Commemorating the Light Horse Across the World: A Reflection with Reference to Chauvel’s Letters and Written from Photographs, Diaries and Travels
by Honor Auchinleck
Allan Chauvel, General Sir Harry Chauvel’s brother took a photograph of a cairn of stones built by Light Horsemen in memory of the officers who fell over three days 6th, 7th and 8th November 1917. The only symbol is the crucifix built into the cairn; there are no names (see right).
On Nov 6th 1917 General Sir Harry Chauvel, Allan Chauvel’s older brother wrote to his wife Sibyl: 'As we are moving on tonight, I am just scribbling you a line. We had another very strenuous day today, but a very successful one.' Perhaps Sir Harry didn’t want to distress his wife by mentioning casualties. On the other hand his position as Commander of the Desert Mounted Corps was very different from that of his younger brother who was a major at the Remount Depot. It is understandable that the two brothers experienced their service in different ways and left different records. Sir Harry leaves no written record in letters to his wife of 7th and 8th November 1917. Perhaps Sir Harry had to leave this act of commemoration others. Possibly at the time he knew nothing about it.
Four years later in February 1922 Sir Harry explains events in early November 1917: ‘After Beersheba was taken, we had a great deal of trouble about water. Abraham's seven wells did not pan out as they were expected to! & we had to send the Australian Mounted Division back to Karm for water. Also the difficulties of watering the transport of the 20th Corps caused delay in the continuance of the plan of operations, &, in the meantime Von Kressenstein diverted all his available reserves to a counter-attack on my troops north of Beersheba (I had been given the responsibility of defence from the north, to enable the 20th Corps to continue the attack westward). In the first instance this counter-attack was held by the Anzac Mounted Division, & the 7th Mounted Brigade, to which was attached the 8th Light Horse Regiment, but the enemy in this quarter was ever increasing & there was no water for our horses, so I got up first of all the Camel Brigade, & then was lent the 53rd Division to relieve the cavalry. There was some heavy fighting between 2nd & 6th November at Tel-el-Khuweilfeh, where the 53rd Division, the I.C.C & the New Zealanders, who had sent their horses back to Beersheba, suffered heavily, but succeeded not only in holding off the Turkish counter-attacks, but in eventually driving the enemy back off the only water available in that area at al Ain Kohleh.
On 6th November, Chetwode was able to carry on his part of the operations, & Bulfin, who had commenced his attack on the night of the 1st, was making good progress against Gaza, so on the night of the 6th, we, the Desert Mounted Corps, leaving the Yeomanry Mounted Division, the Camel Brigade & the New Zealanders, with the 53rd Division (all under Barrow) to continue to hold the Turks to the North, moved from Beersheba to Karm to take up our second role: i.e. To cut off the enemy on his retreat from Gaza.’
I have no record as to the exact location and whether the memorial built by Light Horsemen and photographed by Allan Chauvel survives. It was a simple memorial built by those who had shared an experience – the custom in the Middle East is to build a little cairn in memory of someone, the name of whom is only ever known to a few, leaving names and memories to fade with the lives of the survivors. Now the photograph alone speaks for the memorial, the Light Horse officers and the actions that it represented. Nothing can express the sense of loss than a cairn built so soon after battle.
In memory of the officers who fell in action on this hill Nov 6-8, 1917 (Photo: Allan Chauvel)
A simple memorial to the Light Horse at Tabulam on the Upper Clarence River in Northern New South Wales where the Chauvel boys grew up also has a certain resonance and individuality of its own. Parish Priest Father Casey of Mallanganee created the memorial and the piece of local artwork. Commemorating the raising of the Upper Clarence Light Horse Troop by Major Charles Chauvel in 1885 and unveiled by Sir Harry Chauvel’s daughter Elyne Mitchell in 1985, this memorial commemorates some of the first efforts towards establishing a defence force in New South Wales. Where some memorials commemorate more official associations with Defence, Tabulam’s memorial highlights the efforts of inspired individuals towards establishing and contributing to their colony’s and ultimately Australia’s national defence.
Memorial to the raising of the Upper Clarence Light Horse, Tabulam, New South Wales
Light Horse Park, Seymour, Victoria
Meanwhile, over a thousand kilometres south of Tabulam, in the early morning and in the evening, Light Horse Park outside Seymour in Victoria has an ethereal, contemplative quality. Amid silence only brought to life with bursts of bird song, this memorial provides a focus for remembrance and reflection. Having been used by the Victorian Mounted Rifles in 1887 fourteen years before Federation, Light Horse Park stands on one of Australia’s earliest training areas. Perhaps the Australian contingent’s service in 1883- 85 in Sudan was the catalyst for recognising a need to develop a defence capacity. Due to its proximity to Melbourne, its suitability as a training area and railway services, Seymour would gain a military role in a way Tabulam never would.
Light Horse Park, Seymour, Victoria