack on Beersheba, a distance of 25 miles. The country traversed was difficult and was unknown to us and the maps lacked detail. But there was a bright moon, and no serious enemy opposition was encountered.

At dawn next morning the Brigade attacked the entrenched hill of Tel-el-Sakaty, which was captured about one o'clock, and half an hour later were astride the Hebron-Beersheba Road, The general battle, however, lasted all day, and as the resistance increased the Division was reinforced by the 3rd Brigade under our old commanding officer.

New reinforcements from Hebron had to be held up and the strong position of Tel-el-Saba was not captured by the Division until late in the afternoon. If Beersheba were not taken by nightfall, we should have been in serious straits among other things for water, but the brilliant charge of the 4th Brigade at dusk over successive lines of trenches finally captured the position."
(5LHR History pp 127-128).

I'd have to agree that Idriess based his account on what he later heard.

Topic author: Bill Woerlee
Replied on: 04/11/2005 06:42:09 AM

G'day mate
I knew you had the good oil on the 5th. The diary entry only confirms my deepest suspicions.

I have a feeling that Harry Chauvel was also caught up in the legend. After all, his career subsequent to the military hung on Beersheba. Indeed he dined on it for the rest of his life. His introduction to Idriess' book would do nothing to dispute any of the claims made by Idriess - any promotion of Idriess was self-promotion for Harry.

Here is an example of Harry Chauvel dining off the legend. Vivian Sharpe, the author of the article "Beersheba" in the magazine "HOOFS and HORNS" in the December 1971 edition wanted to name drop so as to let everyone know he moved in only the best circles. So remove the pretence, the comments here are revealing:

"The writer had the honour of knowing the late General Sir Harry Chauvel quite well, and on the last occasion he talked with the fine old soldier, during lunch at Moonee Valley Races, the subject of Beersheba naturally arose again. Sir Harry said that later he was often condemned because he decided to use his fellow Australians instead of Yeomanry for the charge, and that in doing this he had exhibited prejudice. He was most emphatic that he fully realized a charge by Yeomanry armed with sabres would have been preferable - but this would have necessitated a delay of at least another half an hour to get the Yeomanry brigade forward from their position in reserve, and time was most important. "I suppose I was at fault there," the fine old soldier admitted, "but I didn't think the Anzac Division would have been so slow. I suppose the fault was mine in that I didn't decide on a mounted shock attack an hour earlier. If I had done so I most certainly would have sent the Yeomanry in. We simply had to have those wells!"

The last sentence is Harry dining off the legend at the racing club.
Reality is that the romance sold the books, stale history kept them on the shelves. Australians wanted then as now to see themselves as dashing heroes - a Narcissistic national characteristic suffered by all nations.

Getting back to Idriess, it has only been exposure to this site that has forced me to re-examine all the mythos that I assumed were accurate portrayals of Australian history. At the end of the day, it is important to separate the myths from reality although I fear the myths will become the reality in the next 100 years.

Topic author: norm
Replied on: 04/11/2005 07:09:09 AM

Good day all,
This discussion has once again raised the question of "don't let the facts spoil a good story". By me saying that, I have a copy of a hand written "memoir" written in the early 1920's of a digger who was at the Gallipoli landing with the 15th Btn.

This personal account was fine up to the time he was wounded, then the story starts to become a bit of how you say "boys own stuff". As from a copy of his war service shows he spent the last 18 months of the war locked up in England.

To all those who have read the story this fellow should have been up there with Harry Murray, who incidentally gets only mentioned briefly, in being the most decorated soldier, where in fact he was lucky to come away with his 3 gongs and not a dishonourable discharge.

Anyway my point is that in this modern day with access to archives etc many of these eyewitness accounts from long ago are open to modern day scrutiny and will be found to be less than eye witness and more hearsay.
Active riding member
12/16th& 24th LH Troop

Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 04/11/2005 08:37:37 AM

I have mentioned before interviewing a number of veterans on their experiences of War and found the same problem there.

Over the years, memory of their time at war had become faded by what they had read and heard from the many sources they came in contact with. This could be other soldiers, books. radio and newspapers.

All this added to their recollection of events which most didn't remember or didn't see, but to show they were at that place and time they then had to make up these so the listener would know what he is talking about.

For example the Beersheba battle where a old 1st LHR soldier told of the fighting at Tel el Saba and charging with the 4th LH Bde at the end of the day.

Now I could Tel that his talk of the fighting at Tel el Saba was detailed with a number of funny things happened to him and other blokes but his story on the charge was sketchy and incomplete and followed a general line without smaller detail.

Now we can conclude that he knew of the fighting at Tel el Saba because he was there and the history backs him up but his story of the charge was just to add to the story as many people would not relate Tel el Saba to Beersheba.

Topic author: troopone
Replied on: 04/11/2005 11:10:35 AM

There is no way that you can compare the casualty rates between France and the Middle East. Too many differences in the type of fighting. The conjecture that they shot wide because of respect for each other is a little fanciful also.

On Idriess, it is a worthwhile exercise to review his work. His Drums of Mer is prone to question and has create problems for the local communities regarding copyright. His Cattle King is more than fanciful; It is a fairy story masquerading as a history. Compare it to "Kidman, the forgotten king". I would love to see the notebooks that were his diary, on which the book is based.

Topic author: dped
Replied on: 04/11/2005 11:32:37 AM







Dear All
My memory is playing up a bit. I have a book at home called "Big Noting" or something similar. It covers related ideas and one mention of Idriess is the ref in his book about carrying water on Gallipoli where a lad carrying buckets was shot; his snowy singlet was a mass of blood, or words to that effect. His diary was rather less graphic.
The Big Noting book is worth a read if you can find it. If not, let me know and I'll get the correct details.
All the best.


Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 04/11/2005 2:14:33 PM

G'day Don.
Strange that you don't recall the name of the author of "Big Noting"
We all know who Idriess was; he was simply one of the thousands of young Australians who were thrown into the cauldron of the Great War.
That he was prepared to discard possessions, including food and equipment, to permit the retention of his diaries, provides an everlasting legacy to us all.

Personally, I recognise three great recorders of the Great War. They are Bean, Hurley & Idriess. The obvious link is that they were there. A less obvious, but disturbing link is that they have been the subject of disparaging discussion on this, and other web sites.

The part that disturbs me most is the blatant accusation of self-seeking levelled at each of them. If they were motivated by the Almighty Dollar, they would surely have been aware that their involvement in such momentous events would have been risky, to say the least, and no matter what remuneration MIGHT be obtainable, the reward would probably not be a long and prosperous retirement.

Do we have the right to continually question their motives?

We do have the right to assess the validity of certain records and place it in our own perspective. I believe that we do not know enough about the actual conditions, including the specific location of the narrator at the time, to pass judgement on their work. By allocating personal prejudices or motives weight in any arguments on the veracity of their work, we are more guilty of showing prejudice than they could have been.

With specific reference to Idriess, we have an idea where the majority of his regiment were that evening, but where was he specifically?

There are many institutions hell bent on devaluing the part played by the First AIF, it saddens me to see the fruits of their labours on our own inner-sanctum

Topic author: Kim
Replied on: 04/11/2005 5:10:17 PM

I don't think there is a concerted effort to put Idriess into disrepute. More a case of sorting fact from factual fiction.
Some of the authors of that time, wrote in the years where "Boy's Own" and "Biggles" were big sellers. If they took their literary style from this style of writing we get an Idriess style book. Bean, on the other hand, was a journo, and reported as such, but also allowed colour in his work to emphasise his points, so too Patterson.
Would people read their work if it was dry facts and figures? Maybe they wrote with this in mind.
I am not having a go at them, just saying that a bit of fiction may have been necessary to cover the parts that they were not present for, and to give the work colour and excitement.
Elyne Mitchell wrote a fictional book about Beersheba. To my regret I don't have it. Being Chauvel's daughter, she had access to all his papers and memories. It might be worth reading, as a comparison. It has been years since I did read it and therefore cannot remember enough of it to give comment on it.

Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 04/11/2005 5:18:57 PM


I never want to denigrate any man's experience of war as we all experience it differently.

But as to this man's diaries we can conclude that these were only written as a bare few words each day.

Now it’s plain for his writings that since he had only a few words on Beersheba he then added to them to better put his fighting into context of the battle.

Now the description of the charge is only that a second hand view of what may/was going on since the man never took part in it.

Now Chauvel in the preface makes this note "In addition to giving a vivid description of the campaign as he saw it".

Now did he see it and does that matter to his description of the charge?

And can you draw any conclusions from his description of it.

You will also notice Chauvel didn't say this is an historical accurate account of the war.

Topic author: Bryn
Replied on: 04/11/2005 6:06:16 PM

(Quote) With specific reference to Idriess, we have an idea where the majority of his regiment were that evening, but where was he specifically? (end Quote)

Probably with the rest of his regiment, seeing as he was a trooper with a job to do, and not the brigade gadabout.

Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 04/11/2005 6:31:33 PM

G'day Kim
Close but no cigar!
Ion could not have received any inspiration from Biggles' success. The "Camels are coming" the first of John's classics also appeared in 1932, long after the initial drafts of "The Desert Column" had been submitted.

Are you sure that Elyne Mitchell did not have Trooper Bolton leading the charge at Beersheba on a Silver Brumby? Maybe she also mentioned the petals from Sturt's Desert Peas trampled into the sands by the thundering hooves. Why does Patterson rate a mention?

Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 04/11/2005 6:57:25 PM

G'day Steve.
Our major points of difference here would appear to be the volume of words used by Idriess in his diary entries and the actual number of those diaries.

Others may not have access to his "Author's Note" For them, here are some extracts.

I began the diary as we crowded the decks off Gallipoli...
Gradually it grew to be a mania: I would whip out the little book and note, immediately, anything exciting that was happening. As the years dragged on, my haversack became full of little notebooks.

... all that has been written in this diary records my thoughts and feelings at that very moment. Naturally they were many in nearly four years of active war and eventually necessitated the throwing away of my iron rations to find room in my haversack for the little notebooks.

Despite the fact that brevity had to be a watchword when I wrote, fully twenty thousand words had to be cut from the diary to allow it to appear in book form, at a reasonable price to the public.

I never thought the diary would appear in book form. But a proud sister, in whose care they were, forwarded the little note-books to the publishers...

The book appears [to me] to be a fairly accurate transcription of the diary. Take August 29th [1915]

Put in a bad night, standing gazing through the dark at the Turkish
[this para 8 lines]

... I "spotted" awhile for for Billy Sing this morning.
[this para 19 lines]

... Dr Dods has just been hit in the shoulder by shrapnel
[this para 6 lines]

So the book devotes 33 lines to a rather typical 24 hours on Gallipoli. That paras 2 and 3 start with ..., gives some support that the book is a direct transcript in that some of the 20,000 omitted words were from here.

Personally I find the wording of the "Beersheba" extract no more dramatic or colourful than the description of the many actions that Idriess [and his mates in the 5th] were actually participants. Any heightened 'dramatics' could be attributed to the special nature of that event anyway.

Idriess did, on occasion, lose track of the date. Of significance to the argument as to Allenby's Plan B [If the Wells were not taken on October 30] At the end of Chapter 46, early December, he states "We had had no water since leaving Beersheba"

Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 04/11/2005 9:15:36 PM

G'day again Kim
I don't share your belief that there is no concerted effort to discredit Idriess. That someone could attempt this by reference to the following passage actually staggers me.

May 30th
...Things are quiet now. ... A man was just shot dead in front of me. He was a little Infantry lad, quite a boy, with snowy hair that looked comical above his clean white singlet. I was going for water. He stepped out of a dugout and walked down the path ahead, whistling. I was puffing the old pipe, while carrying a dozen water bottles. Just as we were crossing Shrapnel Gully he suddenly flung up his water bottles, wheeled around, and stared for one startled second, even as he crumpled to my feet. In seconds his hair was scarlet, his clean white singlet all crimson.

And for what its worth, Don, put me down as "not the least bit interested" in what your nameless author has to say about the incident.

That incident has stayed etched on my 'understanding' of Gallipoli for about 40 years.

Kim, you also mention Chauvell's daughter and her account of Beersheba. That I would be interested in. Even more interesting would be her account of the entry into Damascus. You seem satisfied that history has not & is not being re-written to downgrade Australian achievements, Mitchell's comments on Lawrence of Arabia [if any] may provide some indications. [Not that they are gunna matter]

Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 04/11/2005 10:39:20 PM

(Quote) Probably with the rest of his regiment, seeing as he was a trooper with a job to do, and not the brigade gadabout. (end Quote)

But what job? From the diary, two paragraphs before Bill's extract.

As the regiment mounted, several of us were hurriedly detailed to remain on observation duty. The brigade galloped off and soon were astride the road. We, on observation, climbed a hill and watched the battle for the remainder of the day. It was all hazily distinct so far as the eye could visualise though obliterated again and again by rolling clouds of dust. Away to the left the New Zealand Mounted Rifles were having a hard fight to take the Tel Saba redoubts. The machine-gun fire just roared from down there, our artillery all along the line were thundering at the German machine gun nests. As the afternoon wore on we watched the 1st Light Horse Brigade fighting their way around the flank of a redoubt. Taubes were roaring all over the fortifications, the plain, the wadi and the ridges, their heavy bombs exploding in series of smashing roars. Through the glasses, we watched them bombing Chauvel's and Chaytor's headquarters four miles away where the generals directed the battle. I wondered what their thoughts were for all the operations apart from the dust were spread plain before them. Chauvel must have been terribly anxious as time wore on for if we did not take Beersheba by nightfall then we must retire to water thirty miles away and the infantry divisions now in action would be in a terrible fix.

We saw that grim work would soon be doing on Tel el Saba as the 3rd Brigade came galloping up to reinforce the En Zeds. We watched excitedly as we saw the New Zealanders, like little men, advancing in short rushes. Then farther along, the 1st Light Horse Brigade began advancing in short rushes. Machine-gun, rifle, and artillery fire increased in fury. Then we caught the gleam of bayonets - we we strained our eyes as one line of men were almost at a trench, they were into it - faintly we heard shouts as line after line surged on. Quickly the firing from Tel el Saba itself died down. Then we saw it was taken! We just laughed - we were jolly glad. Time rolled on. The outer defences were ours but Beersheba still held out. It was almost sundown, and by Jove we wondered what was going to happen next. The 9th Regiment and its machine-gun squadron were heavily bombed, the New Zealanders got hell from the taubes, while others flying low [evaded Biggles and] spread death among the 8th Light Horse. We heard afterwards that their V.C. colonel was among the killed.

Then someone shouted...

Beersheba had fallen.


Topic author: Bryn
Replied on: 05/11/2005 02:14:09 AM


The book Don mentioned has been around for 18 years:

Gerster, R. Big-Noting: The Heroic Theme in Australian War Writing, Carlton, Melbourne University Press, 1987.

Can't say I agree with a lot of it, but it seems fence-sitting and insipid opinions are okay - even desirable around here - these days, as long as they're totally PC and offend nobody who remains to defend themselves.

Topic author: Bill Woerlee
Replied on: 05/11/2005 06:04:18 AM

Nice extract and I am glad you expended the time to present it to us. This is what Idriess says:

"The 9th Regiment and its machine-gun squadron were heavily bombed, the New Zealanders got hell from the taubes..." And that's it.

I have no doubt that Idriess saw the taubes flying above. Indeed, we have dealt with that in great detail in another thread specifically on Beesheba - vis, the air raid.

However, here is an interesting observation - "and its machine-gun squadron" - this is the key to understanding the motive of writing. Seems innocuous enough, however, he would have known as did every man in the Light Horse that the comment was inaccurate both technically and descriptively. The 9th never had a Machine Gun Squadron - it had a Machine Gun Section, as did all early Regiments which was hived off in 1916 to form a Brigade Machine Gun Squadron. Idriess knew this. So why make that statement? Well it is not so snappy - this is the eye on selling a book - than giving the correct detail. This is how it might read otherwise:

"The 9th Regiment and a troop from the 3rd Light Horse Machine Gun Squadron were heavily bombed, the New Zealanders got hell from the taubes..."

In contrast, here is the 3rd LHB War Diary account of the action:

"When nearing Tel el Saba the 9th Light Horse Regiment was bombed by two enemy aeroplanes flying at the extremely low altitudes of 800 feet, and suffered very heavy casualties in both men and horses. Including the sub - section Machine Gun Squadron attached to 9th Light Horse Regiment, casualties sustained were: - 13 other ranks killed, and three Officers and 17 other ranks wounded, 20 horses wounded and 32 horses killed.

"The 8th Light Horse Regiment had received orders from Headquarters, Anzac Mounted Division to rejoin 3rd Light Horse Brigade Headquarters. When so doing they were also bombed by enemy aircraft flying at a very low altitude. The CO, Maygar, Lieutenant Colonel LC, VC DSO, was here mortally wounded, and died the following day." A dry, matter of fact account.

Here is another eye witness account - from the 9th LHR War Diary:

"At 1700 orders were received to move and occupy the line 1040 and 960 east of Beersheba. When nearing the Tel el Saba redoubt an enemy aeroplane flying at about 800 feet bombed C Troop of C Squadron killing 2815 Trooper Leahy, CM; 2939 Trooper Morrison, DJ; and, wounding severely Lieutenant Linacre, FJ; and, Captain Williams, H; and, wounding nine Other Ranks. 19 horses were killed and 6 wounded. Many casualties were also inflicted on New Zealanders and No 1 Sub - Section of 3rd Machine Gun Squadron who was close by. At this point we learned that Beersheba had fallen."

No thundering of hooves that frightened the Turks mentioned here - just a dot point account of what actually happened.

So Biggles, if you endorse the inaccuracies of Idriess then that is your prerogative. Bear in mind the old aphorism: "A chicken may have wings but that doesn't mean it flies."

However, when you think that analytical history is somehow destroying your way of life then you desperately need to re-examine your critical values. Usually when I hear someone hiding behind the righteous cloak of patriotism, I usually count the silver afterwards to make sure it's all there.

Topic author: Bill Woerlee
Replied on: 05/11/2005 08:10:25 AM

Mate, it is no use blathering about how hurt you are that Idriess' work is being analysed. If you are defending his historicity and accuracy, you need to deal with the issues and not the emotions you feel.

Let me highlight two issues that I raised in my previous post that seems to elude you.

"and its machine-gun squadron"

Two issues were raised about accuracy - first that it was a machine gun troop and secondly it was the 3rd LHMGS, not from the 9th LHR.

What you haven't picked up on is Idriess' deliberate use of these terms.

