ANZAC DAY – 2018
Speech to the City of Geelong
Wednesday 25 April 2018
Lieutenant Colonel Graeme Smith RFD
I am proud to have been invited to address you on this day.
The first ANZAC Day commemoration was held on 25th April 1916. That was 1 year after the Australians landed in Gallipoli on the morning of the 25th April 1915.
In 1916 the first Anzac Day commemorations were marked by a wide variety of ceremonies and services across Australia, including a march through London, and a sports day in the Australian camp in Egypt. In London, more than 2,000 Australian and New Zealand troops marched through the streets.
There are two other dates of significance.
The first is 31st October 1918. This was the date when the war in the Middle East ended.
The second is 11th November 1918, the end of all hostilities in Europe.
This year, 2018 is a century since the end of the First World War.
I would like to refer to the war in the Middle East.
We also remember General Sir John Monash, a great Australian whose successes are well documented and describe the dreadful and costly campaigns that he and many Australians fought on the Western Front from 1916 to 1918.
For Australia, the First World War remains the costliest conflict in terms of deaths and casualties. From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809
men enlisted, of whom more than 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner. This was an enormous price for us to pay.
On 25 April 1918, 100 years today that the second battle for Villers- Bretonneux was fought during which the Australians led by MAJGEN Harold Edward “Pompey “Elliot achieved a glorious victory which saw the German forces defeated and the town reclaimed. There were 2793 Australian casualties in that battle. There is an ANZAC Day ceremony today in Villers Bretonneux to commemorate this event.
But it was in the Middle East, where another famous but not as well-known Australian soldier, General Sir Harry Chauvel, Commander of the Desert Mounted Corps was in action. General Sir Harry Chauvel was born in 1865 in Tabulam on the Clarence River in northern NSW. Chauvel was a man who had extraordinary leadership skills used with compassion for both his men and horses.
The Desert Mounted Corps that Chauvel commanded was a force of 32,000 mounted troops predominately made up of Australian Lighthorsemen but also included New Zealand, British, Indian and French troops. He fought many significant battles in the quest to push the Turkish Army back to Turkey. Those battles included Romani, Magdhaba, First and Second Gaza, Beersheba, Es Salt, Megiddo and finally Damascus. It took a little over a period of 3 years to complete this campaign.
I do want to correct a misconception about the belief that Lawrence of Arabia was the first into Damascus. He was not. On the morning of 1st October 1918, an unassuming Ballarat-born dentist, Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Olden, a commander of the 10th Australian Light Horse Regiment, arrived in the city first. Olden dismounted at the town hall – at dawn on the same day as Lawrence – drew his revolver and entered the city. He was greeted by Governor Emir Said who surrendered the city, declaring the Lighthorsemen the "first of the British army" to arrive. Lawrence arrived several hours later.
There are many stories about the Lighthorse and the men who made up this force. There were 136,000 horses sent from Australia to France and the Middle
East. Besides those horses that were used to move supplies around the battlefield, there were those that were the mounts of the Lighthorsemen. The horses were predominately Walers. A brumby whose characteristics were its stamina, bravery and affable temperament. The name evolved from “New South Wales” where the breed was mainly located. This breed of horse could withstand the high desert temperatures and go large distances without water for anything up to 36 hours. Many of the horses were owned by the men who rode them.
When the Troopers were on patrol in the Sinai, it was not unusual for a horse to be restless and make noises such as snorting, stamping or calling out for a mate. But the riders could silence them by putting their hand on the horse’s neck and the horse would freeze in its position. They could also move through the sandhills silently at night and could rely on one another during these moves.
If a Trooper was shot or injured, there were many instances of the horses carrying the injured man back to the base camp.
The one story that I want to tell you. It’s about an extraordinary horse called Bill the Bastard.
The man who features prominently in Bill the Bastard’s life was MAJ Michael Shanahan. Major Shanahan came from Roma in Queensland. He was the type of leader you would want to serve under when fighting a war. He was courageous and always put the safety of his men before his own. He would never willingly put them in an impossible situation. He led from the front and put himself at risk to pull injured men to safety. Although a carpenter by trade, he was an excellent horseman. He survived Gallipoli and it was there that he noticed a pack horse with amazing strength and endurance.
Bill the Bastard, as he was affectionately known, was a huge 730 kg horse with a cantankerous nature. Bill did not mind hauling 400 kg of heavy equipment uphill or carrying the injured downhill but, he objected vigorously to anyone trying to ride him. The average rider could only last an average fifteen seconds.
He was indeed a handful for even the most experienced and best horse handlers. Bill would buck, kick and bite and caused many broken bones and other injuries as he threw his charges off. He was considered unrideable but useful in other ways because of his strength. He could run for five to six hours where other horses tired in thirty minutes. Shanahan was impressed with Bill’s physical abilities, intelligence and determined character and decided to befriend the horse.
When Shanahan went to Egypt, he gradually managed to coerce the horse into allowing him, but only him, onto his back. When called into the battle at Romani as part of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment, it was Bill that Shanahan was riding. He was still unsure if Bill would revert to his previous behaviour at the Gallipoli front, but Shanahan had no more time to train him further.
Called to the front line, Shanahan rode up and down the lines encouraging and covering his men, dodging bullets and checking for any injured. At one point, when some of his men had been outflanked by the enemy, he rode through the line of fire to locate an injured man and instead found four men without any horses who were unable to escape. With shots exploding around him, Shanahan loaded two into the saddle with him and the other two, got on Bill with one foot in each stirrup.
Carrying 380 kg of human cargo plus equipment, he cantered 1.2 km through soft sand to carry all five men to safety, away from certain death. After having a good drink, Bill was then pawing the ground anxious to go back for more action!
Unwilling to leave his men without their leader, Shanahan returned to the battleground.
Shortly after returning, Shanahan was shot through the leg. Despite this, he kept going for another hour, encouraging his men to push on, until he finally passed out. Bill became aware that he was not receiving commands from Shanahan. Realising that he was in trouble, he gently trotted back to camp, delivering his master to none other than the veterinary hospital!
For his gallantry on this day, Shanahan was awarded a Distinguished Service Order but unfortunately, his injuries were so severe that part of his leg had to be amputated.
Had there been a Victoria Cross for horses, Bill surely earned it that day. Bill’s heroism made him the most famous and respected horse amongst the thousands of horses recruited to serve with the Light Horse troops.
At the end of the war, none of the horses came back to Australia except one. A Waler called Sandy. He was the horse that was ridden by MAJ GEN William Bridges who was killed at Gallipoli in 1915. General Bridges founded the Royal Military College at Duntroon. Sandy came back to Australia in November 1918 and lived his final days in Melbourne on a property near the Maribyrnong River. Sandy died in 1923.
ANZAC Day brings to us many other stories about the actions in which our service men and women have been involved. ANZAC day is a day when we remember and thank all of them in all three services for what they have done for us.
We acknowledge their service together with those from New Zealand who served not only during the First and Second World Wars but also in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and in many other parts of the world in active peacekeeping roles. Today there are 2300 of our service men and women on active duty in a number overseas theatres and postings today.
Today is the day that we think of them and thank them for their service.
Lest we Forget.