History | In the steps of the light horse – 2017 | Photos

Photo: Simone Kurtz
Photo: Simone Kurtz

Local identity David Lester, accompanied by his daughters Elizabeth Ganguly, Anne Lofts and Robbie Holdaway, and sons-in-law Barry Ganguly and Ken Lofts will set off on an adventure of a life time.

David and his family members will be joining the Australian Light Horse Association Tour ‘In the Steps of the Light Horse 2017’ in October.

It has been a long-held dream of David’s to visit the areas where his father Bruce ‘Snowy’ Lester served during WW1 as one of the legendary Light Horsemen. 

The tour travels through Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Israel visiting significant ALH battle sites and Commonwealth War Grave Cemeteries. 

The tour group (180) consists of riding and non-riding members.The 100-strong group of riders spend three days retracing the route followed by the ALH regiments in the days prior to the Beersheba offensive; camping out ‘light horse style’ and on October 31 they will ride through the streets of Beersheba to attend the official Australian Government centenary celebration of the Beersheba Light Horse Charge.

The Grand Finale late in the afternoon of the 31st is the re-enactment of the charge across the same ground as the 1917 charge by the 100 tour riders.

David Lester is a reluctant non-riding tour member, however his daughters Elizabeth, Anne and Robyn have taken up the challenge of getting themselves ‘back in the saddle’ and will ride on behalf of David in honour of their Grandfather – Bruce ‘Snowy’ Lester. 

David, who will celebrate his 89th birthday on tour is one of only two tour members who are immediate descendants (son) of a Light Horseman, many though are grandsons, granddaughters or have other family connections. Elizabeth and Anne’s husbands join the tour as non-riders as well.

All riders and many of the other tour members will be wearing the full Australian Light Horse uniform – exact replicas of the 1914 – 1918 style uniform. The full kit includes slouch hat, jacket, breeches, braces, leggings, boots, belt, bandoleer, rucksack, water bottle, badges, colour patches, blankets and tethering rope. 

Horses and most of the bridles and saddles are being supplied by individual Israeli horse riders and by trail riding organisations. 

To honour ‘Snowy’ David and his daughters will wear replicas of the unique 6th Light Horse Regiment slouch hat – with a Wallaby fur puggaree or band rather than the Emu plumes which other Light Horse Regiments typically wore, and the 6th Regiment colour patch of green over red.

To better understand the Australian Light Horse involvement in WW1 David and his family are reading as many books as possible and have started to digitise and transcribe a large collection of letters written to Dr and Mrs Lester by their son ‘Snowy’ and other local lads while serving in the Middle East and on the Western Front during WW1. 

Dedicated volunteers at the Mudgee Museum are assisting greatly by scanning the 100 plus year old letters.  Many of these letters, headed ‘Somewhere in Palestine’ are written in pencil on pages torn out of the small note books carried by the troopers.

An official documentary of the centenary ride and re-enactment of the charge is planned and the official ceremony at the Beersheba Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery will most likely be attended by the Prime Ministers of Australia and Israel – The event is expected to have TV coverage.

Lester History

Bruce Lester (1895 – 1960) the son of Dr Charles and Mrs ‘Minnie’ Lester were born in Mudgee and brought up at ‘Forgandenny’, Short Street Mudgee. He was educated at the Mudgee Grammar School and then at The Kings School, Parramatta. 

On leaving school Bruce, a very keen horseman had just commenced work as a jackaroo at the outbreak of WW1. Along with many of his old school friends and Mudgee district friends (including Ralph Kellet father of the late Allan Kellet) he answered the call to enlist and joined the 6th Light Horse Regiment. 

He embarked in July 1915, returning to Australia in early 1919, this entire period was spent in Egypt and Palestine; initially in training camps in Egypt, then in defending the Suez Canal from the advancing Turkish army through the 3-year Desert Campaign to the signing of the Turkish surrender at Damascus. 

The ALH regiments were involved in all the key battles including Romani, Rafa, Gaza, Jerusalem, Amman, Es Salt, Megiddo and Damascus. It was at Beersheba on October, 31, 1917 that the 12th and 4th ALH Regiments were to ‘win the day’ with a daring cavalry style charge across open ground and a maze of Turkish trenches to take the Turkish stronghold and the critical water supply in the village wells.

The 6th Light Horse Regiment was involved in reconnaissance and other preparations leading up to the Beersheba offensive, including the cleaning out and repair of the vital wells destroyed by the retreating Turks. On October, 31, 1917, the 6th Regiment were held in reserve but on the following days were heavily involved in fierce fighting as the Turkish army was pursued north and west of Beersheba.  

During his schooldays Bruce Lester was a keen sportsman excelling at cricket, athletics and rugby union. At Kings School he captained the 1st Eleven (cricket) and the 1st Fifteen (rugby) teams and when regimental teams were organised in Egypt and Palestine Bruce again had the honour of being the captain, of both the 6th ALH regiment cricket and rugby teams.

Bruce ‘Snowy’ was one of a small number of Light Horseman who rode the one mount for the duration of the Sinai and Palestinian campaign. His horse ‘Goo Goo’ could apparently be a bit of a rogue and didn’t take kindly to anyone other than Bruce riding him. ‘Goo Goo’ was one of the faithful companions destroyed at the end of the war – we believe by Bruce himself.