100 years ago – the Light Horse come home

by John Boyce

After the Armistice, the 1914 “Originals” were repatriated first, departing for Australia before Christmas 1918. However, in Europe and the Middle East the remaining troops still awaited their turn for transport home, a delay of several months. The troopers had also been told that their beloved horses would have to stay behind, owing to quarantine risks and to shortages of transport – sadly, their Walers would have to be passed to the British or Indian cavalry, or culled by the vets if too old or unfit [1].

Next, in March 1919 the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Light Horse (LH) Regiments had sailed from the Middle East, just missing the sudden re-activation of the Light Horse at the time of the Egyptian Uprising [2]. But all the other thirteen LH regiments did have to saddle up again in March and April 1919, tasked by the British authorities to re-establish order across the Egyptian countryside in the face of local riots and sabotage to railways, telegraph lines and bridges. It was busy and sometimes dangerous work; the Light Horsemen were to be particularly bitter at the loss of twenty men to local snipers and ambushes, despite having survived the Great War itself [3].

But in late May that delay was also over, and the Light Horsemen could look once more towards home and family.  Time for them to return equipment yet again, farewell their horses and prepare to sail for home. Meanwhile, there were the usual entertainments, including sports, educational classes, the occasional horse race meeting, local leave to Cairo and the pyramids (some actually took UK leave) as ways of keeping busy and passing the time. But their impatience increased…..

4 LH   embark for home on HMT Essex 15 J

The 4th Light Horse embark for home on HMT Essex 15 June 1919

There were some larger sporting events too. A Divisional swim sports was held at Ismailia on 14 June, and a 3rd Brigade cricket competition in late June/early July [4].

Despite going back to routine, even in June there were still some military tasks. For example, the 4th LH Regiment was still providing guards for trains from Ismailia, and at the aerodrome, and for canteens at Moascar [5].

The Light Horse had not yet been properly farewelled by General Allenby (who was still smarting after the December 1918 Surafend incident, involving troops from the Anzac Mounted Division). Journalist and historian Henry Gullett visited him to point out the resentment felt by the troops at this slight, and to appeal for the General to do so properly. General Allenby then issued a generous Farewell Order to the Australian Mounted Division, one often quoted since when evaluating the prowess of the Australian Light Horse. It was read out to the 4th LH Regiment on parade 16 May, for example [6]. Interestingly, the General did not mention the New Zealanders then [7]. A later order dated 28 June 1919 was more complimentary of both Mounted Divisions (including the NZ Brigade).

canteen tent Mansourah Egypt - June 1919
4 LHR homeward bound on Essex  from Kant
betting ring NZMR races at Mansourah Egy

Above, left: Canteen tent Mansourah Egypt - June 1919

Left: 4 LHR homeward bound on Essex  from Kantara Egypt -15 June 1919

Above: Betting ring at the NZMR races, Mansourah Egypt - June 1919

Excitement mounted when preparations brought re-vaccinations in late May. Next, in each departing unit there was also a disinfection of all ranks. Embarkation rolls were drafted and paybooks checked. The 12th LH Regiment hosted their brothers-in-arms from 4th LH Regiment on 9 June at a farewell gathering for all ranks [8].

On their last day, each contingent of troops preparing to depart underwent the final routine of returning bedding, handing in cooking utensils, processing of their paybook, and traveling to the quayside, where they mustered into their lines and then had names checked off as they boarded.

On 15 June 1919, 24 officers and 492 Other Ranks of 4th LH Regiment embarked for their voyage aboard HMT Essex. Typically, it sailed via Colombo (some troops took leave to visit Kandy) and then on to the excitement of seeing eucalyptus trees once more at Fremantle, before reaching Melbourne on 25 July, where the troops dispersed. Historian David Holloway notes that this dispersal also included sixty-one troopers heading home to parts of NSW, twelve to Queensland, seven to Tasmania and one back to South Australia [9].

7 LH embark for home 28 June 1919.JPG
5LH embark for home on HMT Madras - 28 J

The 7th Light Horse embark for home 28 June 1919

The 5th Light Horse embark for home on HMT Madras - 28 June 1919

The 2nd LH Brigade and the New Zealanders also sailed in late June 1919. The 6th and 7th LH Regiments reached Sydney on HMT Madras on 3 August, where there were reports of joyous reunions at the docks and in town at the ANZAC buffet, Hyde Park. From there, the 5th LH Regiment still faced a further journey by troop train before their own welcome home in Brisbane [10].

