Beersheba, the Imperial Camel Corps history forgot

In The Battle of Beersheba, the Imperial Camel Corps is the story history forgot, until photos were uncovered at a New England property


HISTORY UNEARTHED: University of New England archivist Bill Oates will add unseen pictures of the Imperial Camel Corps to the Battle of Beersheba exhibition at NERAM.

HISTORY UNEARTHED: University of New England archivist Bill Oates will add unseen pictures of the Imperial Camel Corps to the Battle of Beersheba exhibition at NERAM.

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In the search for Christmas decorations, Beersheba history is recovered.

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WHEN people reflect on The Battle of Beersheba, images of New England Lighthorsemen are easily conjured.

But, it’s the Battalions of the Imperial Camel Corps that history forgot.

The handful of New England men who enlisted to ride horseback, but ended up playing a much different role in the rugged landscape of Beersheba.

Now, University of New England archivist Bill Oates is determined to bring those stories to light.

“The Australians started turning up, the British had increased their forces in Egypt and they discovered there wasn’t enough water to run horses as far out as they needed,” Mr Oates said.

“Suddenly a lot of Australian Light Horse soldiers found themselves transferred into Battalions of the Imperial Camel Corps.

“They could go way further than any horse in bad country and carry a lot more load.”

While looking for Christmas decorations, Linda Skipper from Guyra stumbled upon a collection of photos from Leiutenant Arthur Arundel MacKenzie.

A descendant of Leiutenant MacKenzie, pastoral records from Ms Skipper’s property Ollera have been studied since the 1940’s.

A century later, these photos of the Imperial Camel Corps have revived a piece of history.

“I think there was a lot of glamour associated with the Light Horse,” archivist Bill Oates said.

“When we think about the Battle of Beersheba we don’t think about the huge number of British infantry that were involved in that day – we think about that campaign.

“It was the horses that were fast enough and illusive enough to get around the back.”

The camels weren’t just used to carry food, water and fodder.

The Camel Corps wrestled on the back of camels, just as the Light Horsemen had done for entertainment.

And, photos have been unearthed of the Camel Corps taking up positions and fighting serious parts of the Battle of Beersheba.

“There were a lot of guys that were killed as part of the Imperial Camel Corps,” Mr Oates said.

“Camels are notoriously hard to get onto, the Light Horse were incredibly mobile – able to retreat and advance in a great hurry.

“Once you’re off the camel, you’re off the camel.

“They might get a lot further, but once these soldiers were off their camel they were treated strictly as infantry.”

Looking at the records, New Englanders involved in the Imperial Camel Corps had all enlisted as Light Horsemen.

“I reckon all of them went over there expecting to be on a horse,” Mr Oates said.

Photos will be included in the New England Regional Art Museum exhibition, Horse Power: Light Horse in Palestine – to Beersheba and Beyond, closing February 11.

Armidale Express

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