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Category: Palestine

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Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) M W J Bourchier (later Brigadier Honourable M W J Bourchier CMG DSO VD) who commanded the 4th (Victorian) Light Horse Regiment. 

He led his regiment in the charge at Beersheba and later in operations in the Es Salt region. During 1918 Lt Col Bourchier led the 4th Light Horse Brigade in operations leading to the capture of Damascus. 

This brigade consisted of the 4th and 12th Light Horse Regiments and became known as 'Bourchier's Force'.

At dawn on 19 September 19 18 General Allenby launched the offensive which finally destroyed the Turkish armies in Palestine. When the British infantry had driven a gap through the trenches on the plain ten miles north of Jaffa, the Desert Mounted Corps under Lieutenant General Sir Harry Chauvel passed through. Moving rapidly the mounted troops had advanced nearly a hundred and fifty miles by the end of September and were closing in on Damascus.

The Australian commander planned to capture this historic city by cutting, with the Australian Mounted Division, the Turks' road of escape by the northern route and then pressing into the city from the south with the 4th and 5th Cavalry Divisions.

The main line of retreat of the Turks was along the road and railway running from Damascus through the eastern Lebations into the plain of Baalbek and on across the western Lebanons to the seacoast at Beirut. A short distance from the city the railway and road pass through the Barada Gorge.  

Here is the story as told in the words of the official historian: 

"When the Australian Light Horse reached the gorge and looked down on the narrow floor, they saw it crowded with a great column of fugitive troops, transport, and railway trains moving towards them from Damascus. The situation was exceptional. The gorge, as it winds between the sheer desert cliffs of the eastern buttress of the Lebations, is not more than a hundred yards in width. Along this confined passage, crossing and recrossing from side to side, tumbles the roaring Barada, and crowded along its banks run the road and railway. As the Light-horsemen, with their six machine guns, Hotchkiss guns, and rifles, took up positions on the heights, they saw some hundreds of feet below them the massed and confused enemy troops making their escape, as they believed, to the Baalbek plain. 

At the same time, squadrons of Onslow's brigade, moving fast, had taken up a fresh position farther west about Dumar, where under similar conditions they caught another column of fugitives. German machine-gunners, operating from the tops of motor lorries and trains, defied the challenge to surrender, and all along the gorge the unequal issue was joined. The result was sheer slaughter. The light horsemen, firing with fearful accuracy, shot the column to a standstill and then to silence. For miles the bed of the gorge was a shambles of Turks and Germans, camels and horses and mules. Never in the campaign had the machine-gunners found such a target.

All night the Australians remained on their heights, firing occasional bursts from the machine guns to ensure the blocking of the road. But the precaution was unnecessary; no enemy troops entered the pass after the fall of darkness." 

Early next morning, 1 October 1918, the Australians rode through Damascus....   

"The Australians on this wonderful morning were the only calm, purposeful men in the clamorous city. Years of campaigning had moulded them into reserved men of the world, and the streets of old Damascus were but a stage in the long path of war. They rode with drawn swords, dusty and unshaven, their big hats battered and drooping, through the excited people of the ancient city, with the same easy casual bearing, and the same quiet self‑confidence, which mark their bearing on their country tracks at home. They ate their grapes, and smoked their cigars, and missed no dark smiling eyes at the windows; but they showed no excitement or elation. And their lean, long-tailed horses, at home now like their riders on any road in the world, found nothing in the shouting mob or banging rifles of the Arabs, or in the narrow ways and vivid hues of the bazaars, to cause them once to shy or even cock an car."

Soon after 7 o'clock they were clear of the city and in vigorous pursuit of the enemy columns in flight towards Homs.

 A TROOPER (First A.I.F.)

from AS YOU WERE ! by the AWM 1946


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Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces