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"At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points..." Trooper Ion Idriess

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Wednesday, 4 November 2009
Remount Section, AIF, Happy Dispatches, Chapter XV. “Hell-Fire Jack” by Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson
Topic: AIF - DMC - Remounts

Remount Section, AIF

Happy Dispatches, Chapter XV. “Hell-Fire Jack”

Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson


General Royston (with the walking stick) known as “Hell-Fire Jack”


The following is an extract from Happy Dispatches, Chapter XV. “Hell-Fire Jack” written by Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson. During the Great War, Paterson served with the Remount Section in Egypt and penned this entertaining story of his service. It must be viewed as a "soldier's tale" rather than taken as historically accurate. However, regardless of the exaggerated history, the setting is precise in detailing the running of a Remount Depot. 


Happy Dispatches

Chapter XV. “Hell-Fire Jack”

A man who feared nothing—“He’s gone after two Turks”—Had to try a sniff of gas—Remounts and rough-riders—A general chooses a charger—But selects an Australian buckjumper—Australian admiration for South African.

It is usual on the stage to begin by introducing some minor characters with a view to providing an effective entrance for the star. These minor characters are supposed to stand about in sycophantic attitudes, or to wave their hats with enthusiasm, as the star approaches; and then the audience starts to cheer. It is perhaps as well, therefore, before introducing Lord Allenby, to prepare for his entrance by saying something about “Hell-fire Jack,” otherwise General Royston, by instinct a bandit chief and by temperament a hero, whose name is well known in South Africa, England, and Australia.

But even a Brigadier-General, unimportant as he may be in comparison with a Field-Marshal, is entitled to have some sort of an entrance worked up for him. Let us begin, then, by setting the scene and saying something about the lesser lights (known on the films as “atmosphere”) so that we may get the principals into due perspective.

From a military point of view a remount unit is very much “atmosphere.” So it is opportune to introduce the sixth squadron of the Second Australian Remount Unit, better known as “Methusaliers,” the “Horsehold Cavalry,” and the “Horse-dung Hussars.” Their activities may serve as a foil for those of General Royston. In its un-military appearance and in its efficiency it rivalled the Australian hospital.

At Sea – En route for Egypt.

“W’ere the ’ell wos it we wos?”

Two of the troopers of the sixth squadron of our Australian remount unit had been wandering about the transport, down an alley-way and up a flight of stairs, down another alley-way and up another flight of stairs, until they were hopelessly lost. One was a little jockey enlisted as a rough-rider, and wearing a suit of uniform that fitted him all over and touched him nowhere. The other was an over-age man enlisted as a groom and bearing himself with all the smartness and dignity of a tired shearer.

For truth to tell, our remount unit in appearance, at any rate was about Australia’s last hope.

The country had been combed for efficient fighting men to make up the losses on Gallipoli and the Western front. Then it was discovered that about a quarter of the Light Horse regiments who were fighting on Gallipoli had been left behind in Egypt to look after the horses; and it was decided to organize a couple of hundred rough-riders, possibly the best lot of men that ever were got together to deal with rough horses. Horse-breakers from the back-blocks; steeplechase riders; men who had got their living by riding outlaw horses in shows—a lot of them had hung back from enlisting for fear that they would never be able to learn the drill. But when they heard that they only had to ride buck-jumpers they decided “to give the war a fly.”

All our officers were over age or unable to pass the doctor for fighting units. Not more than two or three of us knew anything about drill; the rest did not even know a sergeant-major from any other major.

November 1915—At Sea. En route for Egypt. Once we are at sea the march of the inextinguishables commences. These men may be old, but they don’t know it. A harassed little Irish non-com. comes up, salutes smartly and says:

“Trooper Whittin’ham wishes to see ye sor.”

Trooper Whittingham, a grizzled veteran from the cattle country with the marks of the scurvy still on the backs of his hands, gives a salute like a man brushing away a fly, and leans his elbows on the table.

Non-com.: “Shun! Stand at attention!”

Straightening up with the weary air of a man playing a child’s game in which he is not interested, Trooper Whittingham starts off in the unhurried style of a man who has a long day’s riding before him and must make his conversation go as far as possible.

“I was jest thinkin’ major,” he says, “that when we git over there I’d like to exchange into one of them fightin’ regiments. I was thinkin’ I’d like to go into the flyin’ corps. I never been up in an airyplane but if a man can sit a horse I suppose he could sit one of them things. I see they gets lost sometimes, and I’ll swear I’d never get lost. I can stick a knife into a tree in a scrub and let ’em lead me about blindfold for ten minutes, and when they take the blindfold off I can go straight back to that tree. Gimme one look at a mob o’ cattle and I’ll tell yer within ten head what there is in ’em so I reckon I could count a mob of Turks even if I was goin’ over ’em at a hundred miles an hour.”

I say: “They only take young men in the flying corps. You want nerves like a goat to go flying. I suppose you want to go as an observer. What would happen to you if the pilot got killed.”

“Cripes, yes, it’d be pretty tough if he got killed and I was left up there and couldn’t come down. I reckon I’d better go for the artillery.”

Enter another of the ageless men, a prospector this time, his hands all calloused from the pick and the drill.

“I suppose, major,” he says, “that a man could get off now and again to do a bit of prospectin’?”

“Prospecting! What do you want to prospect for? There’s no gold in Egypt.”

“No. But them tombs of the Pharoahs, they’re full of golden images and the like of that. If a man could strike one or two of them tombs! I’d get them Egyptians to show me a likely place, and I’d put down a shaft.”

“Put down a shaft. They’re buried under millions of tons of loose sand. You couldn’t put down a shaft.”

“Couldn’t I timber it?”

“No. There’s no timber in Egypt, except the government plantations. If you got cutting down trees there you’d get six months.”

“Well perhaps I could turn a crick (creek) on to it and wash the stuff away. Me an’ my mate we got good gold down near Tumut washin’ twenty feet of alluvial off the top of the pay dirt. What about that?”

“There isn’t a creek in Egypt that’d wash the dirt off a flea. There’s a war on, and you’ve got to look after horses. When it’s over, you can go after the Pharoahs if you like.”

The work of the Remount Depot is to take over the rough uncivilized horses that are bought all over the world by the army buyers; to quieten them and condition them and get them accustomed to being heel-roped; and finally to issue them in such a state of efficiency that a heavily-accoutred trooper can get on and off them under fire if need be.

We had fifty thousand horses and about ten thousand mules through the depot, in lots of a couple of thousand at a time. All these horses and mules had to be fed three times and watered twice every day; groomed thoroughly; the manure carted away and burnt, and each animal had to be exercised every day including Sundays and holidays. His Majesty’s Methusaliers had a perpetual motion job.

Hardly had we got our first shipment of Australian horses—very wild characters some of them— than brigadier-generals began to drop in. Every one of them wanted horses, and each general wanted the best horse; any other general could go and eat coke so far as he was concerned, for every man has to fight for his own hand in the army. Highly placed staff-officers looked in to pass their latest remarks on the war and incidentally to grab a good horse or two for themselves, their friends, or their subordinates. But Allenby’s orders were very strict. No officer, not even a staff popinjay or a brigadier, should be allowed to select a horse for himself. We had to issue the horses. The best had to go to the fighting men; the next best to the staff; and the culls and rejects to the men on lines of communication, camp-commandants, doctors, water-supply officers, and such-like cattle.

Among the first brigadier-generals who made for our depot, as Chinese junks make for port at the first smell of a typhoon, was General Royston who had made a name for himself in South Africa as Commander of Royston’s Horse. He was a square-built energetic man always doing something, a sort of prototype of “Teddy” Roosevelt when the latter was the colonel of the rough-riders.

It is said that there were sixty generals at one time quartered in Shepheard’s Hotel. But Royston was not the Shepheard’s Hotel brand of general—far from it. He had been given command of a brigade of Australian light horse. While it is altogether an admirable thing for a general to set his troops a good example by showing a contempt for danger, it must be admitted that Royston rather overdid it; and his troops alternately admired him and cursed him. It was not that he wanted to show off—he was not that sort of man—but when he got anywhere near a fight, a sort of exaltation seemed to seize him, and he took no more account of bullets than of so many house flies.

“When I’m running a show, Paterson,” he said to me. “I stick my lance in the ground; leave Dangar (his brigade major) in charge, and I go off to see how the boys are getting on.”

He would ride up behind a row of dismounted men firing for their lives and exhort them:

“That’s it boys. Pump it into ’em!” This to the accompaniment of a sotto-voce chorus from the firing line:

“Get out of that you old b——d. You’re drawing the fire on us!” The General Officer Commanding once rode up in a terrific hurry, all sweat and lather to make some alteration in the positions, shouting as he came:

“Where’s General Royston? Where’s General Royston?” An army signaller, who was eating his dinner out of a tin of bully-beef in the shade of his horse, stopped chewing for a moment and pointed to the Turkish lines:

“I last seen him (bite) gallopin’ up that gully (chew) after two Turks (swallow).”

Small wonder then that this thruster was about our first caller when the new lot of Australian horses came in. He rode up all unannounced and said that as he was passing by he had just dropped in to pick out a few horses for his brigade. When he was told that this was forbidden, he said:

“Well at any rate I’ll pick out a horse for myself. You must do the best you can to keep him for me.”

Running his eye over the compound where the horses were walking about stretching their legs, he picked out a magnificent black horse, one of the best-looking officers’ chargers that ever came out of Australia:

“My horses get a lot of work,” he said (which was true beyond any doubt) “and that fellow will just suit me.”

Then came the day when we started on the first mob of horses. General Royston must have had some kind of second sight for he turned up that morning to see the performance:

“There’s no harm in my looking at ’em,” he said. “I’m always up early (it was just on four o’clock in the morning) so I thought I’d ride round to have a look at ’em. Are you going to allot them their horses?”

“No,” I said. “I’ll let Sergeant-major Dempsey do that. He got his living riding buckjumpers in shows in Australia, and he can tell an outlaw through a galvanized-iron fence. A lot of these are old Queensland horses that have been ridden once and then turned out for two or three years.”

“Do you think they’ll buck at all?”

“Well, they’ll surprise me greatly if they don’t. I knew one big supplier in Australia who had shipped all his broken-in horses—about six hundred—and he got a rush order for a hundred more to fill up another ship. He hadn’t a broken-in horse nearer than five hundred miles, so he ran in a hundred unbroken horses and put the Barcoo polish on ’em.”

“Put the what, on ’em? The Barcoo polish. Some drug or other?”

“No. He and his boy ran them into a yard and forced them through a race, one after another, and the two, between them, caught and rode a hundred unbroken horses in two days. That’s a Barcoo polish. They could swear that every horse had been ridden. These men here would rather have one of those horses that knows nothing, than one of these old outlaws that has been ridden till he got a sore back and was then turned out for a couple of years.”

The depot was on the edge of the desert with the waters of the Nile in the background, and beyond the river the pyramids stood clear against the skyline. The General jerked his thumb towards the pyramids”

“From their summits forty centuries look down on us, but I don’t think the pyramids ever saw anything like this. What an outfit!”

The rough-riders had come out carrying their saddles and dressed for action. Field service uniform for a rough-rider consists of a shirt and riding-breeches; no leggings or puttees, and their socks were pulled up outside the ends of their breeches. They wore elastic-sided boots specially made in Australia, with smooth tops so that there would be nothing to catch a rider’s foot in the stirrup. Their saddles, also specially made, had high pommels and cantles with big knee and thigh-pads. Dust rose in clouds from the quiet horses going out to exercise; and as for the flies—there are five elements in Egypt: earth, air, flies, fire, and water, in the order of seniority.

Sergeant-major Dempsey, a six-foot-two Australian, straight as a stringy-bark sapling and equally as tough, took charge of the rough-riding. He had not yet acquired the military method of command. He said:

“Now, you, Bill, get hold of that bay horse,” instead of barking out his orders as a sergeant-major should. Men do not get on rough horses by word of command, they get on when they can.

“Charley, you take that big chestnut fellow. George, you take that black horse with the Battle Abbey brand. We’ll rub some stickfast on your saddle, for they’ll all buck. I was breakin’ in there once, and I never struck such a lot of snakes in me life.”

Having allotted the worst-looking horses to the best riders the sergeant-major says, “Now boys, grab your horses. Get to ’em.” There is a charming lack of formality about the proceedings. One rider begins to croon a song:

’Tis of a brave old squatter, boys, his name was William Binn.
He had two gallant sons was known both near and far,
He had some outlaw horses and none could break them in,
Bo I went down, rough-riding, on old Bulginbar.

“Tiger” Richards, a strapping young horse-breaker from the Riverina, says:

“This is my lucky day: look what I’ve got.” And he drags out a sleepy old bay horse that looks more like a ration-carrier’s hack than an outlaw. But Dempsey is seldom wrong. As soon as the old horse sees the saddle he tries to pull away and drags Tiger and the saddle all over the compound.

“Come on, you silly Queensland cow,” says the Tiger. “Do you think I’m an alligator?”

“Watch him, Tiger,” says Dempsey. “That cove threw Billy Waite (a celebrated rider) in our show in Queensland.”

“He’s struck something better than Billy Waite this time then. Hit him over the rump so as I can get him in the corner and have a few words with him.”

In a moment the compound was full of trouble. Horses were bucking all over the place. A big chestnut horse, as soon as he was mounted, threw himself straight over backwards and narrowly missed pinning his rider to the ground.

