Almost 100 years since the famous Battle of Beersheba in the Middle East, a project is underway to give the Indigenous Light Horsemen who fought in World War I their rightful place in Australian history.
Sydney Pastor Ray Minniecon, whose grandfather Private James Lingwoodock was a member of the 11th Light Horse brigade, says the stories of our Indigenous heroes need to be preserved before they are lost to time.
“This is not just about my grandfather,” Minniecon says. “This is bigger than Ben Hur. This is a huge story that has never been properly unfolded and told.”
To uncover the stories behind Indigenous Light Horsemen such as Private Lingwoodock, the not-for-profit Rona Tranby Trust is attempting to collect and preserve their histories through their descendants.
Trust spokeswoman Meltem Akyol says they want to get in touch with the families of Light Horsemen who know their ancestors’ stories and will be prepared to have them orally recorded.
They are particularly trying to reach the descendants of three Light Horsemen identified by the Australian War Memorial as having been in the charge at Beersheba — Private Edward McDonald Lovett, Private Frederick Amos Lovett and Corporal Joseph Albert Wright, all of the 4th Light Horse Regiment.
The Battle of Beersheba on October 31, 1917 was part of the wider British offensive known as the Third Battle of Gaza. The final phase of the battle was the mounted charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade, which stormed Turkish defences and seized the town.
The capture of Beersheba allowed British Empire forces to later advance into Palestine, according to the Australian War Memorial.
Later this year a group of descendants of Light Horsemen will travel to Beersheba in Israel for a centenary memorial service.
Minniecon is hoping both the Light Horsemen history project and travelling to the centenary service will help him fill in the gaps in his grandfather’s life.
Minniecon knows Lingwoodock, from Queensland, was posted to the Middle East and Europe and that he received medals for his service.
But he would like to know more, such as how his grandfather, who was a Kabi man on his mother’s side and of South Sea Islander descent on his father’s, came to saddle up for Australia.
He’d also like to know more about what he faced and how, after surviving a mustard gas attack in Europe and being hospitalised in England, he returned home.
“The Light Horse brigades in Australia had the highest number of Indigenous soldiers of all the different battalions and regiments,” Minniecon says. “We think it could be up to as high as 200 or more.
“So the reasons why we set this up was to make sure we get this story.
“That was the first World War so we didn’t have access to those old people as much as we’d like to. The Aboriginal Protection Acts prevented us from having good access to all of our old people. So we’re going on as much information as we can.”
Mr Minniecon says he does know his grandfather got into the services by saying he was brought up by white people — which was not true.
He says many of the Indigenous men of the time, such as his grandfather, were good horsemen and worked in the pastoral industry driving cattle and sheep.
“I think it is for the betterment of our people to know the ancestor heroes we have amongst us,” he says. “We’ve got Rats of Tobruk, we’ve got people who fought in Gallipoli and on the Western Front.
“What a lot of people don’t realise is a lot of Aboriginal people got distinguished medals for their bravery.
“If we don’t do anything about it, then that story is lost too.”
The project coordinators can be contacted on 02 9231 4293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.