Let us deal with the basics so the light can finally emerge. Idriess was a member of a 4 man Squad which was part of a 32 man Troop of which four troops formed part of a 120 man Squadron. These are technical terms to which he was exposed on a daily basis. The term "squadron" has a specific technical meaning within the Light Horse. It is a discrete unit of about 120 men. No ifs and buts about it whatsoever. Idriess knew this and lived with it for four years.

Now here is the question you should have asked before blustering off to me - "If Idriess knew the technical terms and he witnessed what went on, why did he make such a fundamental error?"

Now if you believe he didn't make a fundamental error, you need to harmonise the war diary entry of the 9th LHR and 3rd LHB with the supposed diary entry of Idriess. When you have done that present your thesis for examination under the crucible of criticism and see how it stacks up.

Here is where the GOYA principle now applies - you need to apply the blow torch of history onto my thesis by establishing you own thesis. If you don't like my conclusions you have an obligation to prove me wrong. Not by blathering but by logic.

Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 05/11/2005 08:15:54 AM

Mate what I mean by these statements is like the bible don't take it literary but use it as a guide.

Look at the June 28th entry chapter VI Egyptian Government Hosp Alex as the first page I just opened.

There are 9 line in that paragraph 12 in the next till the start of the next date August 23rd.

Now did he write some 21 lines to cover all the days in between or did he only write an outline then added to it later either at war or after he got home.

But I don't know either I only conclude that from his writing as I have never seen his original diaries, have you?

There is no doubt he used his diary as a base of his story that is plan from his writings but what is also plain that he added to and subtracted words to add to his story.

He was by that time a fair writer and knew how to present his works to the public without too much bull.

But let me quote the Foreword back at you by Gen Chauvel;

"I gladly send a few words of preface to Trooper Idriess book on the Campaign in Sinai and Palestine. Not only is it a narrative of personal adventure which is full of interest but it is as far as I am aware the only soldiers book yet written on that campaign. Several books have been written by officers and war correspondents but in this the campaign is viewed entirely from the private soldiers point of view. It is of absorbing interest to a leader and should be to the General public.

At the same time there is an accuracy in the descriptions of operations which could only be provided by a singularly observant man. Idriess was I think above the average in the respect though I must say that the ALH was generally very quick in summing up a situation for himself. No doubt his early training in the wide spaces of the Australian bush had developed to an extraordinary degree his individuality, self-reliance and power of observation, and particularly mobile style of fighting he was called upon to take part in suited him and brought out his special qualities far more than any trench warfare would have done.

In addition to giving vivid descriptions of the campaign as he saw it, Trooper Idriess also shows the interest that was taken in the Holy Land and its previous history I think that this was not peculiar to the Australians but was common to all British troops, thanks very largely to the padres of all denominations who, intensely interested them-selves, made it their business to interest others by lectures and personally conducted tours etc.

I would commend this book to leaders who took part in the theatre of war with which it deals and also to the general public.

Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 05/11/2005 08:44:21 AM

I accept your challenge.

You wrote (Quote) Nowhere in the Idriess account does he state that he tarried around the south western side of Tel el Saba which would have given him a view. Nor does he mention that he was on top of Tel el Saba which would have given him such a glorious view to write this thrilling first-hand account. But he makes no of this. One can only ASSUME that he was a dutiful trooper and followed [?] his regiment for deployment at Telum Butein. (end Quote)

Idriess wrote:-
"About midday, our brigade took Tel Es Sakaty. ...

I note you took the opportunity to amend a previous posting. 8.44 am for the record. Don't think Idriess would have bothered amending what he had written.

Anyways, he said, "About midday our brigade took Tel Es Sakaty. ...
Immediately, orders came to brigade to seize the Hebron road as planes had reported motor-lorries of reinforcements streaming down from Hebron.
As the regiment mounted, several of us were hurriedly detailed to remain on an observation duty"

Between the two of us we have transcribed the remainder of that chapter to the Forum.

To sum up: you ASSUMED Idriess was not in a position to be an eye-witness.

He explained where he was and why.
He clearly identifies the only 'hear-say' statement he made.
[We heard afterwards that their V.C. colonel was among the killed]

You challenged me to prove you WRONG. I rest my case.

Topic author: Bill Woerlee
Replied on: 05/11/2005 09:57:49 AM

I take it that you have no desire to question your own assumptions.

That's fine. Let me illustrate how your so called case stacks up. In my very first post you will notice that I address the Tel el Sakaty issue. Read it very carefully and you will find out why I have no idea of the point you are trying to establish.

In addition, you still have not explained why Idriess did not use technical precision in describing the taube attack on the 9th LHR.

Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 05/11/2005 11:09:13 AM

I am sure that neither Idriess nor myself was aware that his account of the Battle of Beersheba would have to pass the "Compatibility with Woerlee" test of a century later.

Without the assistance of GPS wizardry, digital technology and 90 odd years of hindsight, he provided us with a detailed account of that exciting and complicated operation.

A recent opinion I have reached is that we are sadly disadvantaged by the fact that the writing up of Unit & War Diaries was not entrusted to men of Idriess' perceptions & abilities.

You posed the question "fanciful or factual?" I voted fact.

When challenged, I demonstrated that your 'fanciful' was based on a
disproven assumption that he had followed his regiment 'elsewhere'.

Any arguments pertaining to the 9th LHR, about which you should by now know more than Idriess or any other single WW1 trooper, would seem to me irrelevant.

You appear unwilling to modify your opinions on most topics regardless of any evidence to the contrary. Incidentally Neil Smith has published the "charge photo" in his LHR book. He attributes it to Elliott & does not dispute its authenticity.

Perhaps by now enough evidence & discussion has been presented to allow Forum members to form their own conclusion as to fact or fanciful.

I am prepared to "live with" their decision.

As to point-scoring, my card shows 39 Nil. Yours about the same?
And no, I'm not at home counting [or guarding] the [non-existent] silverware.

Topic author: Bill Woerlee
Replied on: 05/11/2005 2:39:22 PM

I will try to take your post seriously. I will assume that you have absolutely no idea of the topography and your sarcasm is your way of admitting that you have not understood what I am saying. So with that in mind I will type out my answer really slowly so that you can follow me carefully.

Idriess says: "About midday our brigade took Tel Es Sakaty. ...
Immediately, orders came to brigade to seize the Hebron road as planes had reported motor-lorries of reinforcements streaming down from Hebron. As the regiment mounted, several of us were hurriedly detailed to remain on an observation duty."

War Diary of 5th LHR: "At dawn next morning the Brigade attacked the entrenched hill of Tel-el-Sakaty, which was captured about one o'clock, and half an hour later were astride the Hebron-Beersheba Road."

Both accounts agree. But then they should have agreed, both recorders were there on the spot. We can conclude from this that Idriess was right in the thick of things at Tel el Sakaty. From me you will have absolutely no argument. This is what I expected and nothing has arisen to change that expectation.

Now here comes the topography thing that I mentioned to you. I know the concepts are tricky but bear with me for a moment. In addition there is a timing thing.

Let's deal with the timing thing first. Idriess is now on the Hebron Road. Do you think they would have put the observation point north or south of Tel el Sakaty. Since the reinforcements were coming from Hebron, it is reasonable to believe that an observation post would be set up as a trip wire to warn the 5th LHR of the lorries approach. If they were south, then it would be a totally futile exercise after all, Idriess clearly states that the lorries are coming from Hebron. So any military commander with the slightest bit of knowledge would have put such an observation post north of Tel el Sakaty. Do you follow that Pat? I hope this isn't moving too fast for you to keep up.

Here we quote from Idriess: "As the regiment mounted, several of us were hurriedly detailed to remain on an observation duty." You would agree with me that such a statement implies that Idriess was part of the "several of us"? It would appear that this was one of the crux of your "case".

Now we both agree that Idriess was on observation duty in a position north of Tel el Sakaty.

Again, from the 5th LH WD: "New reinforcements from Hebron had to be held up ..."

There is an imperative here. There were Turkish reinforcements coming from Hebron and they had to be stopped at all costs. This clearly implies that the 5th LHR was employed in that work - vis holding up the lorries of Turks. if the 5th LHR was involved in doing that, the so too was Idriess. You follow Pat? Idriess never said he wandered off from this task or was delegated to undertake a different job. He was, by his own words, with the vanguard of the 5th LHR actively holding up Turkish lorries and thus preventing reinforcements from entering Beersheba. This task occurred from the taking of Tel el Sakaty to the taking of Beersheba by the 4th LHB.

So there is the timing.

Now for the topography issue that you don't want to deal with Pat. Between the area where the 4th LHB charged and Tel el Sakaty is just one of these very minor problems - one which you have ignored with a flourish of bluster but still remains to this day. I am talking about Tel el Saba. While inconsequential to you and your reasoning, it was not inconsequential to the men on the spot.

Tel el Saba totally blocked any view from Tel el Sakaty to the ground up which the 4th LHB began their charge. If Idriess was busy blocking off Turkish lorries coming from Hebron and there was a great big hill blocking the view, then it is incumbent upon you to explain how Idriess could be an eye witness under these circumstances. At the moment you have only quoted things that I agree with regarding the placement of Idriess but as detailed above, that did not make him an eye witness to the charge, just an eye witness to holding up of Turkish lorries on the Hebron road. Not as glamorous but just as necessary.