A waspish little bay mare refused to move at all when mounted, and crouched right down till her chest nearly touched the ground. It appeared that she was going to roll over, and her rider kicked his feet out of the stirrups. As he did so, she unleashed a terrible spring that shot him out of the saddle and sent him soaring in the air, high enough to see over the pyramids—or at any rate so he said. Some unmouthed brutes bolted back into the compound and fell over the ropes, while others set sail out into the desert as though they were going back to Australia.

Tiger Richards having mounted his horse said:

“He’s mine.” But the next moment he passed us at full gallop, the old horse boring his head down with no more mouth than the Bull of Bashan. “I’m his,” he added as the bolter tore away towards the Nile, where he fell head over heels into an Egyptian grave that had sunk below the level of the surrounding desert. As Richards got up and spat the sand out of his mouth he said:

“That’s the cove to win the war. A million b——y Turks wouldn’t stop him.”

General Royston watched all this without saying anything. But at last he burst out:

“Where’s my black horse, the one I picked for myself?”

“I’ve kept him for the last, sir,” said Dempsey. “I think he’ll show us some style. Bob Adams is going to ride him. He’s an old rider but good. How are you feeling on it, Bob? Would you like me to put one of the boys on him?”

“Not on your life, Jack. I’m just as likely to get hurt off a quiet old cuddy that’d fall down and break my neck. It’s all in the game. If this cove throws me, the saddle and the hide’ll come too.”

They were not shrinking violets, those rough-riders—not so that you would notice it.

The General’s choice was led out and gave little trouble while being handled.

“There you are,” said the General. “What did I tell you. Quiet as a lamb. Best horse I’ve seen in Egypt. Best horse I’ve ever seen anywhere. You must keep him for me.”

They lunged the black horse round for a bit, but he refused to take anything out of himself. Then Adams mounted. Whoof! Away he went arching himself almost into a circle like a watch-spring with his head right in under his girths. Straight ahead, sideways, round and round, backwards, he went in great bounds roaring with rage all the time and shaking and wrenching his rider at every prop and every spring. He wound up by landing, rider and all in an irrigation canal with a splash like the launching of a battleship. Adams could hardly walk when he got off him.

“There you are, sir,” said Dempsey. “He’ll never make a general’s charger. Best thing we can do with him is to sell him to the Turks. He’s an old hand at the game, that fellow; no matter how quiet you get him you couldn’t trust him the length of a whip. He’d be always watching you, and when he got his chance he’d set into it and he’d throw any man in the world out of one of those patent self-emptiers—those slippery army saddles.”

But Royston, like Teddy Roosevelt, did not know the meaning of the words “inferiority complex.”

“I can ride him,” he said. “I can ride anything. I’ll be very hurt, Paterson, if you don’t keep him for me.”

It seemed a good chance to say that he would be very hurt if we did keep him for him; but one doesn’t say these things to a general and off he went followed by admiring comments from the rough-riders:

“That’s Hell-fire Jack. He’d ha’ been shot fifty times, only he won’t keep still long enough for the Turks to hit him.”

We kept the black horse in the depot to give buck-jumping exhibitions which were very popular among the visiting English aristocracy, and created a good impression that we were doing our job. One titled lady asked:

“Do you ride many of the outlaws, Major Paterson?”

“Only those that the men can’t ride.”

Modesty gets no one anywhere in the army.

The gallant General’s inability to keep out of a fight might have landed him in the equivalent of Stellenbosch, or might have earned him the command of a light horse division. On one occasion he arrived at a fight in the desert (I think it was Romani) and found our forces enclosing the Turks on three sides, and apparently awaiting orders to attack. Riding up to one regiment that was waiting the return of its colonel from a conference, Royston called out: “Come on, boys.” The regiment, with howls of exultation, at once followed him. The other regiments, seeing these go in, thought that orders had arrived for an attack, and in half a minute they were all over the Turks. The victory went down to the credit of the man in charge of operations. But Royston had, at any rate, hurried things up. He was in line for a high command when his optimism proved his downfall.

Poison gas had been used by the Germans and experiments were being made with it on the Palestine front. Nothing would do Royston but that he must have a sniff of it. He was one of those men who would try anything once. He was warned against it, but no, he must have just one sniff of it so that he might be able to recognize it if it should ever be used against his troops. The result was that I found him in a hospital, a badly shaken man, passing green urine, and ordered away for long leave. But nothing would daunt him and he spoke most cheerfully of the day he would come back.

So far as I know he never got back. Thus one of the most picturesque personalities in the British army dropped out of active service.


Further Reading:

Remount Section, AIF

The Light Horse

Australian Light Horse Militia

Militia 1899 - 1920

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: Remount Section, AIF, Happy Dispatches, Chapter XV. “Hell-Fire Jack” by Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Friday, 11 December 2009 3:37 PM EAST
The Australian Light Horse, Light Horse Duties in the Field, Part 1, Scouting for Troop Leaders
Topic: AIF - DMC - Scouts

The Australian Light Horse,

Light Horse Duties in the Field, Part 1

Scouting for Troop Leaders


Light Horse Scout in the Sinai, 1916


The following essay called Light Horse Duties in the Field was written in 1912 by Major P. H. Priestley, who at that time was on the C.M.F. Unattached List. The article appeared in the Military Journal, March 1912.

Prior to that Priestley served in South Africa 1901-2 with the 5th South Australian Imperial Bushmen in Cape Colony and Orange River Colony and was awarded the Queen's South African Medal with four clasps. During the inter war years he served with the South Australian Mounted Rifles 1900 - 1910 when he was placed on the unattached list. At the outbreak of the Great War, he enlisted with the 3rd Light Horse Regiment and embarked with "A" Squadron. He was Killed in Action on 3 May 1918.

The following is a 3 part series of this article. A fourth part was attached as his article was critiqued by Major F. A. Dove, D.S.O., A. and I. Staff, in the  Military Journal, May 1912. Both articles give valuable insights in the basic thinking around the use of Light Horse scouts, detailing both theoretical ideas peppered with experience wrung from the recent war in South Africa.

Priestley, PH, Light Horse Duties in the Field, Military Journal, March 1912, pp. 171 - 185.


Light Horse Duties in the Field


(1) Scouting for Troop Leaders

No body of men, however small, should at any time cross the picquet line without having a scout or scouts between it and the enemy. The purpose of these scouts is primarily to become a preventive against surprise. This form of work is the simplest form of scouting, and when acting with the detached mounted troops, all intermediate steps are to be found amongst the operations, between it and the highest, which is that of specially selected scouts acting for some special purpose.

With light horse, every N.C.O. or man who is with his troop usually undertakes at various times at least this step in scouting, so that it can be said of this arm that they are essentially scouting troops. Even in this elementary work is to be found scope for the excellence of a few men over the others, and these men of greater ability become selected for unusual duties of varying importance, till, ultimately, the exigencies of active service not infrequently cause these men to be permanently detailed for the work.

