Light Horsemen Welcomed Home

by Anne Flood

“In the Footsteps of the First: 1st Light Horse Regiment A.I.F. 1916 – 1919” [1]

At 3am on 27th March the Ulimaroa pulled out of Colombo bound for Australia. The ship arrived at Freemantle around 12th April due to an epidemic of Influenza in Australia, no shore leave was granted.  With a strike of waterside workers in Fremantle the troops had to coal the Ulimaroa at Albany.  Thereafter, the ship sailed via Melbourne and arrived off Sydney on about 17th April. All personnel were placed in Quarantine at the North Head Quarantine Station where the men were complemented on the splendid behaviour of all ranks during a very tedious and trying delay[2].

 

During their time in quarantine, Mrs H.V. Vernon, Chief Executive of the 1st Light Horse Regiment Comforts Fund, delivered to the soldiers at the Quarantine Station the last package of items compiled by the Comfort Funds.  Mrs Vernon and her dedicated group of helpers had faithfully conducted this mission from 1914 to 1919, regularly despatching parcels on behalf of friends and families, sending the men a ‘touch’ from home.

 

Members of the Light Horse Veterans Association had been notified of the arrival of the Ulimaroa and were granted permission by the District Commander, Major General Lee, to wear their uniforms.  My grandfather, Trooper Frederick Henry Wood and his mate, Trooper Herb Puckett who had been wounded at Gallipoli and returned home in 1915, were among the Veterans who were anxious to give the returning soldiers a welcome which included a guard of honour.

Among those listed on the Nominal Roll of Members of the A.I.F. returning to Australia on the “Ulimaroa”[3] were eleven original members of the Regiment who sailed out of Sydney on the Star of Victoria on 20th October 1914.  They were:

 

Lieutenant Stanley Gregory, T/Sergeant Charles Gwilliam, Major Geoffrey Harris, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Irwin, Lieutenant William D Jarrett, Captain Frank Mack, Lieutenant Harold Menzies, Lieutenant Charles Parbury, Major Arthur White, Captain Maxwell Wright, Captain Frederick Wright. Major Frank Weir was also with them, having embarked from Australia with the 1st Reinforcements in December, 1914.

The story of the emotional return of the Regiment to Sydney was told in the Evening News, Thursday, April 24, 1919, page 2[4]:

 

“The 1st Light Horse Regiment which is the first complete unit to return to Australia received a welcome this morning which would remain in their memories for many years to come.

 

The Regiment that numbered 21 officers and 485 other ranks, spent a week in quarantine and this morning were conveyed by ferry to Wooloomoolo Bay where there was a large assemblage on the wharf, including the District Commander (Major General Lee) and Comfort Funds (Mrs H.V. Vernon).

 

... Regret was expressed that Brigadier General C.F.Cox, “Fighting Charlie” as the General is familiarly known, was not present ... [as he] was compelled to proceed to Brisbane in the ship and has not yet returned to Sydney.  There was a large crowd in the vicinity of the wharf and as the motor cars appeared the occupants were loudly cheered.

Colour patch of the 1st Light Horse Regiment, AIF. Image from Digger History

Great enthusiasm prevailed at the Anzac Buffet where there was an unusually large crowd while thousands who were unable to secure tickets lined the roadway in the vicinity.  Inside the enclosure returned men from the Regiment under Major H.V.Vernon, Lieutenant O.N. Hayes, Lieutenant S.R.Macfarlane, Lieutenant R.R.Matheson and Lieutenant F.W.Lindsell, formed a guard of honour, the blue and white standard that had been presented to the regiment by the Kings School Parramatta prior to their departure, occupying a prominent position.

 

As the first car, bearing the word “Victory” entered the gates.  The guard of honour stood to attention and the big crowd expressed welcome by rounds of cheers.  From this on there was one continuous roar of cheers until the last car had deposited its freight. The staff has been given instructions to cope with the crowd and in a short time the groups were scattered about the grounds drinking tea and eating cakes, the scene resembling a picnic ground on a holiday.”

A number of the men shared tales about their experiences:

 

“Major Arthur A. White ("Ack Ack" to his men) reported that the trip back was good.  Being one of the original squadron he made claims to having been the last to leave the Peninsula, “although a bronzed young lieutenant avers that he was”.  Lieutenant Stan Gregory didn’t say a word but an admiring cobber says that “he is one of the finest fellows in the world”.  Lieutenant Gregory was awarded a Military Cross for gallantry under machine gun fire at Musallabeh. [5]

 

Major Geoffrey H.L. Harris (“Old Geoff”), an original Anzac, received his decorations for work on the Gallipoli Peninsula and in Palestine.  For stretcher bearing under heavy machine and gun fire at Tel El Khuweilfe, Trooper Stanley Cross, also an original Anzac, was awarded a Military Medal.  He said “six went out and two came back, the patient in the ambulance being shot”. [5] 

 

Sergeant Colin McLeod said he had been awarded his Croix de Guerre for “bombing a few mules” – he had actually “wiped out a whole Turkish patrol by skilful bombing at Umm Esh Shert (called ‘Dirty Shirt’ as it was a filthy hole)”. [5]

 

Second Lieutenant William West was wounded several times at Tel El Khuweilfe but carried on and was awarded a Military Medal. [5]

 

No doubt my grandfather and his mate Herb also had their stories to tell.