What you need to do to establish your thesis Pat is to explain how Idriess was able to remove himself from the 5th which was heavily engaged with the Turks - to remove himself unilaterally from the firing line would have been desertion - ride south some 4 miles south to get to Bir Salim Abu Igrieg - he would have had to have been very prescient to know that a charge had been ordered a couple hours before hand because this was about an hour or so ride over that country - and then observe the commencement of the charge.

Indeed, he even states the following: "At two miles distant they emerged from clouds of dust...." How could he know this? By your reckoning Pat, Idriess could foreTel the future and knew the mind of Chauvel because before even Tel el Saba fell, Idriess would have had to leg it to get to Bir Salim Abu Igrieg in time to see the charge. His comment is impossible to be from his eye witness account if he was at Tel el Sakaty at that moment. It is just physically impossible unless made from either Tel el Saba or Bir Salim Abu Igrieg. Again, if you posit that this is an eye witness statement then it is incumbent upon you to explain how it was possible and to substantiate your comments with evidence.

I will wait with bated breath for a semblance of a reasoned response.

Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 05/11/2005 4:20:42 PM

Thanks for your patience Bill. I state quite unashamedly that I have not attempted to familiarise myself with the topography.

Can we simplify the discussion and resolve one point at a time, please? MIght we agree that an Adjudicator's decision be obtained for each step before the next is attempted? I would be prepared to accept Steve's decision on every point.

You say (Quote) Let’s deal with the timing first. Idriess is now on the Hebron Road. (end Quote)

I agree with the topic. I disagree that Idriess is now on the Hebron Road. Would you please substantiate your assertion, give me right of reply and we both 'await Steve's ruling' with bated breath.

Topic author: Bill Woerlee
Replied on: 05/11/2005 5:37:12 PM

All my points are substantiated. You can disagree with them and add your own interpretations but it is a bit rich to ask me to iterate everything yet again. if you disagree with my points, it is not good enough to say you disagree. You need to substantiate your disagreement. if you don't think Idriess was on the Hebron Road, you need to tell us where you think he was and why. It isn't up to me to argue your case for you. now you have disagreed - please tell me where Idriess was all the time from 1.30 to 5.00 pm. I have said he was on Hebron road and presented my reasons. Now it is for you to construct an alternative scenario.

Next thing. If you are stridently refusing to even vaguely familiarise yourself with the topography of the area, then we are wasting our time. I am wasting my energy telling you something you refuse to see and you are wasting your time because regardless of what you are told, you refuse to believe through ignorance. A total waste of time and energy.

Let's talk again when you have expended some shoe leather. The GOYA principle Pat.

Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 05/11/2005 6:19:23 PM

Mate, as I said in the first place, I agree with Bill here.

If you check Map 15 next to page 396 of the official history you will see the point of Bill's argument.

You will see plainly to position of the 5th LHR on the far right flank of the 2nd LH Bde between Tel el Sakaty and Tel um Butein with the 7th LHR on its left.

Now by the map the 5th LHR position is some 6 miles from the rear of Beersheba as that position is well past where any member of the 5th or 7th LHR could have seen the charge by the 4 LH Bde.

As stated by Bill the view is blocked by the Tel el Saba and around about 5 miles to the area of Khashm Zanna where the 4th LH Bde started.

The 5th LH history makes the following at the end of the paragraph on the day;

"But the brilliant charge of the 4th LH Bde at dusk over successive lines of trenches finally captured the position".

It doesn't mention seeing this charge only acknowledging it had happened.

Now I know when Idriess puts something like "then someone shouted, pointing through the sunset towards invisible HQ. There at the steady trot ------".

Mate I can conclude what he wrote and what he did indeed see are two different things, but I would like to check his diary entry to confirm this for sure.

Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 05/11/2005 6:40:50 PM

Needless to say, I disagree with the rules you wish to apply, but, under duress, will proceed to the end of the first step.

The statement that "Idriess is now on the Hebron Road" is, in my opinion, the critical point of your argument. I believe it to be wrong.

Pertinent excerpts from the diary are:-
... our brigade took Tel es Sakaty. Orders came to brigade to seize the Hebron road...As the regiment mounted, several of us were hurriedly detailed to remain on an observation duty. The brigade galloped off and soon were astride the road. We, on observation, climbed a hill and watched the battle for the remainder of the day.

My argument.
Idriess was amongst those left behind when the brigade took up position across the Hebron road. He could not therefore be on the road. The observation party climbed a hill and observed for the remainder of the day. The decision to detail a special observation party, would logically entail the positioning of that party at a location from which proper observation was achievable. Climbing a hill would be good option.
Practicable observation could not be achieved 'at road level' within the body of a Light Horse Brigade. During any operation, one would expect scouts or outriders to be stationed. The diary indicates that more specific observation procedures were implemented in this instance, and that Idriess was assigned to that task.

Do you maintain your assertion that "Idriess is now on the Hebron road"

Would you please restrict your answer to that specific point.

Topic author: Bill Woerlee
Replied on: 05/11/2005 7:04:28 PM

Sigh. Again I have provided my conclusions and presented my evidence. Nay saying isn't an argument - it is just negation for the sake of negation.

Here is your question - if Idriess was not at Tel um Butein with the 5th and straddling the Hebron road holding up the Turks - Where was he?

Pat, you need to understand this about evidence - you are suggesting he is somewhere else - you prove it by providing evidence. Now GOYA and tell us.

Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 05/11/2005 7:15:44 PM

Wrong! Your argument is based on a premise that he was on the Hebron road. Idriess clearly states that he was not!

The premise is wrong, therefore your argument is wrong.
If you do not accept that, so be it.

Were I to say that Idriess was wearing a sleeveless shirt & shorts, would that be accepted as fact until you proved conclusively how he was dressed. If his attire was critical to my argument, would not the onus be on me to prove that I was correct.

You simply refuse to obey the normal conventions and rules of evidence.

Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 05/11/2005 7:44:45 PM

You ask me to judge this then you disregard what I concluded?

Check your maps and see that after the 5th LHR captured Tel el Sakaty he was placed in an OP to watch the Hebron road.

Now by the map its (the road) just in front of the Tel el Sakaty he was in an OP in, that’s if the OP was on that Tel as you believe.

He would be watching north up the Hebron road for any movement of Turkish forces not watching south where the battle was still going on.

Mate having spent some eleven years in the 2nd Cavalry regt and being stuck on OP duty more times than I would care to mention, you are given arces to watch because of the enemies approach was expected.

That a mate draw his notice to movement south of Beersheba is possible but could he see anything from the top of the Tel towards the Beersheba battle area?

Now south west of the Tel el Sakaty is Tel el Saba. Now check the smaller map on page 390 to see what the 1st LH and NZMBde's were doing and the dust and such kicked up during the day by both the Turkish fire and the mounted troops.

How you are saying that Idriess saw the charge through a mountain (Tel el Saba) past all the dust to seeing bayonets sticking up from 6 miles away in fading light at dusk.

I am saying that's incorrect, but that he may have seen some movement at the rear of Khashm Zanna and later found out that the 4th LH bde had charged and then added one and two to make four is possible. But also remember he was also looking into the setting sun which would have made seeing anything clearly very hard.

Now we have a mountain in the way, setting sun, the long distance, dust kicked up by everybody and fading light to see the detail given by Idriess, is that possible or not?

Topic author: Jeff Pickerd
Replied on: 05/11/2005 11:52:45 PM

Moving beyond the debate as to whether or not Ion Idriess did see the charge at Beersheba, I would like to make comment on the whole of his book, “THE DESERT COLUMN”.

I would put the proposition that this book serves as a great resource and an enormous legacy to the honour and memory of the men of the Australian Light Horse Regiments.

Regardless of Idriess making many claims that he witnessed and recorded much that he wrote in his diaries at the time certain events had taken place, the Desert Column gives any reader who is coming to the history of the Light Horse for the first time a very good account of that proud history, and in doing so will hopefully encourage the reader to investigate further.

The copy I have, Pacific Books, paperback 1965, came from my grandfather. As was his custom with books he regarded as special, he has written his name on the first page.

I have wondered since, what he would have made of the chronicle that Idriess recorded, considering that he too was there right through the same time frame and was involved in many of the engagements.

I am sure he would have viewed much that Idriess claimed to have witnessed with the same scepticism and dismissal as that, which is being expressed by some of you, but yet he still kept the book. It must have had something that he considered worthwhile.

Maybe the sentiments and emotions that the Desert Column evoked kindled a sense of pride and nostalgia that he too, Squadron Sergeant Major George William Fuzzard, was a part of this proud history and he could forgive Ion for some of his little indiscretions with the accuracy of what he claimed to have witnessed.

I long ago came to the conclusion that the Desert Column should and must be viewed as a good story of the desert campaigns, not to be taken as true historical reference, but an account of what did transpire. Accepting that he had based this upon his own involvement and his diary entries, but undoubtedly embellished by the writing of others. From the many references to the 8th Light Horse Regiment it became apparent that there was another hand dictating much of this work, H. S. Gullett.

For me this book still performs a valuable function. It still has the 27 little bookmarks, with notes pertaining to the entries regarding the 8th LHR, which I put there many years ago. I find these extremely handy when trying to find a quick reference to specific engagements. What Idriess does do at these entries, is he gives the date and a general overview to the engagement. A good starting point.