There is no method of working which can well be laid down for scouting unless it is that the scouts should keep well out from their troops, well extended, always in touch, never out of sight of the troop, and always keep their eyes open.

Troop leaders will not be employed in elementary scouting, but it is the troop leader who must instruct his scouts and direct them in their work, and for this reason he should be familiar with scouting in all its branches. Even in the daily work with the guards he cannot assist his scouts, nor work in harmony with them, unless he thoroughly understands the principles.

A troop leader must always support his scouts and see that they are never in want of assistance. Scouts have very difficult work to perform, and it is not every man who will desire to ride up a rise almost alone when an enemy may he expected on its summit. Of course, the general principle of scouting may be looked at in this way: that it is better to sacrifice one or two men than to sacrifice a troop; but this is not the correct aspect of the cage. There is in reality no need to sacrifice at all. There is, of course, always the chance of meeting a murderous fanatical individual who will throw away his own life or freedom for the sake of shooting or killing a scout; but in the ordinary run of warfare, this elementary scouting, if properly carried out, is no more dangerous than ordinary troop work.

Scouts must have thorough confidence in their troop leaders. A scout must know that if he meets with trouble he will not be left to get out of it himself as best he can. If he knows he is being watched and protected, he will work more confidently and with a more free use of his opportunities.

Troop leaders should be always on the look out for signals from their scouts. Series of signals between scouts and their officers may be of use, but usually are unnecessary. The troop leader is, in any case, following his scout or riding parallel to him, and there are only two signals needed, either to assist or to retire. The evidence as to the necessity of the latter is too obvious to need a signal in addition, and consequently any signal made by the scout must be read as indicating a wish on his part for the support of the troop.

An officer may wish to signal his scouts, but a whistle to attract attention, and the signals of silent drill, are all that are required, except a signal to "come in." The correct signal to recall scouts would be, perhaps, the “close," but in the screen, where all the troops are in open order and the squadron separated, such a signal being applicable to all who see it may lead to confusion. A very simple and convenient signal of recall to scouts is made by holding up the head-dress at the full extent of the arm, or better still, by holding it up on the muzzle of a rifle.

If a scout wishes to signal his troop leader he cannot order an increase of pace by signalling the command “trot," or other signal of command. He may however, use the signal of holding up his head-dress on the muzzle of his rifle to indicate a desire for support, i.e., the presence of the troop leader at the post he is on. This is simple, but it is simpler still if the troop leader trots up at once on seeing any unusual movements on the part of his scouts. There is no need for him to wait till the scouts have formed an opinion as to the desirability of calling him up. The troop leader does not wish to act on the opinions and judgments of his 'scouts, but on his own. Not their judgment on unusual incidents, but the occurrence of unusual incidents is the matter he wishes knowledge of from his scouts; and since unusual movements of his scouts must be caused by some unusual circumstance, these movements are in themselves the indication he wants; and he should press up to them at an increased pace at once, without waiting to know if the scouts think the circumstances under notice are of value or not. Any elaborate series of signals from scouts to troop leaders in the screen are unnecessary, as all the latter has to do is to increase his pace and see for himself.

The evidence of the necessity for retirement or the checking of a troop that has been termed too obvious for a signal in addition, is heavy rifle fire, or this following on the capture of a scout. Heavy rifle fire, not the fire from guns, is the only legitimate reason for a troop checking its movement. The capture of a scout is in itself not sufficient reason, it must be followed by heavy rifle fire that is too severe to permit of a rescue.

That is the standard rule, but without paradox, the exact converse of the last sentence is an urgent reason for checking the movement of even a troop of the advance guard and placing it under cover. If the capture of a scout is seen, and absolutely no rifle fire at all follows on the troop increasing its pace, the troop must be checked and taken to cover before it enters the zone of effective fire of the occupied position. The correct inference is that the enemy know they are sufficiently strong and securely placed to crush the troop in the attempt at rescue at close range. Reserved fire after disclosing the occupation of the position is an indication of strength. In other words, the enemy, who can see the positions and strength of both forces, indicate their belief that their ambush is effective by reserving their fire for close range, as opposed to the principle of the defence, keeping the attack at long range. The troop leader who encounters this special case must halt under cover and send back word of the nature of the occurrences to his squadron leader, that he may get his squadron well in hand before making the attack; and if he considers it advisable, he will report to the brigadier, so that the advance can be made under the cover of shell fire from the column.

Though the position and presence of the ambush have been indicated, yet the strength of the force in occupation has not, since there has been no rifle fire. It is to he taken that this force is not inferior to the troops which are immediately supporting the scouts, and that it is prepared to deal with them in a similar manner. It is absolutely necessary that the support be strengthened, and this can be done by delaying the advance guard till the main body of the column is in close touch so that the movement to the attack can be under the eye, and possibly direction, of the brigadier.

For this reason, if for no other, a scout must never place a skyline between his troop leader and himself, though this does not include the case of one or two scouts of a section whose other members remain in sight and are in close touch with them. A troop leader has to judge by the actions of his scouts, not by the messages they send back, and how can he see them if they cross a skyline? If a scout is captured, it should be in full view of the troop leader, so that he can see what has happened, as in this case, least of all, it is not possible for a scout to send other signal or message.

A troop leader will avoid sending scouts where he would not go himself. In ordinary work, an officer leads his troops into action, but he sends his scouts.

He must, consequently, never send them so that they bear the brunt of an action, but must only use them to find the enemy. In other words, if the troop leader expects, from some tangible reason, to find the enemy on a certain position, it is not for him to keep out of range and send on his stouts, and then when they are fired on, to wait where he is for support to comma up. Sending his scouts to his front necessitates that a troop leader be prepared to follow at a gallop at any moment. It is even better, on perceiving this tangible reason, that if a glance around shows him to be well in touch, to gallop at once.

In screening, scouts are for the purpose of finding out whether positions encountered are occupied by the enemy. By scouting the ground the troop is enabled to move forward at the even pace of the column it protects, knowing that the enemy must disclose itself in sufficient time.

The value of scouts may be appreciated when it is remembered that a troop of fifteen or twenty men is moving over hostile ground at a considerable distance or interval from any support. Yet scouting affords sufficient cover for a troop to 'work under, as long as it is in touch. If it is properly done, not only is the troop leader warned of an impending attack, but the enemy is prevented from estimating the value of the force opposing them. When the scouts occupy the sky-line between the troop and the enemy, the latter cannot form any idea of the force covered. It may be an isolated troop or one with a large support at hand; and while this cannot be determined, an enemy will always hesitate to attempt to cut off.a troop. What the guards are to the main body of a column, so are the scouts to a troop.

