Desert storm

• Ned Moriarty and his sister Alice.

A TOUCHING letter from brother to sister that made it past the censors is at the heart of a 100th anniversary tribute to one of Australia’s least-revered World War I victories.

Carmel Charlton’s show The Great Ride, which she’s performing at the Army Museum in Fremantle tomorrow (Sunday October 14) follows her great uncle-in-law Ned Moriarty’s ride through the deserts of Palestine with the 10th Australian Light Horse Regiment.

In an unusual lapse for the censors, Trooper Moriarty’s letter to his sister Alice made it through with a full description of their campaign through the Jordan Valley, which culminated in the surrender of Damascus on October 1, 1918 and delivered the coup de grace to the Ottomon empire.

Surrender

But the 10th’s leading role has been overshadowed by a historic controversy.

The British were keen for their chap TE Lawrence, immortalised as Lawrence of Arabia, to accept the city’s surrender and impress Arab rebels he’d led into battle.

But he’d been beaten to the punch by Narrogin dentist Arthur Olden, who was in command of the 10th when they rode into the city and accepted the surrender earlier that day.

Ms Charlton says Lawrence was so peeved he demanded the Turk’s surrender again, then semi-enshrined his version of history in his autobiography Seven Pillars of History.

To this day Australia barely recognises the victory; in 2010, author Paul Daley lamented the lack of wreaths for the 141 fallen diggers at the annual Remembrance Day service in Damascus.

In another historical twist that’s almost comical, Trooper Moriarty shreds the legend of the 10th riding through Damascus with swords drawn.

“The major gave the order draw swords (Aussie discipline),” wrote Moriarty, who’d been a woodcutter before enlisting at Blackboy Hill in Perth.

“Major was the only one with his sword out, all the men drew automatic pistols, what was the good of capturing pistols if they could not use them.”

But at other times the action was deadly serious, with the troops riding through “the rockiest and hilliest place God ever made”.

“We had just got on a bit better going and were saying ‘what a rough ride that was’ when what oh, a German rear guard opened up at about 15 yards off us, were were looking into the muzzles of rifles that you could see the fire spitting out of them.”

The Great Ride is at the Army Museum on Burt Street tomorrow from 2 – 4pm. Tickets are $10 from http://www.trybooking.com or by calling Ms Charlton on 0412 777 061.

by STEVE GRANT

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