 

The following day was Anzac Day.  There was to be no celebration victory march due to the Influenza epidemic.  A public service was held in the Domain and, as recommended for people in public meetings during the epidemic, participants were required to wear masks and to stand three feet apart.

 

Dinner in Honour of Lieutenant Colonel C.H. Granville [6]

 

On Wednesday 18th June 1919, a dinner was given by Veterans of the 1st Light Horse Regiment at The Darlington Cafe to honour Lieutenant Colonel C.H. Granville Commanding Officer of the Regiment during the war and at demobilisation.

 

Brigadier General Cox, retired Commanding Officer of the 1st Light Horse Brigade, stated that General Allenby had told him that “if the Anzac Mounted Division couldn’t do a job then no one else could”.  Lieutenant General Sir Harry Chauvel, Commanding Officer of the 1st Light Horse Brigade at Gallipoli and Commanding Officer of the Desert Mounted Corps, had said: “The First [Light Horse] Brigade had done everything they had been asked to do, and done it well.” [6]

 

Lieutenant Colonel Granville expressed his pride in those who had done their duty so notably and well and he intended to do his utmost to encourage the veterans to preserve the old associations.  In response to the toast to “The Regiment” Lieutenant Colonel Irwin said that “he was proud to speak on behalf of the unit he had been proud to command in the field and on the return to Australia” [6].

 

All members of the 1st Light Horse Regiment were encouraged to attend annual reunions of the 1st Light Horse Regiment Association and general meetings of the 1st Light Horse Veterans (L.H.V.) on the first Tuesday of each month at the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia (R.S. & S.I.L.A.) rooms, Macdonell House, Pitt Street in Sydney.

 

Strong friendships had been forged between the Light Horsemen, bonds that would last a lifetime and beyond.  Although scattered across the state, the men would meet together at Light Horse Veterans’ Meetings, on Anzac Days and at branches of the newly formed R.S.& S.I.L.A. to remember old mates and to honour those whose bodies lie buried in the deres and heights of Gallipoli and the sand and stony ground of the Sinai and Palestine.  There was a larger project in view: the formation of a “Light Horse Association”, to include all mounted units.

 

The Future of the 1st Light Horse Regiment

 

Lieutenant Colonel Philip Vernon, son of Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Venables Vernon, wrote the following:

 

Military Order 364 published in August 1918 stated: “In order to maintain the traditions and perpetuate the records made and distinctions gained by The Australian Imperial Force in the present [WW1] war it has been decided to alter the designation of all C.M.F. and Senior Cadet Units to conform to the numbers borne by the Australian Imperial Force Units abroad”. [7]

 

The 7th Light Horse (New South Wales Lancers) was re-designated 1st Light Horse (New South Wales Lancers), wearing the distinguishing colour patch of light blue and white of the 1st Light Horse Regiment A.I.F.  The unit’s Guidon, presented in 1928, and was emblazoned with Battle Honours:

 

Defence of Anzac                                        Jerusalem

Sari Bair [8]                                                  Jaffa

Rumani                                                         Jericho

Magdhaba – Rafah                                      Jordan (Amman)

Gaza – Beersheba                                       Megiddo [9]

 

The Guidon for the 1st Light Horse Regiment, A.I.F. Boer War and WW1 hanging in St John’s Cathedral Parramatta.

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Endnotes

 

1. Flood A., In the Footsteps of the First: 1st Light Horse Regiment A.I.F, 1916 – 1919. (will be published 2019).

2. The Evening News, Thursday, April 24, 1919 p.2

3. M.L. List No.232. Nominal Roll of Members of the A.I.F. Returning to Australia per H.T. “Ulimaroa” which left Suez on 13.3.19. AWM 31  

4. op. cit., Evening News p.2

5. The Sun Thursday 24 April 1919 p.10. WELCOME TO THE LIGHT HORSE. ULIMAROA

6. The Sun. Saturday 21 June, 1919 p.1. FIRST LIGHT HORSE.

7. Lieutenant Colonel Vernon, P. The Royal New South Wales Lancers 1885 – 1985.  Macarthur Press: Parramatta. 1985. p.175

8. ibid. p.176 Sari Bair – the attack on the Chessboard by the 1st L.H.Regiment August 7, 1915, that was part of the offensive aimed at the capture of the hill mass known as Sari  Bair

9. ibid. p.176 Megiddo – the name given to Allenby’s victory September 18 – 23, 1918.  Regiments of the Anzac Mounted Division that operated on the Eastern flank across the Jordan River were awarded the battle honour “Megiddo” for their contribution to the victory.