On 3 July, the 25 officers and 451 Other Ranks of 8th LH Regiment had reveille at 0530, entrained at Moascar four hours later for Port Said, boarded their ship HMAT Malta by midday, and sailed at 1530 hours. The ship was crowded, with another 790 troops also aboard. It was very warm below, so most slept up on deck. Slacks, hats and shoes were issued. Shorts and a towel were permitted. Food was plentiful and there was evening coffee. There was a library of 800 books (half provided by the YMCA) plus a gramophone, cards, and games. A canteen on the hurricane deck had queues for lemonade.

After taking local leave to Kandy while their ship was replenished with coal at Colombo in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), they sailed to Fremantle and then across the Great Australian Bight to Melbourne, arriving on 7 August at Port Melbourne’s New Pier before being transported to Victoria Barracks. Their War Diary records: “So, with a goodbye Jack or a good luck Tom, we pick up our kits and once more set off home, to re-enter civilian life, to ever have with us the memory of The Good Old Eighth.” [11]

The Argus newspaper reported next day:

“Cheering crowds greeted the sun-bronzed warriors as they passed through the city en route to the A.I.F. depot, where relatives and friends met them with every sign of joy and affection”.

It particularly named those 9 officers and 27 ORs aboard who had also been in the original unit departing in Feb 1915, and who had that day returned (as had some previous drafts, already).

Waiting to see their loved ones - ANZAC

Waiting to see their loved ones - ANZAC Buffet in Hyde Park Sydney June 1919

Similarly, the 12th LH Regiment departed on 22 July aboard HMT Morvada and sailed via Aden and Colombo (fresh fruit there was popular) to Fremantle (one day’s shore leave), then Melbourne and finally Sydney. The first part of the voyage encountered storms, so fully half the Light Horsemen passengers were very seasick and some were also suffering from a malaria outbreak. Under those circumstances, the educational classes held aboard had few participants initially. Later, there were classes held, also deck sports, boxing matches and band recitals. That regiment arrived home on 28 August 1919 – it was four years, two months and fifteen days since first leaving Sydney [12].

What about Light Horse repatriation from Europe?

There had been some Light Horse units on the Western Front, fighting as Corps Cavalry for the Australian infantry and the British XX Corps. After the Armistice, on Wed 18 Dec 1918 the two squadrons of the old 4th LH Regiment had amalgamated with 13th LH Regiment under LTCOL Hindhaugh at Laubuissiere in Belgium, before all moving to Charleroi in the New Year.  Troops then departed from the unit in dribs and drabs, largely according to where they were in seniority for repatriation, as historian David Holloway explained [13].

In April 1919, they were moved to England’s Salisbury Plain. From there, as their turn came, they went to London, Southampton, or Liverpool, to catch their troopship home. The HMAT Ypiranga carried a large contingent and departed with the best wishes of MAJGEN Rosenthal (2nd Division) and to the sound of a British military band.

Right: Welcoming flags decorate the family home

welcoming flags decorate the family home


1  J. Bou, ‘Light Horse – a history of Australia’s Mounted Arm’, Cambridge Uni Press 2010, p 201

2 H. S. Gullett, ‘The AIF in Sinai and Palestine’, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18 Vol VII p 793

3   M. Emery, ‘They rode into History- 8 LH Regiment’, Slouch Hat publications, McRae Vic, 2009, p 170

4   Emery, ibid p 172

5 D. Holloway, “Endure and Fight’ 4 LH Memorial Association, Melb, 2011,  p 334-5

6 Holloway, ibid, p 335

7 L. Bayly, ‘Horseman, Pass by’ Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 2003, p 314

8 Holloway, op cit p 336             

9 Holloway, ibid p 338

10 Bayly, op cit, p 316

11 Emery, op cit, p 175

12 K. Hollis, ‘Thunder of the Hooves’ 12 LH Regiment, Aust Military History Publications, Loftus NSW  2008,   p 96

13 Holloway, op cit p 492