So let’s not be too hard on poor Ion, accept his yarn for what it is and what he endeavoured to Tel us of the attributes of the Australian Light Horsemen. The courage, resourcefulness, endurance, humour, mateship and pride of this diverse group of Australians who volunteered to serve their King and Country.

Topic author: Nick
Replied on: 06/11/2005 09:56:52 AM

Hello everyone,
Bean is also one to use in this discussion re fact, fiction or "faction." He writes in his diary re the Nek charge that the 3rd LH Bde "was a bit slow in getting out" (of their trenches) after hearing the noise from the attack and learning from Godley what had happened. Firstly, this extract reveals more about the character of Godley and his thoughts about the attack and, secondly, shows how an event experienced at some distance can then be amended and accurately recorded after some research. Perhaps Idriess did the same.

Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 06/11/2005 10:06:38 AM


Like you, I have read Idriess for many years and I have a prized first edition of the "The Desert Column".

I consider this book like my copy of Frank Reid's book "The Fighting Cameliers", in that they are great stories of the LH and ICC which cover the war in great detail of the soldiers who fought it.

But it is not the Official history or like Bean does it claim to be. Yes both Idriess and Reid don't claim their books are an official history or even autobiographical but as they remember it from their diaries, or as Idriess puts it "To be able to read exactly what his feelings were when things were happening".

You notice he uses exactly what his feeling were, not exactly what was happening?

That he was observant is not in doubt and that he did his research post war to put what was happening in his diary into context, is also not in doubt

Any reading of the book clearly shows he mentions things at his level he would never have known but post-war he has access to documents that now Tel him that that dust cloud south of Beersheba was the 4th LH Bde so his diary entry makes sense.

And as a storyteller he is and later would become, he added to it to make the story better, Now you only have to read parts like page 103 of "the Desert Column" to see how he has added to the diary entries to build his story up. Do you think he put all that in his diary?

Now some parts of his book were he couldn't remember anything happening to add bits to, the story he has left as is,

I refer to page 105 entry June 6th - Stan got a bonza parcel by post. All tinned fruit stuffs. I share his luck-mine’s out.

Could he add any more to that? Perhaps but chose not to.

That Idriess like Reid is a source to quote on both fields is also not in doubt, as I have used Reid often, but would you use them as historical proof of a given event, the short answer is yes with reservations or limitations, but unlike Idriess, Reid doesn’t claim to be seeing things all over the battlefield but keeps his observations to the area around him, but like Idriess he does go outside his sphere of influence at time.

Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 06/11/2005 12:47:01 PM

Some times in our lives we must make a Yes or No decision, and be prepared to live with the consequences for the rest of our lives. For some, that decision will actually determine the length & nature of that life.

There are no shades of Yes and No, there are no other options.

Nothing Life or Death here, But I hereby seek a yes or no answer to the following question: “Was Idriess in a position from which it was impossible for him to see the Charge of Beersheba?” Anything other than Yes is a No.


If you feel I am putting you on a spot, I apologise, and I accept your right to ignore me.

Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 06/11/2005 4:40:52 PM

I have mentioned before my reasons for this answer and as you say we have almost flogged it the death. That is "No".

I don't believe he saw the detail he wrote about the charge and being 6 + miles away even with bino's I very much doubt he did.

That he may have seen the dust and heard the noise of the charge. That’s possible, but as to the detail "No" way he was in any position to see that.

Mate, go up to the top of your local hill and check how far you can see in detail even with bino's and what detail you get at something six miles away. Then answer me if you think he saw the detail he describes or filled in the blanks from other blokes.

Topic author: Kim
Replied on: 06/11/2005 4:59:11 PM

This is a repeat but anyway.


Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 06/11/2005 5:06:01 PM

Go to page 275 of the Desert Column and read what he says of the 2nd Battle of Gaza then tell me he was in a position to see the actions he describes.

Or that he got that info from any place but the Official History.

Now Vol VII of the Official history was first published in 1923 and my first edition Desert Column was published in 1932.

Do you think he never cross checked his work against the Official History? Mate I doubt that very much.

As to your question, quote as you have said "About midday the Brigade took Tel el Sakaty ----- As the regt mounted several of us were hurriedly detailed to remain on an observation duty. The Brigade galloped off ------. We on observation climbed a hill and watched the battle for the remainder of the day.

Now during his writing he mentions the lack of wind and the red dust clouds and go's on "It was all hazily distinct so far as the eye could visualize through obliterated again and again by rolling clouds of dust".

Now he didn't mention which hill he climbed as you say, but since he was with his regt which just captured Tel el Sakaty which he appears not to have taken part directly so he wasn't on the hill anyway, he must have climbed that hill to watch the Hebron road which as you see is right next to the Tel el Sakaty. He doesn’t say he mounted up and rode to a OP to observe but that he climbed the hill.

Of cause he could mean the next hill to the right to watch the Hebron road, that hill was Tel um Butein which makes seeing the Beersheba battle even harder. Now another map to see this is map 17 next to page 417 of the Official History to see the line of sight to Beersheba and the charge better then Tel me he seen what he said.

Topic author: Bill Woerlee
Replied on: 06/11/2005 5:57:21 PM

G'day mate
Nothing wrong with Idriess editing his diaries after the war. He could do what he liked. No problem. I expect he did exactly as Steve suggested and matched his notes with Gullett's volume.

Now we come to the conundrum that was posed by the diary of Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain. He was notorious for appropriating stories that happened to people within 20 km of himself and recycling them as his own. So long as you don't claim the experiences to be authentic then there is little problem.

I believe that you could chop about half of Idriess' diary out as not being an authentic experience. The charge at Beersheba is one of them.

An authentic experience is his description of being transported wounded in a lorry. Every part of his agony is reflected upon the pages.

He was a man of his time. The production of histories was promoted by the government with the lucky winners getting twenty quid to publish the history. Diaries and diary style writing was out - completely out. I have read too many notes from Bean himself disparaging any MS that looked remotely like a diary.

So for any book to get Chauvel's endorsement and thus also the coveted twenty quid, then the book had to remove the elements of diary. So Idriess improvised and added historical matter to it. No worries but it isn't authentic Idriess - it is iteration of other people's work to get a grant and sell a book. So long as we recognise this, then we can place Idriess into perspective as an observer.

Topic author: Nick
Replied on: 06/11/2005 8:51:10 PM

I am happy to agree with your reasoning on Idriess actually witnessing the charge. A key element of history theory is to put the work in its time. (Score another one for you, Bill.) As is seen from Bean, his research allows him to write an accurate appreciation of the events he doesn't actually witness. That his history is still seen as THE reference for Australians in WW1 is a testament to his methodology. (even though it has its flaws and critics)

A friend of mine for some years was an 8thLH man who told me about the charge. It was, for him, the key event of the day. He told the details so accurately, I thought he was in it! (This was in my pre-Bean days and before a passing interest became an obsession.) My point is that it was an event that many were happy to relate because it added to their own understanding of what the battle was all about. And, just like the Nek, it was one event in a complex series. Which is easier and interesting for a general understanding, skirmishes on the flank or "a wild charge with glinting bayonets coming out of a dust cloud" that captures a town?

A note here is that the Official History's map is vague on the actual defensive network and only broadly shows the Turkish trenches. So anecdotal evidence like Idriess' could actually add to these details.

Topic author: Bill Woerlee
Replied on: 07/11/2005 05:53:02 AM

G'day mate
Couldn't agree with you more. When I first read Desert Column, it was a thrilling explanation of an event. It still is the most colourful description. If it is a book that launches a thousand historians, then all the better.

I have no critique of Idriess' method, nor the outcomes. Sometimes I get a bit cranky when the dots are joined incorrectly.
Cheers mate

Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 07/11/2005 7:28:05 PM

G'day Nick
Thank you. It would have been presumptuous of me to set the boundaries of your "Charter". I have always interpreted the debate as an examination of Idriess' credibility on the basis of the diary extracts 'posted' by Bill & myself.

For us to conclude that it was impossible for him to see the events, it seemed logical that we must first establish precisely his position.

I have never expressed any opinion as to whether he might or might not be able to see the action. That depends on thousands of other factors.

I will personally, and hopefully with the expertise of Steve & others, now try to determine his position. My fondest hope is that it will prove that he COULD have seen the action. If it results in proving he COULD NOT have seen it, so be it. He was one of my heroes but that does not affect rational debate & research.

Topic author: Kim
Replied on: 07/11/2005 9:27:09 PM

New map at


Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 08/11/2005 11:06:17 AM

TIME OUT! Unashamedly maps are not my go. I have been to Gallipoli & the Western Front, I have pored over maps, battleground guides pictorial records etc etc, and if left alone invariable get lost and always have no clear appreciation of the lay of the land.

My major task was to prove that Idriess was NOT where Bill assumed he was.

IMHO that has been achieved. My opinion is not universal, but I am familiar with home truths dealing with pushing certain things up hill

Identifying which hill and its height [is it 1020 feet or metres?], on which Idriess was observing the battle [ not being a trip wire for his regiment] is "something completely different". By analysing the field of vision from identifiable hills, I may someday restore Idriess' credibility.

He could not have anticipated that such a task would become necessary.

The major clue that he left may well be that his hill was four miles, as the taube flies, from Chauvels HQ.

Am unsure when I will be able to resume so I'll take Bill's advice and get off the can.

Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 08/11/2005 11:26:10 AM

Like many I have worked with maps all my Army career and like I said have been on more than one OP during that time.

The problems with seeing anything from a hill is many and varied and more so in a desert setting.

