When Dave met Therese

by Karina Barrymore

He lived up to his regimental name, that’s for sure — the “Devil’s Own”.


When Dave Owens, a member of the renowned 13th Light Horse Regiment, met French waitress Therese Tillier, it was love at first sight, or at least love at half-light.


The devilish streak in the young Dave and his regimental mates was well entrenched by then. The pretty French waitress had been serving them alcohol most of the day at her family’s cafe on the banks of the River Somme when suddenly they scattered, knocking over tables and chairs in their way. The military police had arrived, and those young devils were definitely not supposed to be there.


Therese not only fed and watered the young Aussies, and hid them from the MPs, she also fell in love that day with the tall, dark, handsome Dave — the quiet one.


Dave didn’t talk much, even before the war, but what he and his mates had been through since leaving Australia had further pushed down any need to talk. It was better to leave the reality unspoken.


In such a short time, he had been through such a lot.


He had left Melbourne, three years earlier a shy adventure seeking 22-year-old. He was to return with all the adventure beaten out of him.


In June 1915 the 13th Light Horse disembarked in Egypt but were soon deployed to Gallipoli. Forced to leave their horses behind Dave and his regiment landed in Gallipoli amid all its horrors. They were immediately ordered to man the trenches at the notorious Lone Pine — one of the most heavily contested parts of the ANZAC front line. For three months, these young Aussie horsemen trudged and defended the mud-filled trenches. Nothing could have been further from their expectations.

The first photo was taken just after Dave and Therese met. They are standing outside her family's cafe. (Dave is first on the left, Therese is next to him in the white apron). The other people are family - the little boy, we think, was a her young brother. They were married in her village and had the very modest celebrations at the cafe.

Then out of the blue, Christmas came early. On December 20 they were sent back to Egypt. But it wasn’t long before the young devils were ordered to yet another deadly hotspot, the Western Front. At least this time they had their horses. The long list of battle honours for these horsemen is evidence of just how much they were in the “thick of it”. Somme, Pozieres, Bapaume, Ypres, Albert, Flanders, to name the major ones. The 13th also chased the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line in early 1917 and again helped capture the Hindenburg outpost in 1918, clearing the way for the Australian Corps advance.


These were the matters that, after three years of it, he didn’t want to talk about. So, the fact that 19-year-old Therese Tillier couldn’t speak English and Dave Owens couldn’t speak French was no barrier. The soldier and the waitress fell in love without words.


They married in her home town of Abbeville and before long Therese was aboard a war bride ship destined for Melbourne, escaping the devastation across Europe for an exciting new world with her handsome digger.  

Dave and Therese in Melbourne in their finery, shortly after they arrived to begin their new life together.