The system of utilizing smaller bodies of troops to seek out the enemy and to cover the advance of larger bodies supporting them is universal in the advance of an army. The outermost body of all is the chain of scouts, and the term scout may be defined as being the component of the extreme outer fringe of the screen of a moving army. There is nothing outside this line, unless, indeed, it be the single man sent out by the N.C.O. of a scouting section to ascertain the friendliness or enmity of a hesitating body of unknown men in front, or special scouts detailed for special work.

Scouts must be placed between every troop of the screen and the enemy, on whatever sides of it that may be exposed, so that it is not possible for an enemy to attack it unobserved from any direction. The task of a troop leader in the screen is a difficult one, and he can only execute it by taking every advantage the ground affords. He himself must be responsible for touch with his support by moving his troop in unison with it, and must occupy all positions within rifle shot between him and the enemy with his scouts.

A troop leader should always train his scouts to work in touch with his troop alone, except in the special case of the flank guard advance troop, and to take their direction from it only. By this means, he can at once change their objective to any position, or away from it, as he himself decides it is within the scope of his work or not, by wheeling the troop to a distinct angle towards or away from it, and can push them out or stop them by increasing the pace or halting for a short interval.

Scouting varies in certain particulars with the guard duty with which the troop is engaged, but the principles are the same, and a good scout is equally at home with them all. All scouts will work at a wide interval, about 150 yards, or not less than 50, but on attaining the summit of a position and while awaiting the oncoming of the troops they should move in to occupy its most commanding point. Troop leaders must remember that scouting is a difficult duty, and must see that scouts are afforded every advantage chance offers. It is preferable as a rule to move a troop at its own inconvenience to save the scouts from difficulty in negotiating the features of the country, rather than the converse.

Whenever a troop leader reaches, the summit of a hill or other high ground, he should halt his troop below the sky line and dismount the men to rest their horses. He himself should take this opportunity of examining the country before him with his glasses, and of observing the movements and position of the main body and troops co-operating with him. He should also endeavour to find his position on his map, and to identify with it the most prominent features of the landscape.

During this examination of the country through his glasses should the troop leader believe that he can see a convoy, or a force of troops at such a distance that its existence may be doubtful, he should mark its position, and after completing his survey should redirect his attention to it to ascertain if it has moved at all.

No troop leader should ever work so that he is in any way depending one troop of another squadron for scouting. This particularly applies to troops in the screen near the junctions of the several guards.

A fundamental principle of the system of using scouts in the screen is that they shall prevent the occurrence of the unexpected. Therefore, a troop leader entirely misses the object of his duty if he does not use scouts in a certain direction merely because he does not expect to encounter the enemy there.

A troop leader should see that his scouts are detailed for duty as soon as possible after he himself is. If the scouts are allowed to move off at once they have leisure to scout the opening positions carefully, a not unimportant point when the enemy have had the previous night to arrange their plan of operations. Scouts always work better if thus at the outset they move off in their own time instead of being rushed out at the last minute to get ahead of the troop.

When a troop attacks at a gallop it usually happens that its scouts are ahead of it, and so become apparently a small force charging in front of the troop. It is, however, one of the little differences between practice and theory. If fire has been drawn the scouts will probably be hesitating while the troop increases its pace. If fire has not been drawn there is no disadvantage in having them in front, but rather the contrary. The principal thing in an occasion of this kind is that the charging troop shows a bold determined front, and if the scouts are not in front of it they will be with it. Scouts, will always keep with their troop in the firing line, and remain there until ordered out again.


Previous: Brigade Scouts

Next: Part 2, The Scouts of the Screen


Further Reading:

Brigade Scouts

The Light Horse

Australian Light Horse Militia

Militia 1899 - 1920

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: The Australian Light Horse, Light Horse Duties in the Field, Part 1, Scouting for Troop Leaders

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Thursday, 10 December 2009 10:27 PM EAST
Tuesday, 3 November 2009
The Battle of Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, 25 April 1915, New Zealand Field Company Engineers War Diary
Topic: BatzG - Anzac

The Battle of Anzac Cove

Gallipoli, 25 April 1915

New Zealand Field Company Engineers War Diary 


War Diary account of the New Zealand Field Company Engineers.


The following is a transcription of the War Diary of the New Zealand Field Company Engineers, of their role in the landings at Anzac on 25 April 1915.


25 April 1915

Port Mudros

9 am - On board HMT A26 Gostar. Left Port Mudros at 9 am arriving about 3 pm of beach between Kaba Tepe and Fisherman's Hut (Squares 224 G/L) where landing had been established this morning by ANZAC.

Gallipoli Peninsula

3 pm - 4 Officers and 14 Other Ranks landed at 6 pm leaving transport by destroyer at about 5 pm and disembarking into small boats close in to the beach. Captain Simon as MTO and Lieutenant Paine in charge of Drivers and Tools car - men left on transport.

6pm - midnight - making reserve trenches on Hill Square 224 L6-9.

26 April 1915

Midnight - 7am - Parties told off for making gun emplacements on both north and south flanks of landing beach.

7am - 6 pm - Bivouacked on hill (facing beach) 224 L1-L5. Shrapnel bombardment drove us out for about 2 hours to shelter on beach (224 L7)

Officer Commanding and party surveying for new road (224 L3-6) came under rifle fire and Captain McNeill wounded in leg. One man hit by bullet whilst in bivouac.

6 pm - Shifted bivouac to Square 224 G5.

7 pm - midnight - Now section making gun emplacements for Howitzers.


War Diaries

All War Diaries cited on this site should be read in conjunction with the Australian Light Horse Studies Centre, AIF War Diaries of the Great War, Site Transcription Policy which may be accessed at:

Australian Light Horse Studies Centre, AIF War Diaries of the Great War, Site Transcription Policy 


Further Reading:

The Battle of Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, 25 April 1915

The Battle of Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, 25 April 1915, NZEF Roll of Honour

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: The Battle of Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, 25 April 1915, New Zealand Field Company Engineers War Diary

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Friday, 16 April 2010 12:46 PM EADT
The Australian Light Horse, Light Horse Duties in the Field, Part 2, The Scouts of the Screen
Topic: AIF - DMC - Scouts

The Australian Light Horse,

Light Horse Duties in the Field, Part 2

The Scouts of the Screen


Light Horse Scout in the Sinai, 1916


The following essay called Light Horse Duties in the Field was written in 1912 by Major P. H. Priestley, who at that time was on the C.M.F. Unattached List. The article appeared in the Military Journal, March 1912.

Prior to that Priestley served in South Africa 1901-2 with the 5th South Australian Imperial Bushmen in Cape Colony and Orange River Colony and was awarded the Queen's South African Medal with four clasps. During the inter war years he served with the South Australian Mounted Rifles 1900 - 1910 when he was placed on the unattached list. At the outbreak of the Great War, he enlisted with the 3rd Light Horse Regiment and embarked with "A" Squadron. He was Killed in Action on 3 May 1918.

