Many Kiwis are aware of brave ANZAC soldiers who fought in the two World Wars and continue to defend our nation and our values. Some Kiwis will be aware of the Battle of Bersheva, where the NZ Mounted Rifles Brigade made a significant contribution to the defeat of the Ottoman forces in World War I by liberating Beer Sheva.
Fewer Kiwis will be aware that there was another battle against the Ottomans about 200km North of Beer Sheva. The Battle of Haifa was one of the most bravely-contested battles of World War I and was a front which involved Indian troops who worked closely with ANZACs.
The 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade was comprised of soldiers from Hyderabad, Mysore, Patiala, Alwar, and Jodhpur. They came under ANZAC command for some campaigns against the Ottomans and worked closely with Kiwi and Allied troops.
On September 23, 1918, the Jodhpur and Mysore Lancers were tasked with fighting against Ottoman gunners and artillery to capture the strategic city of Haifa, with its rail network and harbour. And they succeeded.
The campaign remains the only known incident in military history when a fortified town was captured by cavalry on the gallop. The bravery of the Indian troops, armed only with lances and swords against the Turkish artillery and machine guns, was recognised by General Allenby, who commented “No more remarkable cavalry action of its scale was fought in the whole course of the campaign”.
A total of 1,350 German and Ottoman prisoners were captured by the two Indian regiments. Meanwhile, Indian casualties amounted to eight dead and 34 wounded soldiers plus 60 horses were killed and another 83 injured.
One of the residents of Haifa in 1918 was ‘Abdu’l-Baha, the son of the Founder of the Baha’i Faith and designated by Him as His successor. The commander of the Turkish forces in Syria and Palestine, Jamal Pasha, had threatened to crucify ‘Abdu’l-Baha and destroy the Baha’i holy places in Haifa and nearby Acre. With the liberation of Haifa by the Indian soldiers, the threat to ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s life was lifted. Haifa is now home to beautiful Baha’i gardens and headquarters.
One hundred and one years on from the battle of Haifa, we remember the sacrifices of the Indian, ANZAC, and allied troops in defeating the Ottoman Empire. Lest we forget.
Dr David Cumin is the director of the Israel Institute of New Zealand - an independent think tank dedicated to providing New Zealanders with a better understanding of the State of Israel - and Sunil Kaushal is President of Waitakere Indian Association.