Spirit of commemoration remains strong in Beersheba

Australian ambassador to Israel Chris Cannan laying a wreath at the Beersheba commemoration.

AS the Last Post rang out over Beersheba, it was clear that the Anzac legacy is in safe hands.

This year’s service to commemorate the great Anzac success in Beersheba 101 years ago could easily have felt like an anti-climax.

After all, the small gathering was a far cry from last year’s centenary, when top politicians and mass Australian delegations descended on Beersheba.

But the congregation arrived with renewed energy to commemorate, and the speakers gave them new perspective on the events of 1917 and their relevance for today. In a moving segment New Zealander Warren Dawson read from the diary of his grandfather Gerald Dawson, who fought at Beersheba.

After reading from the diary, Dawson said he hoped that other New Zealanders will follow him in visiting “this great country and experience its battlefields and biblical plains”.

If there was a message from the event, it was that while last year may have been the big dramatic anniversary, commemoration will continue constantly, thanks to international and interfaith partnerships.

The embassies of Australia and New Zealand organised the service, which included a psalm and a prayer by a rabbi, and participation of Australia’s former foes. Australia’s ambassador to Israel Chris Cannan said that Turkish and German involvement “reminds us that yesterday’s foe can be today’s friend”.

Beersheba locals promised to honour the Anzacs. Two young locals were so keen to get on with the task of honouring them that they collared Cannan and bombarded him with questions about their achievements.

A local teacher brought pupils to learn about the commemoration and write about it for their school newspaper, and they charmed just about everyone in attendance.

Yair Nagid of the Beersheba municipality said from the podium: “We promise to continue to see this site – which saw fighting, blood and pain – become a place of love, joy and brotherhood.”

Cannan spoke about the bravery of the Anzacs, and included a story “linking” Australians, Jewish people and Israelis. Lion Harlap, the youngest member of the 10th Light Horse Brigade, was originally from Odessa and migrated to Palestine in the 1890s only to take ship to Australia in 1909.

He ended up fighting in Palestine and in a “twist of fate” met his parents in the city of Rehovot, asked to be decommissioned, and settled back with his family. It was, said Cannan, “a story of reunion amid the rubble of war”.

The ambassador ended his speech by paying respect to the “honour, courage, loyalty and duty” of First World War soldiers.

NATHAN JEFFAY