Forty Thousand Horsemen was an important film for Australia of the 1940s, both for its director Charles Chauvel, and an Australian public eager for heroic images of its soldiers. Chauvel's uncle, General Sir Harry Chauvel, had commanded the New Zealand and Australian desert corps in Palestine in the First World War, and Charles had been planning his tribute to the Australian cavalry who fought there since the early 1930s.
Raising the finance had proved difficult, after the failure of Chauvel's nationalist film Heritage, but Chauvel was nothing if not persistent. When 500 members of the Light Horse paraded in Sydney in early 1938, for the sesquicentenary celebrations, Chauvel arranged to borrow them for a day's filming. This took place on the sand dunes at Kurnell, near Sydney, on 1 February 1938, with at least four camera units.
The cinematographers on the beach that day included Tasman Higgins, Bert Nicholas, John Heyer, Frank Hurley and Damien Parer -- an astonishingly talented crew. Hurley had a pit dug in the sand for himself and his camera, with planks placed over the top, and a small hole left for the lens. His shots of the bellies of horses leaping overhead provide some of the sequence's most thrilling action. This was the second time in his long career that Hurley had filmed a re-enactment of the famous charge at Beersheba. As a war photographer in Palestine in 1918, he had set up and filmed a re-enactment of the charge using troops of the Australian Light Horse (though not the same ones that actually made the charge). That film is now believed to be lost.
Title: Forty Thousand Horsemen (1940) clip 3 on ASO - Australia's audio and visual heritage online.mp4