The Story of Semakh – Galilee 1918 to 2018

A little stone railway station in today’s Israel has a special story that is well worth a quick look…

The entire British Force spent the Palestinian summer of 1918 holding a line that ran from the Mediterranean Sea, above what is now Tel Aviv, almost due west to the Jordan River Valley. Just as he had done with the Gaza/Beersheba line 9 months ago, General Sir Edmund Allenby had tricked the Turks and their German ‘oversight’ into believing the breakaway punch would be delivered, this time by the left, not the right. Consequently, when the mobile Allied force of thousands broke and proceeded north beside the Mediterranean, the enemy were completely unprepared. It took but a few weeks to ‘route’ the Ottoman Army and capture Damascus, a magnificent feat often dubbed ‘The Great Ride’ by Australian troopers.

While holding this line for many months, Allenby was able to convince the enemy that he would strike with the right hand up the Jordan River valley, however the ‘break out’ came on the Plain of Sharon on the left.
The mobile force, spearheaded by the Australian Light Horse, routed the Ottoman Force northeast back to Damascus. One of the few places where the enemy, including German machine-gun crews, put up strong resistance was the railway station of Semakh.

The attack on Semakh Railway Station occurred on 25th September in the early hours of the morning. The attacking force was the part of the 4th Brigade of the Australian Light Horse led by Brigadier General William Grant (the same force that made the charge on Beersheba). The main attack was taken by the 11th Regiment in the centre/west, with one squadron of the 12th attacking from the west. There was bitter hand to hand fighting and the position was taken, but it cost the lives of 17 Australians and with over 50 wounded.

Diagram of the attack on Semakh Station.
The Australian War Memorial has re-instated this diorama of the attack on Semakh. It is a magnificent model, quite large and viewed under superb lighting.
The railway came up from the south in the centre right of this image, then turned right to run about 200 metres back from the water’s edge for about a kilometre. Almost dead centre of this image is where the Semakh station & yard were located. The line then curved right heading into the Yarmuk Valley, where it crossed a number of massive steel bridges and began to climb up onto the high plains of Jordan.

In 2007 I first walked around Semakh. The station yard was part of a banana plantation and used for trucks to unload and turn in. I had limited time but found enough evidence to make my mind up – I needed to come back and capture this on video. I was filming an archaeology study tour and in consultation with our local archaeologist on the translation of Arab names and locations, I realised there were many more sites like Semakh that needed exploring. In February 2008 I organised a ten day whirlwind tour of Israel, Syria and Jordan, and with the help of local tour guides and a mate from Australia, I set about recording what became a 93 minute documentary called ‘Beyond Beersheba: Anzacs in the Holy Land’.

Standing beside what was left of Semakh station in 2008.

In the photo above I had just completed filming around the station yard, there was still a goods office & shed and in the dirt quite bit of ‘railway junk’ like coal, etc. I ended the segment with my personal plea that this should become restored and made a memorial. I made some enquiries and found there were stirrings in the locals about the idea, and on returning to Australia over the next year I learnt some Queenslanders were on to it.

Semakh station in 2016, looking so much better than the 2008 pic above.

In 2013 the buildings looked the same, but on returning in 2016 I was so pleased to see the station fully restored and an Australian Memorial as part of the deal. For more pictures on the Semakh story see the Gallery of Semakh.