Brigadier General William Grant CMG, DSO and Bar, MBE

William Grant was born in Stawell, educated at BGS  and Ormond College at the University of Melbourne, graduating with a Bachelor of Civil Engineering in 1893.

William worked in railway construction in NSW, but after his father’s death in 1894 he became a pastoralist, in the Darling Downs, Queensland.

William was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Queensland Mounted Infantry in 1901. He advanced rapidly and became Commander of the 14th Light Horse in 1910, and in 1911 was promoted from Major to Lieutenant Colonel. He was still in command when WWI broke out.

William joined the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) in 1915, taking command of the new 11th Light Horse Regiment and several other mounted regiments during the remainder of the war.

His most famous battle of all was the epic charge at Beersheba – history’s last great mounted charge. With the allied troops facing certain death from lack of food and water, the need to take Beersheba and gain access to the water wells was imperative.

With time running out, the British command suspected any attack upon Beersheba would probably fail. However, the Australian commanders asked the British to send in the Australian Light Horse, led by Brigadier General William Grant. The British consented to what they thought was a suicide mission. William Grant hastily devised a plan and prepared to attack with more than 500 men from the 4th and 12th Light Horse Regiments. Speed and surprise were their only chance.

On 31 October 1917 the Australians began advancing with bayonets raised on the 4,000 Turkish soldiers, gradually speeding up to a charge. The Turks, dazed by the sheer audacity and thunder of the charge, realised too late that the soldiers were not dismounting and opened fire. Artillery fire was of limited effect and the attack so fast that the Turkish infantry forget to adjust   the sights on their rifles as the Light Horse got closer, eventually firing straight over the Australians’ heads. The

Australians captured the first Turkish defences and saved the wells. Overall, the attack was a success and the Australians miraculously suffered only 31 dead and 36 wounded. For his part, William was personally decorated with a bar to his DSO.

The 1987 Australian feature film, The Lighthorsemen, pays tribute to this most daring campaign which used tactics from an earlier military age, a tactic which is still revered in Australia today.

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