The following is a 3 part series of this article. A fourth part was attached as his article was critiqued by Major F. A. Dove, D.S.O., A. and I. Staff, in the  Military Journal, May 1912. Both articles give valuable insights in the basic thinking around the use of Light Horse scouts, detailing both theoretical ideas peppered with experience wrung from the recent war in South Africa.

Priestley, PH, Light Horse Duties in the Field, Military Journal, March 1912, pp. 171 - 185.


Light Horse Duties in the Field


(2) The Scouts of the Screen.

Since scouting is a duty of every day, scouts will usually be detailed fro," their troops by roster. It follows, however, that unless precautions are taken the scouting will vary according as the roster details the best men grouped in one or two sections or the worst grouped similarly. The precaution against this is to insist that each N.C.O. who is a section leader must be a good scout, so that his section is capable of good work though it may include indifferent men as well. Then if in the syllabus of competition for section leadership to lead the remaining sections of the troop the element of scouting largely prevails, it will follow that, each section is commanded by a good scout. Moreover, since this system selects the good scouts and divides them amongst the several sections as leaders, it follows that the indifferent scouts are also divided, and the scouting ability of the sections is approximately uniform.

Scouts in front of a troop ride with an interval of about a hundred or more yards between files.

A good scout will never waste time during the ascent of a rise he will let nothing attract his attention till he is on its summit.

When approaching a hill a scout should always select what part of it seems to offer the easiest ascent, and direct his path to it from a distance. Scouts ought not to ride in anything like a straight line, but as Lang as they are observing the whole of the ground allotted to them they should vary a hundred yards or so to either side, it does not matter if two are thus brought close together, it prevents a hidden enemy from forming any opinion as to whether or not a scout is likely to miss seeing him. Following an irregular line or path it is impossible, to say with any certainty which part of the hill he is about to cross.

The section should open out so that each scout ascends by a different path. It is not a matter of concern if they should lose sight of one another in doing so, as long as each is under the troop leader's eye.

When the hill is steep and rocky, so that it affords plenty of cover, the scouts may expect to draw fire, but may remember that such a hill has usually cover for them also if they need it. If the hill is precipitous a scout may know that it is almost impossible to fire straight downwards with anything like accuracy, and should consequently get as close to the cliffs as possible. Even on bare hills some cover may be expected. The minor watercourses are rarely so regular that they afford no protected approach to near the summit. Then again there is the dead ground of the contour. Every convexly sloped hill yields cover from its base to some distance up, and on concave slopes, dead ground may sometimes N' found near the summit. Usually the heads of minor watercourses provide dead ground near their origin, and consequently close to the summit of the hill.

A scout when doing duty with a picquet should notice the form of ground that is most easily watched, and note the minor features which need special attention. He will find that the general run of hills are convex, and that there are numerous minor watercourses running upwards that are entirely disregarded by a picquet on the crest, and there is the dead ground at the base. The picquet watches the opposite hill and the entrance to the dead ground between, but when once a scout has crossed to this dead ground he is lost sight of, and may approach unseen. This disappearance of scouts is very provocative of premature firing. The scouts being lost sight of there is no way of knowing where next they will appear, and their troop will be approaching over the skyline behind them. It is very unusual for fire to be reserved under such a combination of circumstances.

Scouts ascending a hill should make their objective that part of its crest which presents the lowest skyline. By doing this they so much the sooner see what is beyond it, as there is less climbing, they can expect to find that part at least unoccupied, as picquets usually hold the highest knolls, and their course to the toll or saddle leads them in the neighbourhood of the minor watercourses and the cover they afford, and moreover the approach to the skyline is less conspicuous at a distance as it will be under cover of the higher ground on both flanks.

The course of a scout up a minor watercourse of a hill leads him naturally to a saddle if one is present, and takes the fullest advantage of dead ground, even possibly between two picquet posts if they are at all badly situated with regard to convex slopes. No scout should ever ride up the spur to the highest point of a ridge or hill. The knolls and commanding positions are only to be attempted by scouts after inspection of the ground beyond.

A scout must always avoid showing himself over a skyline until he has seen beyond it himself. It is the only way to effect a surprise in the daytime. A useful hint to remember is this, that while he can see nothing over it, nothing can see him, and when he can just see an object the top of his head will be only visible. If he has seen something of importance while thus approaching a skyline, he can signal to his troop leader. It is beyond the duty of scouts in the screen to estimate the importance of what they see that there may be something unusual is all that concerns them. This may be illustrated by supposing that a scout can just see over the skyline a portion of a horse with a saddle on. That is why he signals to his troop leader; he would be exceeding his duty if he made any attempt to see anything further. A scout alone can do very little but see, and the duty of the troop leader is to gain information at first hand, not to commence an elaborate attack on a hill because his scouts can see something beyond it. So too it must be if a scout sees waggons or a gun crossing a distant skyline.

Once having seen the country over the skyline, the concealment of a scout becomes of less importance as the advance guard, supports, and the whole column will soon be crossing it. Then it is that the scouts of a troop may attend to the knolls and scan what is before them from the more commanding points. It is then that the men who compose the scouting section may close in and speak between themselves of the work done and to be done. There they may remain if the aspect is extensive till the troop leader reaches them, and receive his comments or instructions. This halting of scouts on commanding positions is very useful, as it assists in maintaining a closer touch between the scouts and the troop, and it gives the troop leader a greater control of the scouting.

As a rule scouts should avoid remaining in one place, but rather should be always on the move. Their work is not to hold a position, it is to see. It is very seldom that a knoll is such that a section of scouts grouped together can see everything around it from one spot. It is only by a habit of being always on the alert that a man will become a scout. Each movement will afford some difference in the field of view, and as a rule positions that command an appreciable space of country are rare. A scout who rides up to a skyline, and showing himself at once waits on the same spot till ho may proceed, is not doing his duty. He would probably be limiting his view to half* of what may have been possible to him. Moreover such a scout is one that an enemy would wait for. A scout when he has shown himself, and at the same time shown himself to be smart and alert, rives a watching enemy the impression that no good can ensue from waiting for him.

A scout will never ride over a skyline till his troop is at least ascending the hill he is on. This must on no account be varied. Scouts are of use only as long as they are seen, if out of sight they are out of touch. Once out of sight a scout may be ambushed and captured, while his troop follows him into the trap. Unless this is absolutely adhered to, each skyline as it is encountered presents the opportunity for an ambush, since each body in turn can be caught as it crosses and becomes out of touch with its support.

The ground between ridges should be rather hurried over, especially the descent, so that time is afforded the scouts to work the skylines properly. If waiting on a crest till the troop leader arrives, they recommence their advance at a gentle canter, there is no better way of varying the steady walk that is the usual pace of the column.

