I actually met some of the original Lighthorsemen
by John Boyce, who served in the modern Regiment that still continues their traditions
It was in the 1970s and 1980s, so by then these veterans of WW1 were eighty or ninety years old. They were the age of my own (deceased) grandfather, not the young men who had gone off to the Great War all those years before.
They were from the 4th Light Horse Regiment and these Victorians (mostly) had joined up at Broadmeadows Army Camp on the outskirts of Melbourne in August 1914 or later. Theirs was the only Australian unit to earn battle honours in all three theatres of war (Note 1): on Gallipoli, then in the deserts of Egypt and beyond in Palestine and Syria. Or, after Gallipoli, some other squadrons from the 4th LH had gone to the Western Front in France, where they served as Corps Cavalry (in what was later called II Anzac Corps Mounted Regiment (Note 2)).
Like so many others, these old comrades had got together after the Great War and formed an Association - the 4th Light Horse Association. They had a tree planted near the Shrine of Remembrance and held a memorial ceremony there each year, they marched on Anzac Day (some rode horses at the head of the parade for many years after). They held some family social gatherings and an Annual Dinner. They showed a strong interest in their successors, the modern day CMF (Citizens Military Forces) or Army Reserve unit called 4/19 PWLH (the 4th/19th Prince of Wales’s Light Horse Regiment (Note 3)).
They were hosted at a monthly dinner in the Sergeants Mess at the Carlton depot, an old WW1-era compound in Park Street with a huge corrugated-iron Drill Hall and some brick vehicle hangars (former stables?) out the back.
They didn’t speak much of the battles, but certainly did yarn about life ‘over there’, and about their mates. They were a cheerful bunch. Members of our younger generation were rather in awe of them, and certainly asked lots of questions as we got to know them better.
Above: David Chambers after the 1987 Beersheba parade.
I learnt that upon enlisting they had to pass a horsemanship test at Broadmeadows camp: one of them, Dave Chambers, explained to me that a Sergeant pointed to a horse hitched to a fence, telling him to “Mount up and ride to the bottom of the paddock, turn and come back here, jumping that fallen log on the way back. If you’re still in the saddle, then you’re in, lad!” Dave had been a labourer from Rutherglen in NE Victoria, had joined up at 21 years old, served as a bugler, and was severely wounded on Gallipoli.
Another time, I had asked Dave if he had brought his own horse, as quite a few country lads had. He said no, and so the Army allocated one to him. He was a rather short chap, so I asked how they decided about size of horse for him. Dave just roared with laughter and said it was like any other Q issue in those days: “You, that one! You, this one!” and they were left then to swap amongst themselves if necessary.
In 1987 there was a 4/19 PWLH regimental parade on the forecourt of the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the famous charge by his unit and the 12th LH at Beersheba in Palestine, 31 Oct 1917 (Note 4). Dave, now 95 years old, was there with other originals as an honoured guest and he also attended a little ceremony afterwards, beside the Shrine of Remembrance - it was for the horses.
The commemorative horse trough first unveiled in 1926 on St Kilda Road had lost its usefulness down there in this age of the automobile, and it had been re-located (Note 5). Its new position, near the entrance to the Shrine’s visitor centre off Birdwood Avenue, ensured better public visibility for it as a memorial. Now it was near the statue of Simpson and his donkey, and near the tree planted for the old 4th Light Horse.
So there we all were, gathered at the horse trough, including a historical re-enactment Light Horse Troop with full harness and kit. Not surprisingly, Dave was happy to go over and pat a horse, it brought back memories of his favourite (called “Poppy”, he had told me). Whereupon the newspaper photographers started urging him to “hop up and let us get a photo”. Well, this was a bit of a concern to many of us around him, but old Dave didn’t hesitate. Thankfully, all went well, and the photo became famous.
Photos: David Holloway Collection
(1) See Australian War Memorial website https://www.awm.gov.au/unit/U51038/
(2) A hybrid unit of 4 LH and NZ Otago Mtd Rifles, eventually called II Anzac Corps Mounted Regiment. See Australian War Memorial website https://www.awm.gov.au/unit/U51051/
(3) 4/19 PWLH had depots in several parts of Victoria and by the mid-1970s was equipped with tracked armoured vehicles - “APCs”. Nowadays, it trains cavalry scouts and uses Bushmaster armoured vehicles and G-Wagon AWD vehicles. See Australian Army website https://www.army.gov.au/our-people/units/forces-command/2nd-division/4th-brigade/4th19th-prince-of-waless-light-horse
(4) See Australian War Memorial website https://www.awm.gov.au/military-event/E138/
(5) For photo and description of memorial Horse Trough see web link to http://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/culture/animals/display/32540-war-horses-memorial
(6) Sadly, Dave died in 1988 at the age of 96 as the result of a car collision (he was a passenger at the time of the accident).
(7) The 4 LH Association became the 4 LH Memorial Association, after family and friends decided to continue its existence even though the originals were no longer with us. Its history is described in two books by historian David Holloway:
‘Hooves, Wheels and Tracks’ (history of 4/19 PWLH and its predecessors, published by Regimental Trustees 1990) – see its Appendix 14
‘Endure and Fight’ (4th LH Regiment AIF detailed history 1914-19, published by 4 LH Memorial Association 2011) - see its Appendix 10