Having been on OP in places like the Nth of Australia, during day and night it’s very hard to ID what is out there at distance then just that to your map. Seeing a dust cloud is the best you get until it gets closer and check that dust cloud against your map to see what road or track they are on can be fun as you always have to send a contact/sighting report on it.

I'll go that the first part of his story is true which I don't have a problem with but whether he saw all he said of the charge is the only part I do, as much of that is taken straight from the Official history.

I don't have a problem with that either, its only people are not prepared to question he may be wrong or that he may have plagiarized some of his story but follow everything he writes as its the gospels.

Topic author: Bill Woerlee
Replied on: 08/11/2005 3:44:28 PM

You will have noticed that I have ignored the dross you ironically describe as investigations for the “sake of your grandkids.” I am not really interested in your paeans of pap. However this caught my eye.

You said: “Bill has proposed that Idriess was a self-seeking liar.”

You go too far with the mindless effluvia that you merrily spew upon this site. Pat, if you are going to make outrageous claims like that you either need to substantiate your claim or apologise. State where I have made such a claim. In other words, time to put up or shut up. And when you find out that you have slandered me, I expect an apology.

Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 08/11/2005 4:50:38 PM

G'day Bill.
At your invitation, I am providing some of the quotes you have advanced under this thread.

The 'presentation' may not be top-drawer, but time is the essence,



If you feel that I have misinterpreted anything you have said, I hereby apologise. It must have been due to my ignorance

Topic author: Bill Woerlee
Replied on: 08/11/2005 5:33:18 PM


Now we can see you can press the quote button. What we can't see is me using the word "liar" and "Idriess" together in any of my posts. And rather than use the quote button, find these words used together. So now it is time to put up or shut up. Find the word liar in my posts which is clearly connected to Idriess. But then I don't expect you can.

Topic author: Kim
Replied on: 08/11/2005 7:12:08 PM

What I would like to question is if any writings from the GW can be called with absolute certainty, fact. Why I ask this is that, be it letters, diaries or War diaries, they were written by men who wrote with their own private understanding of what the facts were at the time. Some included hearsay or 2nd and 3rd hand information.
I have the written work of an officer that admits that field war diaries were filled in when time permitted, sometimes not for a week or two. Now that would suggest to me that mistaken dates etc could appear in these so called factual diaries, given pressure of daily life and sleep deprivation leading to hazy memories about what happened two weeks ago.

So, the only way to get a clear understanding of a theatre or battle of war would be to do what you would do in an assignment. Read every known reference to the subject; write down only those points that are verified by at least three different sources, hopefully those sources being primary or no less than secondary sources. Then you have to make up your own mind whether or not to proceed with believing that the action occurred as stated.

I don't think it is about whether or not someone big-noted their actions to best someone else, or that they were writing with money in mind, rather, it is about using ALL the statements available for a given action, and drawing your own conclusions.
You only have to read about ten accounts of Beersheba, from Gullet to Chook Fowler, to realize how diverse were the observations and conclusions of any individual that recorded the history of the battle, and the different approaches they had to recording such.

To say that one author is not worth reading due to a few inclusions that do not suit you perceptions, is not to get all the information that is available out there.

Sometimes just one sentence is enough to get you on a path to discover more and if reading one guy's account leads to researching and reading many other accounts, then surely this is a good thing, even with the myths and fallacies that occur. This is what this forum should be about, an open and learning experience where people can put their views forward, without being shot down in flames, keeping in mind that you should be open to changing your point of view if clear and irrefutable facts are put forward.

Given the romantic and emotional nature of war, this may not always be possible but at least we can respect each other’s passion and interest in this subject.

Now, I'll just climb down off the box and have another Sem Sav Blanc.


BTW and For Everyone’s Information, this is not written with any one particular person in mind, rather a culmination of what has been posted over the last couple of months.

For a look into Chauvel's life and personality may I recommend Chauvel Country by Elyne Mitchell.

Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 09/11/2005 07:54:21 AM

Fanciful or Factual? By stating the result of your research & appraisal, another lengthy exercise might be shortened.
Was Idriess Factual?. Yes or No
Was Idriess Fanciful?.Yes or No

Topic author: Bill Woerlee
Replied on: 09/11/2005 08:07:27 AM

Was Idriess Factual? Yes and No
Was Idriess Fanciful? Yes and No


Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 09/11/2005 09:19:27 AM

OK Steve
From what Idriess wrote about that day. He told us he climbed a hill and watched the battle for the rest of the day. He did not tell us which hill. He had told us that he was left behind when the Brigade galloped off and soon were astride the road.

I interpret that to mean he was not with the Brigade astride any road.

Bill says we can only assume he is with his regiment astride the Hebron Road. From his account, I consider that no one can specify where he was. From his account, I consider he has told us he is not with the Brigade, "On Hebron Road"

That is the specific point I am persistently asking Bill to address.

Topic author: Kim
Replied on: 09/11/2005 09:58:28 AM

I'll put it out there for you. Idriess is both fact and fiction. It is how much of each that is the hard part.

Elyne Mitchell had access to A huge range of men and officers, as well as her father's papers, official documents etc etc etc. She wrote factual fiction.
If she wrote, for example, "A bomb landed on HQ, killing Chauvel's favourite horse, Bally", then I would believe that, given her inside knowledge. It might not be recorded anywhere else, but given her access to primary evidence then I would believe it.
So, when you determine that the author takes into account all that he has seen and heard, then sits down to write after a few years have passed, then it would come out as factual fiction.
If it was to be presented as fact then it would have had references and footnotes as to who said what, did what etc etc and being fairly dry reading.

For a comparison, Lauchies history of the 8th LH is dry factual reading, written as it happened. He never wanted his history published and sold. Chook Fowler wrote his memoirs, it is also full of fact, but is put in such a way that it is reads like a fiction book.

Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 09/11/2005 10:38:23 AM

Thanks. The major issue I am grappling with is "Is the Idriess account of the charge an eye witness account"

Bill has responded with "It was impossible for him to see with his own eyes" [I think that's what he meant].

For Bill's conclusion to be true, SOMEONE, hopefully ALL of us, would have to prove or agree that Idriess was in a spot, from which it would have been impossible to SEE.

Bill has based his thesis on "We can only assume he was with his regiment across the Hebron Road" I maintain that If the premise is wrong, the location is wrong, and so the conclusion is wrong.

If anyone can PROVE that it was impossible to see the events:
Game set & match.

As to other issues and a wider understanding of events, we are agreed that there are many factors including laws of probabilities, personal perceptions....endless.

I have tried to confine my reasoning to what Idriess told us about that day. Outside that there are numerous considerations. You seem to believe that the words were written years later. I feel that that they were written There or shortly after. Substantiation might be available if we had access to the actual 'little notebooks' he mentions in his introduction. If these do not contain all the detail, well, that's something else to consider.

Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 09/11/2005 11:01:48 AM

You are correct, it all comes down to what and where he was on that afternoon.

On this we are left with the source; ie - his own words. What can we draw from his own words on the subject has been mentioned a number of times, and since this is not complete to give us an exact spot, we are left with checking his words against the known facts.

These we have gone over and since you don't give us any other ideas where he may have been we are left that he possibly made it up for other sources.

Now I don't know that for sure as you don't know also, but the evidence leads one to that view. That may be wrong, yes I could be wrong in which I freely admit, but I also could be right.

But there is nothing wrong with going into this to discover the truth, but like I said this will not change my reading him or using him as a source.

Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 10/11/2005 2:33:12 PM

Idriess had mentioned how he collected the data and its transformation into The Desert Column. Another diarist, W.D.Joynt VC, a picture of whose grave is on the mc2 website, wrote this in his "Saving the Channel Ports 1918” after the breach of the 5th Army.

(Quote) It was my practice after every 'stunt' and tour in the Line to immediately write up an account of what happened whilst things were still fresh in my mind. This I did, no matter how tired I felt, because I realised it would form a valuable record. I later deposited the original diaries with the Australian War Museum authorities, who, in due course provided me with type-written copies; and it is from those copies that I have written this book. In a few instances, I have filled in gaps, but in no instance have I altered the text as written at the time. Nor has the Editor's hand been permitted to tamper with this section of the book, except for a few spelling corrections. Important incidents that I was unaware of at the time, and which help the history, I have covered in my 'Post-scripts' (end Quote)

sans comment

Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 11/11/2005 10:44:31 AM

Yes I see your point and in part agree that we don't know because He (Idriess) left us with this blank. But that should not stop the looking when his account leaves us with so many questions.

Another writers didn't go into detail like "The Great Ride" by Bostock, he was with BSqn/10 LHR operating in the Northern area also but south of the 2nd LH Bde and closer to Beersheba. He makes no claim to have seen the charge but gives full due to the 4th LH Bde.

But we could get one hundred writers that give different views of the battle and charge but none were in Idriess place that day other than the men with him.

As we have said I would like to see his original diaries to confirm this for sure, I wonder where they could be.

Topic author: Bryn
Replied on: 11/11/2005 9:55:48 PM

Some good points have been raised by everyone on this topic, and I have to admit yours have made me go back to basics and look again at what the 5th LH were doing, and where they were, on that day. I'm looking at what I have and trying to work out what I personally believe about Idriess' observations. In doing that, I'm not looking only at what he wrote in 'The Desert Column', but also what he wrote in some articles for 'Reveille'. My problem is tracking the actual articles down in the multitude of paperwork I have in my bookshelves.

