We are gathered here today to commemorate the Battle of Beersheba and the Sinai-Palestine campaign, which lasted from April 1916 until October 1918.
The Allied victory in this campaign changed this region forever and ended hundreds of years of Ottoman rule in the Middle East.
The Egyptian Expeditionary Force, where the mounted troops of Australia and New Zealand formed such a critical element, won this victory with very limited resources.
They faced a skilful and determined enemy, and, as we will see this afternoon – they also had to contend with arduous conditions, including extremes of heat and cold, a chronic shortage of water, and venomous snakes and insects.
All of their operations were predicated on the supply of water and other essentials. Without the construction of a pipeline and railway across the Sinai it would have been impossible to sustain the Allied army in the desert.
Victories here at Beersheba and elsewhere led to the capture of Jerusalem in December 1917. In a year marked by great sacrifice and disappointment for the Allied cause, such victories were especially welcome.
There was further hard fighting in Palestine before the Ottoman resistance collapsed in October 1918.
Throughout this long campaign the New Zealand mounted rifleman and Australian light horsemen showed, as one New Zealander put it, “plenty of nerve and dash”. But there was also great sacrifice.
On 14 November 1918, Brigadier-General William Meldrum, the commander of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, spoke at the dedication of a memorial at Ayun Kara. The memorial had been erected in honour of those who had lost their lives in the New Zealanders’ victory there, one year earlier.
His sentiments could apply to all the New Zealanders who died in the campaign. Brigadier-General Meldrum said:
We grieve for them, and we extend our deepest sympathy to the fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and wives who have been so sadly bereaved of their beloved ones . . .
They were endowed with a sacred sentiment that they were fighting for the future, for humanity and . . . for a better future for all the countries where the light of liberty has not yet shone.
The campaign we commemorate today lasted a little over two years – a mere blink of the eye in the history of this ancient land – but it changed political conditions in this region in the most profound way possible.
During that time, the bonds between Australians and New Zealanders, first forged at Gallipoli, were further strengthened in service of the Anzac Mounted Division in Sinai and Palestine.
It is only fitting that we should join together today in remembering their service and their sacrifice.
Ka maumahara tonu tātou ki a rātou
We will remember them.