In memory of Bill of the Sixth Light Horse Regiment 

1914 – 24  Aged  21: One of the Best

...continued

Perry tells the story of one of these rides:  On 3rd October a British Yeomanry Officer, Captain Anthony Bickworth, who was an Olympic Equestrian Medalist,  was “assigned the job  ... he had the reputation, at least among the British, as the best horseman of the invading troops.” [4]  Bill was brought out for the ride. Bets were always taken as to whether the mail would get through, but on this occasion when punters found that Bill would be involved,  it may have become whether he completed the run with or without the rider. After swerving to avoid bullets from Turkish snipers in the hills, Captain Bickworth was thrown off and Bill completed the seven kilometres at a gallop and delivered the mail but suffered two bullet wounds. One bullet was removed and the second remained lodged deep in his flank.

 

The Mounted Horse returned to Egypt and Heliopolis, out of Cairo, and served to defend the Suez Canal that was the ‘jugular vein’ of the British, bringing supplies, reinforcements and materials needed for the Western Front and the Sinai Campaign. Should the Suez be taken it could mean the end of the war for the British. In late July, 1916 it was reported that a force of thousands of the Turkish army was moving down towards the Suez Canal at Oghratina and Bir El Abd, within striking distance of Romani where the 1st Light Horse Brigade (1st, 2nd and 3rd Light Horse Regiments) were at the time stationed.  

Major Michael Shanahan with Bill [6]

1st Australian Light Horse Regiment Diary

Friday 4th August, 1916 [5]

 

On the night of 3rd/4th August, the 1st L.H. Brigade took up a line of Outpost from Hod-El-Enna to No.1 Post on the Southern Slopes of Mt Meredith.

 

Just before midnight about 8,000 men of the German Pasha I and the 4th Ottoman (Turkish) Army attacked the Outpost held by the 1st L.H. Brigade. At 1am the silence was broken by the Turkish war cry of “Allah! Allah! And “Finish Australia! Death to Australia” followed by heavy gunfire from both sides. The Australians were ordered to limit the amount of man-to-man fighting with their bayonets to avoid being over-run.   The Brigade came under very heavy rifle and Machine Gun fire, also shrapnel from a Mountain Battery.

 

At 2.30am the Germans and Turks raised another battle-cry and mounted bayonet charges at the Brigade on Mt Meredith. Their attempts to scale the steep, sandy heights of Mt Meredith were thwarted by a small band of 1st L.H. Regiment under Lieutenant Edwards who shot large numbers of Turks and impeded the advance on the Mount. The Brigade was forced to retreat slowly, troop covering troop, to a fall-back sand dune called Wellington Ridge.

 

The enemy shelled the camp and also dropped bombs, grenades and steel darts from aeroplanes.

 

Casualties for the 1st L.H. Regiment were: Lieutenant W. McQuiggin and 9 other ranks killed and Captains F.V. Weir, A.L. Fitzpatrick, G.H.L. Harris, 2/Lieutenant W. Nelson and 26 other ranks wounded and three missing [7].

 

During the battle, Major Michael  Shanahan of the 2nd L.H. Regiment was leading his Squadron and working along the line on his horse “Bill” (known as “The Bastard”). Finding four Tasmanians of the 3rd Regiment without horses and open to capture, Shanahan yelled for two to jump on behind him and, slipping his boots out of the stirrups, he ordered two soldiers to mount, one on each stirrup. Bill normally would not have allowed one rider on his back at any time. He took the weight of the five men, digging in deep with all the strength that his mighty heart could muster, clambered up the slope, under heavy Turkish fire, and galloped down the other side in the soft sand to Et Maler, a village one kilometre from Romani. Thus Shanahan and Bill were inscribed in Anzac legend.

 

Shanahan returned to the fray and, although shot in the leg, kept fighting, going up and down the line until he collapsed on his horse. The loyal Bill gently carried his unconscious rider three kilometres back to the camp, as if knowing that any jolt or speed would dismount him. Shanahan’s leg was eventually amputated. Shanahan was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for ‘conspicuous gallantry in action ... with the greatest of courage and determination ... rescued men under very heavy fire. He was wounded’.   The rescued men considered that both Shanahan and Bill deserved a Victoria Cross!  Perry tells how Shanahan visited the Remount Squadron and rode Bill one more time but Bill was never given another rider.

 

After the Armistice was declared Chauvel requested that ten pack mules and/or horses be sent to accompany a special Anzac Light Horse Contingent under Lieutenant-Colonel Cyril Hughes to find and relocate graves of fallen soldiers and to collect artefacts at Gallipoli. Bill was one of the horses chosen.