As for one of your concerns, that a concerted effort is being made to denigrate Idriess, I have never seen any evidence of that, and I would never be a part of it. On the whole, I found a lot of what he wrote about individuals correlated with facts that could be verified from other sources.

But that's just it; most of my research is concerned with individuals. Except for Gallipoli, where I've spent a lot of time, I have never researched places. I don't know the configuration of the ground at Beersheba except through maps and photos. I'm now re-examining everything I have here - which is not everything I have, unfortunately. A lot of it's in storage in Sydney, awaiting the day I return to Australia.

As to the basic premise of your question, which (correct me if I'm wrong), is, "was Idriess a liar?", then I'd say the answer is No. But I'd also say that things are rarely as simple as that.

Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 12/11/2005 08:04:04 AM

If you go to the other web-site

and to the question about Gaza-Beersheba 88 years on you will find a nice panorama of the Beersheba battlefield from the 4th LH Bde's position. Now I don't know if it adds to the question or not but it shows what could be seen in any detail at that short distance.

Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 12/11/2005 11:18:49 AM

It appears that the Tel el Sakaty was not used to see any movement south towards the Beersheba area.

By the bloke who lived there it’s not that high and the photo's south give that same impression. What it was and still is a great spot to watch the Hebron road of which if we recall was why Idriess was somewhere there in the first place.

Now he also mentions that the Tel el Sakaty is the highest point around there which as Idriess records he was near when he climbed that hill, since he didn't record moving anywhere to climb that hill we are stuck with the hill was Tel el Sakaty.

Now what exactly he (Idriess) could see I hope the bloke in Israel will enlighten us in his next posts. But unless we get more it seems Idriess was mistaken.


Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 12/11/2005 1:22:14 PM

Had a quick look there Steve. I noted he said Tel el Sakaty was only a mound.

That MIGHT suggest the 5lhr "Took it" for is strategic [ fortifications, supply, control of area etc] position, rather than its elevation.

I am now even more satisfied that Idriess was not on the Hebron Rd, because [besides telling us he was not with the brigade] he told us he "climbed a hill and watched the battle for the rest of the day". He did not say he climbed el Sakaty.

"A" hill becomes "which" hill.

The map does show Hill 1070, I have read or heard about hills 1020 and 1040. Idriess may have known its identity, but for some reason [maybe even lack of space in his diary] settled for 'a hill'.

Having ready access to that map would help me, but I can't download it.

Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 12/11/2005 5:22:08 PM

You seem to reject Idriess own words about what he did that day by adding hills all over the place that you think he may have gone to.

Now a look at the maps show the Hills 1020 and 1040 are both about 2 and half miles north east of Beersheba or slightly north-west of Tel el Saba, north of the Beersheba - Hebron road.

Any look at the map shows the only troops around there until 6.30 to 7.00 pm were the Turks until the 3rd LH Bde over ran them.

Mate, no way, and it’s a joke to even make that claim.

Now both the 5th LH history and Idriess give us where he was, and its wasn't off somewhere wondering around the desert looking for a hill to climb.

Read page 127 of the 5th History to give you the reason's, it confirms that between midday and 1.00 pm they captured Tel el Sakaty or the Brigade did of the 7th and 5th LHR were the only two regt's there, now go to the 7th LHR and see what they did and compare it against the 5th LHR.

What makes you think that he would  then move to these imaginary hills to observe up the Hebron road? He doesn't make that claim like you do.

I know why you are because it doesn’t fit into your idea he could see what he wrote in his book, but if you finally see that this is impossible all the pieces fit what he said before he goes off in a tangent with the Charge of the 4th LH Bde.

You still offer no proof that he did and we have provided more than ample proof he didn't see what he claimed and like you said, “What’s the use”.

If the truth is not enough then I am at a loss.

Now if this bloke said he can see the charge area then I'll go with that but I don't think even then you will.


Topic author: sandgroper
Replied on: 13/11/2005 06:10:11 AM

Greetings all
I would be the first to agree that the IDRIESS diary entry for October 31 would not appear as it does in his novel. It is obvious he has expanded upon what were probably brief writings on the day in question. These brief notes from his diary were however contemporaneously made and are legitimately used at a later date to enable the author to expand his recollection of particular events.

What surprises me is do we not have access to his original diaries? Surely 4 years’ worth of a trooper’s account of his activities including Gallipoli and the Sinai must be a national treasure.

Are they with the AWM? If so maybe we can have access to the twenty thousand words which had to be edited from the diaries to enable them to be presented in a form the public would read.

Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 13/11/2005 09:37:01 AM

Mate I am sorry but you are wrong. Now go back to your book and re read Idriess.

Page 323. he writes: of the capture of Tel el Sakaty about midday and the Turkish defenders retreated.

He goes on;

"As the Regt mounted" (That is the Regt was still at Tel el Sakaty) several of us were detailed to remain (remain around Tel el Sakaty)".

To help answer your question he goes on;

"Orders came to brigade to seize the Hebron road", and

"The Brigade galloped off and soon were astride the road (Beersheba-Hebron road)".

He writes:

"reported motor lorries of reinforcements streaming down from Hebron" and,

"We climbed a hill and watched the battle" (the only hill around was Sakaty).

Now check this against the 5th LHR History;

"The Brigade attacked the entrenched hill of Tel el Sakaty which was captured around 1 pm and a half hour later we were astride the Hebron- Beersheba road".

So if you read both Idriess and the 5th LHR history they also agree that the hill (Tel el Sakaty) fell and then the Brigade moved across the road.

Since Idriess didn't go across the road with the Regt/Brigade he remained at Sakaty.

That is as you read both books, all of which we find no fault with as all source agree so far.

Now the rest of the account is made up by Idriess because if you follow the rest of the 5th LHR history (book) you will see why and why Idriess put what he did and where in his book.

The brackets are mine to show the (major points)

Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 13/11/2005 10:25:26 AM


Since Idriess didn't take part in the assault on Tel el Sakaty he was still around the bottom of it with his Sqn/Troop.

Now once whatever Sqn captured the hill, Idriess Troop or soldiers from his Troop were detailed to watch the Hebron road to the North as the regt had to move across the Hebron road.

So Idriess was at the bottom of the hill and then had to climb it to get into position.

And Idriess never said he took part in the capture only his brigade. But as to how the regt deployed to capture this position I am unsure as no source mentions that. What does the unit War Diary say?

Now it wasn't very high as per our Israel mate, it was the only high feature around there. (I'll go with his word and Idriess’ as they agree).

As to Idriess helping to write the unit histories, are you saying he help write the 5th LHR history?

Now its possible he had some input but none is mentioned in the history and since the history was written in 1926 and Idriess "Desert Column" in 1932, I would lean towards Idriess used both the Official history and unit history to write his book not the other way around, this is also bore out by any reading of both works that Idriess borrowed freely from both of them.

Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 15/11/2005 08:11:17 AM


Back on the case. Trying to break things into steps.

(Quote) Since Idriess didn't take part in the assault on Tel el Sakaty he was still around the bottom of it with his Sqn/Troop. (end Quote)

I don't see that "Idriess [and his Sqn/Troop] didn't take part in the assault on Tel el Sakaty".

He said, p250 of 1951 edition, “About midday our Brigade took tel Es Sakaty”.

Do you think his sqn was not with the Brigade?

I had taken that extract as being the 'beginning' of Idriess account of the battle, but only for the purpose of simplifying the argument. So, I 'think' he was with the Brigade when it took Tel Es Sakaty. Can we sort that bit out?

Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 15/11/2005 10:26:08 AM


It’s against my better judgement to continue this but as this is the first time you have asked direct questions on my replies I will consent.

When I say he wasn't in the attack on Sakaty, I was relaying the problem of Idriess book in that he "never said he was".

Now both Idriess' book and the 5th LHR history don't give any detachment of a Sqn from the Regt during the advance and attack on Sakaty so we know that all of the regt was there.

Now what Sqn assaulted the Tel el Sakaty, I don't know as both Idriess and the history don't say. What does the unit War Diary say?

Can I say to explain my answer better, if say B and C Sqn's were used in the assault of the hill, then Idriess' A Sqn was in Reserve and was not engaged. This would cover the statement in his book.

That’s what I mean not that his Sqn/Troop was off somewhere else.

Now once the hill was abandoned by the Turks as it appears they didn't stay to fight it out. Idriess’ Troop was detailed to watch the Hebron road, as the Regt now went after the retreating Turks and to cut the Hebron road, all that is in his book.

So he climbed the hill, which hill you ask? Well, where was he when his Regt took Sakaty?

And which hill was the only one within two miles from Sakaty?

Now you have your answer, he was on Sakaty and if you check the maps and photo's on the 1914-1918 site and my question to a local about what he could see, you will quickly come to the opinion that Idriess never saw the attack on Beersheba but filled in the details after from other personal accounts and the Official History.

Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 15/11/2005 11:44:24 AM

OK, I think this simplistic answer of if he lied or not is not the point of his book.

Now you are right that he wrote his book from his own diaries, this we agree on. But what you should also agree that he did in many places add to his diary with his own memory and used the many sources available to him to help his story.

Mate, any reading of personal accounts during that time as now you will find that authors have gone through (other) sources to help their story.

As Idriess was writing a story about himself as well as his Regt he used himself in the book as not only the first person but also as a second person to account for all that he could not see. He did that by the sources I have mentioned before.