On the whole, scouts should move somewhat faster than their troops, on account of the greater extent off ground they have to cover. They should habitually adopt a rather haphazard direction in preference to riding straight on their objective. The best scouts when working appear to be wandering in an aimless manner from one hill to another, and yet remain approximately in front of their troops. Each seems to turn to his right or left as his fancy takes him, but he is examining all points of the ground. The scout who rides from point to point indicates his path for some distance ahead. Hoe will prove effective in drawing fire as the temptation to wait for him is usually too great.

A very useful pace for a scout is a jig-jog trot. A horse accustomed to this pace covers an enormous amount of country with little fatigue, and by changing it to a walk in ascending a hill the horse experiences a certain relief to counteract the uphill work. Moreover, a horse that is accustomed to this pace in screening work is less fatigued by the monotony of long marches in the main body at the one pace. Horses that are fast walkers or that amble are very useful, but others soon learn the jig-jog, and the movement becomes an easy one from use to both the horse and rider. What is known as the pace or triple, is also an excellent accomplishment for a scout's horse. These remarks do not, of course, apply to the trained horses of regular regiments.

When scouts encounter an isolated hill or the end of a prominent spur run ring across their path, they do not want to ride over it as much as to see what is beyond it. This is best done by certain of the party riding around it while the others deal with it in the usual way. Often a certain amount f co-operation between the scouts of two or more troops can be used in such a case as this.

Scouts must be continually on the alert for any change of direction on the part of their troops, and will frequently look back to observe such as soon as it occurs. Apart from the general question of touch, by making minor changes of direction which do not affect the general line taken a troop leader can indicate to his scouts what ground he wishes them to scout or avoid.

It may not infrequently occur that an almost precipitous hill lies at a distance to the flank of the route of march, so that rifle fire from it would reach the column at long range, and yet the location of the hill and difficulty attending its ascent seem to put it rather beyond the scope of the flank troops of the advance guard. In this case it will be a flank guard position, and does not need the attention of the advance guard. If the latter were to deal with it so much time would be expended that in all likelihood the column would be passing it with an opening in the screen caused by the delay of this troop of the advance guard.

The correct way to deal with it from the point of view of a flank troop of the advance guard is to avoid it by closing in to the centre troop so as to be under only long range fire from it. The scouts should seek protection of its cliffs by going close to it. They may in this way draw fire from it, but a downward fire from the summit would be of little consequence, while useful information in regard to its occupation may be obtained for the flank guard.

It sometimes happens that the flanking troop or scouts of an advance guard are working along the crest of a ridge that runs, almost parallel with the line of march and then curves away so as to become beyond the scope of the screen. In this case the scouts are apt to leave the ridge in a slanting direction parallel with the line of march By doing this they move for some distance under an unoccupied skyline, which is bad. The correct line for the scouts to work on would be to follow the crest of the hill for some distance further outside, and then leave it by galloping in a slanting direction in towards the column, but square with the crest of the ridge. In this way the scouts get clear of the ridge' at once on leaving it.

In ascending a ridge of similar nature that curves in towards the line of march the same plan should he followed. The scouts should turn outwards from the column so as to encounter it squarely, and will resume their interval with the column as the ridge approaches its line of march.

A scout should always bear in mind that the curve of trajectory affords safety, and that an enemy will as a rule never fire at a single man while there are larger targets available. Knowledge of those two points will often enable a scout to move confidently even under fire. The case especially occurs when some dead ground is covered from hostile rifle fire beyond it, and there is need to see if it is unoccupied or otherwise.

A valuable hint to a scout is that there is nothing more puzzling to an enemy who is watching him than to use his cover (that of the enemy) for concealment.

When a scout is using dead ground below the crest of a convex hill he is doing this, and the principle can be extended so that a scout expecting that he is being watched by an enemy behind an isolated knoll or patch of timber or a house may, by avoiding to show himself to that side of the cover which he believes to be occupied by the watching enemy, know that he is moving in dead ground.

Whenever the main body of the column halts the scouts will remain on the ground they occupy in front of the screening troops as observation posts, but if they happen to be with the troop on a commanding position there is no occasion for them to push out till shortly before the column resumes its march. Should the halt be for the purpose of camp, the scouts or observation posts will be recalled unless the local conditions at the time need an observation post in front of the picquet line of the camp. The object of this is to prevent the necessity of the scouts having to re-occupy any points they have previously abandoned, when the column moves on. If the scouts of the enemy see the post retiring, they are certain to occupy it at once in the search for information, and from this cause the re-occupation of an abandoned post is always uncertain work. This applies to the scouts of the advance and flank guards only, as the scouts or pointers of the rear guard do not hold their ground, but fall back on their troop. In the latter case a movement on the part of the column may not be expected to entail the reoccupation of the ground vacated.

The case of an attack being developed against a column which first opens against the scouts is worthy of attention. The scouting sections analogous to the observation posts of a picquet line are beyond the line of resistance, but unlike them are connected with a support which is mounted and ready for instant use. From this latter it occurs that the action of observation posts and scouting sections differ when attacked. With the former the supports, in addition to the picquet which must not move off its post and so is not available for the purpose, are at least dismounted and in camp. The time that would be needed to mount a force and move it to support a weak post in advance of the picquet line would afford the enemy such an interval that they could overcome the observation post if it waited for the purpose. Hence observation posts will retire on to the picquet line as being the line of resistance, and there assist the picquet to hold the ground till reinforcements arrive.

On the other hand with scouting sections the support necessary to push out beyond the line of resistance is available at an instant's notice, and local conditions should decide whether the scouts are to retire or to be supported by their troops. The control of the matter is however, under the troop leader. Scouts are allowed to dismount and fire only on condition that they are situated on an excellent commanding position and their firing is a signal to the troop leader that the position they occupy affords a field of fire on the enemy. It remains with the troop leader to use it or not. If he decides to use it he must move towards it as soon as he sees his own movement is supported, or will entail no loss of touch, so that the scouts can be made aware of his purpose. If, on the contrary, he will not go out to it, then his continuing the regular guard work will indicate to the scouts by his disregarding their action that they are to cease fire.

The latter case of a troop leader declining to move out to the ground the scouts hold applies to flank guards, especially because it is their duty to maintain a defence along the line of resistance parallel with the line of march. With this guard it is the exceptional case for a troop to move out beyond the screen, and is only to be done when the troop leader sees his squadron leader bringing up the supporting troop towards him, and if the position is obviously a simple one, that does not entail by its occupation the occupation of other ground in addition.

