Topic: BatzP - Beersheba
The Battle of Beersheba
Palestine, 31 October 1917
"Put Grant straight at it."
Did Chauvel say to Grant: "Put Grant straight at it." ?After the Great War, when all the stories were being sorted out and catalogued, one of the more enduring scenes of the Sinai and Palestine campaigns is the order given by General Chauvel to Brigadier General Grant to commence the famous charge at Beersheba.
In Gullett, HS, The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine, 1914–1918 (10th edition, 1941) Official Histories – First World War, Volume VII, the story is told at p. 393:
"There was a brief but tense discussion, in which Fitzgerald and Grant pleaded for the honour of the galloping attack which was clearly in Chauvel's mind. FitzGerald's yeomanry had their swords and were close behind Chauvel's headquarters; Grant's Australians had only their rifles and bayonets, but they were nearer Beersheba. After a moment's thought, Chauvel gave the lead to the light horsemen. "Put Grant straight at it," was his terse command to Hodgson; and Grant, swinging on to his horse, galloped away to prepare and assemble his regiments."
A couple years later, when the British Official War History of the Sinai and Palestine campaign was written, the story is somewhat changed. It is no longer in the body of the text. In a footnote, a difference of opinion is aired leaving it up to the reader to ascertain if these words were indeed said as reported in Gullett.
Falls, C.; MacMunn, G.; and, Becke, AF, Military operations: Egypt and Palestine, (London 1930), Footnote p. 58:
"Australian Official History," p. 393. The records are lacking in Information here. At 3.30 p.m. General Chauvel sent or message to the Australian Mounted Division ordering it to attack Beersheba with one brigade, but without mention of mounted action. It is General Chauvel 's recollection that he gave no orders to Br.-General Grant, but spoke only to Major-General Hodgson. B.-General Grant, however, states that Major-General Hodgson took him to the corps commander, who directed him to "take the town before dark," without giving him instructions as to how the attack was to be carried out, and that he himself was therefore solely responsible for the mounted charge.See: British Official War History account about the fall of Beersheba
This particular situation arose as a consequence of Falls receiving two contradictory letters, one from Chauvel and the other from Grant.
The Chauvel Letter:
[Click on page for a larger print version.]
Your letter of the 31st July re Grant's comments on the Beersheba Chapter of the Official History of the Palestine Campaign. I did not personally give any orders to Grant. He got his orders from Hodgson. Mounted action was certainly contemplated when I discussed the matter with Hodgson before giving him his orders. As a matter of fact there was little time for anything else. I remember distinctly Fitzgerald, who was present at the discussion, presenting the claims of this Brigade because they were armed with the sword whilst Grant's was not. I told Hodgson to put in Grant as his Brigade ought to have been assembled much quicker that Fitzgerald's. Both were in Corps Reserve but were much scattered on account of hostile aircraft attack.
With kind regards,
Chauvel is quite unequivocal about his memory when he states in this letter: "I did not personally give any orders to Grant."
In contrast, Grant tells a different story, the one which appeared in Gullett's book.
The Grant Letter:
I had been watching the progress of the attack for some hours from a point near the Corps Headquarters when General Hodgson came to me at 4 p.m. and said:"It is your turn to go in Grant. Come and see the Corps Commander."
We then went to the latter. General Chauvel said:"Go right in and take the town before dark", and indicated the direction of the attack.
The BGGS (General Howard Vyse) then told me to move on the left of the A & NZ Mounted Division which was near the road from Beersheba to Khasim Zanna.
No instructions were given me how the attack was to be made.
From the movement of the enemy troops, I formed the opinion that the was then fighting a delaying action and would reture under cover of darkness after destroying the wells. I therefore ordered a mounted charge to smash through the defence and prevent this. I was solely responsible for the mounted charge, and it was due to my own initiative.
Grant is also unequivocal about his memory when he states in this letter that Chauvel said to him directly and personally: "Go right in and take the town before dark."
This is the only evidence we have of these two conflicting stories. While no one who was there is still alive to contest the account, and this particular note is here only to put the facts on the table rather than make a case, for the moment, as Falls has done, it is up to the readers to make their own minds up on this matter.
Citation: The Battle of Beersheba, Palestine, 31 October 1917, "Put Grant straight at it."