I don't see a problem with that as long as you know that the book is just that, part his own account and that of others.

This book is not the official history and he didn't mean it to be but an account of a soldier in the war seen threw his own eyes with a narrative of what was going on around him written from other eyes.

I can’t explain this any better right now, so when he said he saw the charge and gives the detail I don't believe he's giving us a first-hand account but only that seen through the eyes of others (second person account).

That’s the way many writers did it back then – as now.

Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 15/11/2005 12:16:41 PM


(Quote) Mate. OK, I think this simplistic answer of if he lied or not is not the point of his book. (end Quote) Agreed. But, with respect, I consider it to be the KEY point of this thread.

Topic author: sandgroper
Replied on: 15/11/2005 12:41:06 PM

Well said Steve.
It appears the IDRIESS diaries are in fact with the Australian War Memorial. They are recorded as 1DRL/0373 and are described as Diary, 8 items. Copies are available. Anyone want to look up October 31?

Out of interest, I have many favourite yarns drawn from this book (The Desert Column) and one which I have been known to quote is an entry of June 27 relating to the treatment of Australian troops by the Port Said military police. I find the Old Colonels resolution to the harassment of Australian troops by the British? military police, which is detailed in an undated entry but is found after the July 2 entry, to be very Australian. Obviously Idriess has used information other than what he actually saw but is his reporting of the matter correct, or just a good yarn? The incident and response really seems to be the way Australians would approach this sort of problem (to me at least ).

I guess I should pose the question of Bill. With the available records is it historically factual that the old colonel had the Port Said M.P.s attend at Dueidar to give evidence before him in all the disciplinary matters they had preferred against Australian troops under his command?

Topic author: Kim
Replied on: 15/11/2005 10:21:22 PM

I have already said that it is not a question of if he was lying or not. He wrote about the war and used all tools at his disposal to make it readable. Could I venture to say that unless documentary evidence turns up from another source yet unknown, to say that he was Not on the Hebron Road OR He was on the Hebron Road

THEN that is when we will be able to prove this point conclusively. For now, not having EXACT references from PRIMARY sources makes me sit on the fence.
This is why I have so much trouble writing. I was doing better before I started researching as I just dreamt it up. Now that I now certain facts, I am concentrating too hard on getting the facts right, which interferes with the imaginative side.

Topic author: Kim
Replied on: 16/11/2005 11:34:08 AM

If we are going to get so nitty gritty as to question in great depth where any one was, that they say they were, in letters, correspondence and War Diaries, then we are questioning the integrity of every soldier that left these shores. The true picture can NEVER be told by us as:
A   We weren't there.
B   Humans wrote these articles, humans that are prone to emotion, exaggeration, modesty, etc etc etc.
C   If corroborating evidence cannot be found, then do we call the writer a liar, or do we call the writer a person who is trying to give people, who weren't there, an idea of the whole picture of what happened.

These are the questions that I ask.
You have to make up your own mind and believe what the evidence Tels you. For me there is not enough evidence either way, and without going to Israel and standing on these hills myself, then I cannot give an answer.

I think that there are two questions here:
1   Was he on the Hebron Road as in physically riding along the surface of a road? From the evidence so far No, he was on some rise in the ground called a hill, which hill is not determined.
2   Could he see the charge? I have answered that above in that without more evidence or actually observing the terrain in person, I cannot say.

Topic author: Bonzer
Replied on: 16/11/2005 11:53:06 AM

Thank you Kim.

I restate my case; "we don't know where Idriess was”. This prevents us from knowing that he could NOT see the charge.

'Not being able to see the charge' is therefore not a valid proof that he plagiarised the story'. That critical point has been offered as valid proof.

Evidence that he MIGHT have been able to see the charge is probably out there, no evidence that he COULD not possibly see it has not IMHO been tendered.

Sorry if I continue to get up peoples' collective noses. This one was for Idriess and all those who bothered to Tel us about their WW1 experiences. It was also for the kids & grandkids

Topic author: SJR
Replied on: 17/11/2005 11:19:22 AM

I'm no conspiracy theorist but this is my point of view. After using the map Bill supplied (Thanks Bill) I decided to pull out my copy of the Desert Column and try to correlate the facts about his location onto this u beaut map. I have not tried to fit anything to the story and have only done this for my own interest. So here goes.


The nearest point of Hebron Rd is about 750m from Tel el Sakaty. If he was on the road (Which is my impression after reading last night) he was delegated along with a few others to observe the battle. He writes that they moved about a mile scaling a hill to watch. I drew a circle of a mile equiv from the point of H Rd nearest to Sakaty. Logic would dictate that he didn't move north or east as that would be away from the battle so I automatically dismissed those directions. Obviously Tel el Saba presents a natural obstruction so he wouldn't head south lest his view be totally blocked so that only leaves one direction West, well more specifically south west. Travelling parallel with H Rd towards Beersheba he would have scaled the first hill he came to. Don't know if it has a name but it is 400m high when most of the surrounding plains are 300m. H Rd lazily follows the lowest contour of this range and the area I judge them them to be is up the hill from where the CMR was located.

Judging that the innermost trenches were about 2 miles from where H Rd entered the city which on the earth map of Bills would place them in the current crop area for the city maybe even pushing to the right boundary of these fields. Do you agree Bill? As Saba is an abrupt feature it's surrounding area is barely elevated and from the observation point I have mentioned it would be line of sight to the innermost trenches with only one 330m feature in the way to the 300m plain. I'm not saying that he saw all that he mentioned but by the using his rough calculation he was in a position to view at least the second half of the charge (After the trenches). I don't think he would have ventured to the next spur on the ridge although this would give a better view of the plain it exceeds the distance he indicated and it wasn't the first hill he would have encountered.

I believe his end story may have been half witnessed half third hand but he's did it to give the full picture concerning events. From their post they would have had a decent view of the surrounding country but without knowing the exact location of HQ I can't say whether he could see them or not and may have ascertained this when writing the book I don't know but his stated position in relation to HQ roughly corresponds to the feature I have pegged them at.

For anyone who wants to use the map Bill has hotlinked I suggest using the 1880 map. Wherever you click on the map the map recentres so you can slowly scroll around. The grid ref for Beersheba is 186 and 572. Once you are where you want click on the overlays to see contours and real satellite shots. Very very handy.
Regards to all

Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 17/11/2005 12:03:09 PM

As you are new to his discussion I will go into this a bit more. Here I agree with Bonzer and I could find no mention of him moving after he was detailed to OP duty once his Regt/Brigade took Sakaty.

The only movement after that was his climbing the hill, as Bonzer mentions the only hill with in miles of Sakaty is north and that is Tel um Butein which is lower in elevation then Sakaty. But he never mentions moving anywhere but up that hill so it must be Sakaty.

The only thing to cross the Hebron road was the 5th LHR (in Idriess’ book) of which Idriess' Troop had been detached to OP duty before this move. In fact both the 7th and 5th LH Regt's and all the 2nd LH Bde crossed the Hebron road.

But either hill (Sakaty and Butein) appears good for the job Idriess and his Troop was doing, that is watching north towards Hebron for Turkish Reinforcements.

This we all agree on in one degree or other, it’s the rest of Idriess’ description of the battle that doesn’t make sense from any view point near or around Sakaty.

The question you asked before and for Bonzer is how much a soldier in a LH regt would know about what was going on around them.

Well like a few on the site we have given orders more than once in our lives and I can Tel you straight, a trooper in any regt knows only as much as he is told by his troop officer or Sgt. That Idriess was bright and observant is no doubt, but whether he was or any member of the 5th LH regt was aware of what was happening once his Regt and Brigade was committed to cutting the Hebron road is doubtful.

Mate, you can see that surely, that Idriess saw dust clouds and firing towards Tel el Saba and possibly being told that the MZMR was attacking that would come via his troop officer or Sgt.

But he never had a map or knew any more than any man, but after the war he had access to all this information from the sources both I and others had mentioned to make his story and his movements make sense to him and to us.

Topic author: stevebecker
Replied on: 17/11/2005 5:01:57 PM

I take it either you don't know cavalry tactics or you know a little bit about them.

Can I add that the orders to the 2nd LH Bde was to cut the Hebron road and to block the enemy from either withdrawing from Beersheba to Hebron or reinforcements from going from Hebron to Beersheba.

Once the Sakaty hill position was captured and the road cut the brigade moved into a blocking and observation position to carry out its orders. As part of these orders a troop was placed on the best position to observe up the Hebron road, and as the Turks also had used it, was Tel el Sakaty.

Can you follow so far, that’s all the 2nd LH Bde had to do.

That was all Idriess and his troop had to do was watch to the north.

Now it’s (task) was to report that Turkish reinforcements were moving down from Hebron in Lorries so the Brigade moving to intercept them but they were not found as the Turks had stopped in the mountains. You will notice in the maps which show the 5th LHR/2 LH Bde moving into the mountains to look for them in the late afternoon. That is all in the unit history and other sources.

But since Idriess doesn’t write any more about this, he was not there so his troop must have remained in the OP.

In fact Idriess goes off in a tangent here (writing about every unit on the battlefield) but doesn’t write any more about what his own Regt or the whole 2nd LH Bde was doing that day?

At some time during the night his troop and the Regt re-joined as he mentions the next morning doing a recon up the Hebron road, probably looking for the Turks and the lorries reported the day before.