With the advance guard there is less option, but even though the principle of the work of this guard is to press on, some caution must be exercised. As a rule, whenever the scouts of an advance guard open fire their troops will push up to develop a firing line on the ground they hold, but even this must only be done while the troops continue in touch with their supports. If the troop leaders persistently follow their scouts every time they open fire, they will be apt to get so far ahead of their supports that the advance guard may be cut off, and thus afford the opportunity of that form of attack which is one of the most likely to be disastrous to a mounted column, the delivery of a surprise attack between the advance and flank guards on the guns and troops of the main body in column of route.

In the case of an attack on the scouts or pointers of the rear guard, there is to be no attempt made to hold a position; the scouts must retire.

The rule for scouts holding their ground when attacked becomes this, that they never attempt to do it unless supports are pushed out immediately on their opening fire. Beyond the instance of inferiority of numbers there is only one exception to this rule, and that occurs with the flank scouts of the flank troops of the rear guard. These, if well situated in respect to the rear troops of the flank guard, and in such touch with their troop that they become an extension of its firing line to that flank, will hold their ground. Their real duty is, however, not so much to increase the strength of the rifle fire, as to maintain a watch over movements of the enemy, so as to have early information of any attempt on his part to enfilade the firing line that the troop has established.


Previous: Part 1, Scouting for Troop Leaders

Next: Part 3, Scouts, Pointers, and Connecting Files of the Flank Guard


Further Reading:

Brigade Scouts

The Light Horse

Australian Light Horse Militia

Militia 1899 - 1920

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: The Australian Light Horse, Light Horse Duties in the Field, Part 2, The Scouts of the Screen

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Thursday, 10 December 2009 10:25 PM EAST
Monday, 2 November 2009
The Australian Light Horse, Light Horse Duties in the Field, Part 3, Scouts, Pointers, and Connecting Files of the Flank Guard
Topic: AIF - DMC - Scouts

The Australian Light Horse,

Light Horse Duties in the Field, Part 3

Scouts, Pointers, and Connecting Files of the Flank Guard


Light Horse Scout in the Sinai, 1916


The following essay called Light Horse Duties in the Field was written in 1912 by Major P. H. Priestley, who at that time was on the C.M.F. Unattached List. The article appeared in the Military Journal, March 1912.

Prior to that Priestley served in South Africa 1901-2 with the 5th South Australian Imperial Bushmen in Cape Colony and Orange River Colony and was awarded the Queen's South African Medal with four clasps. During the inter war years he served with the South Australian Mounted Rifles 1900 - 1910 when he was placed on the unattached list. At the outbreak of the Great War, he enlisted with the 3rd Light Horse Regiment and embarked with "A" Squadron. He was Killed in Action on 3 May 1918.

The following is a 3 part series of this article. A fourth part was attached as his article was critiqued by Major F. A. Dove, D.S.O., A. and I. Staff, in the  Military Journal, May 1912. Both articles give valuable insights in the basic thinking around the use of Light Horse scouts, detailing both theoretical ideas peppered with experience wrung from the recent war in South Africa.

Priestley, PH, Light Horse Duties in the Field, Military Journal, March 1912, pp. 171 - 185.


Light Horse Duties in the Field


(3) Scouts, Pointers, and Connecting Files of the Flank Guard.

Connecting files are always to be detailed for use between the advance troop of the flank guard and the flank troop of the advance guard, and between the rear troop of the flank guard and the flank troop of the rear guard. These may often appear to be useless on account of the closeness of touch between the troops in question, but if the occasion for their need arises it may be a very urgent one, and they should be either already in place or at least detailed to move out to it at the instant.

The connecting tiles between the advance troop and the flank of the advance guard will take their direction from their own troop, but will work so as to be relatively in the direction of the advance guard troop, and will divide the distance between the two troops, so that they ride midway between them. This provides that their troop leader knows from the distance he is behind them how far he is from the troop in front of them.

These connecting files though detailed to work between two troops must always be prepared to scout the ground in front of them. For this reason they should habitually move in open order extended to 25 yards between files. If they work at a greater interval they would be difficult of recognition! in their character of connecting files, if less it would be too small for their duty as scouts if the occasion arises. At any time a change of direction may cause the flank troop of the advance guard to gallop away from touch in front of the flank guard, and if scouts were not provided the front of that troop would be open until the change had been completed by that guard also.

Whenever the section detailed for this duty become scouts as in the above case, or when their troop is working outside the advance guard flank, they should open out, but will resume the lesser interval on regaining their place in rear of the advance guard troop. If men are trained to work in this method, the troop leader can see by a glance at the interval between his scouts or connecting files whether they are following the flank of the advance guard or not, and that is why a specific interval much less than that used by scouts is given for use here.

The connecting files detailed for duty from the rear troop of a flank guard should, as a rule, be used. When circumstances show them to be unnecessary they can ride in the troop though already detailed for instant use if the circumstances change.

There is no need for them to use a specific interval, as they will not be constantly under their troop leader's eye. He will expect them to send one man up to inform him if the rear guard is being delayed, and if it is apparent to them that such delay has not been noticed by him. Previous to making any increase in pace to lessen the distance between his troop and the centre one, the troop leader will always look back for the flank troop of the rear guard, and see how the purposed movement will affect them, and in doing so will see that his connecting files are sufficient for the purpose, or, if otherwise, will regulate hip: work so as to make them so.

The connecting files of the rear troop of the flank guard will work normally as if they were pointers to it, but will work in close touch with their flank troop of the rear guard, informing their troop leader by messenger if difficulty is occurring through the delay of the rear guard.

The scouts on the flanks of the flank troops of the advance guard rear guards and on the flanks of the flank guards, have slightly different work to perform than those in front of the advance guard troops, or those of the advance troops of the flank guards. Their duty is to ride on the flank at such an interval as to prevent a surprise attack being made from that direction, and to allow the; troops they cover time to prepare for any attack that may be impending.

A great point of difference between the two duties is that whip advance scouts have to look for a concealed enemy who has had time to prepare his position, the flanking scouts have only to watch for an attack developing. For this purpose they may ride at any distance from their troop, so that they have the ground constantly under observation up to 3,000 yards from it.

The distance from the troop usually is about 1,000 or 1,500 yards according to ground, but it is permissible for good scouts to considerably exceed this. The permissibility is afforded when, the line of resistance is a well-marked feature, and the troop moving along it has under its observation the ground up to long, if not distant range. The value of allowing this wide scouting consists in presenting the unexpected to an enemy near by.

By the time the flank guard of a column is passing a point a very good general idea of its line of march and frontage have been given to an enemy who has watched its movements in regard to that point. From this he can expect the line of safety to him to be a well indicated line at a regular distance outside the scouts of that flank guard. Having ascertained this line of safety he may make use of it by concealing hiss transport, guns, or troops in the ground beyond it with the intention of evading action with the column, so that he may press forward on a reconnaissance, or escape from a superior force, or confuse the brigadier's information as to his whereabouts. The knowledge of the position of this line of safety outside the flank guards of a column is valuable information to an enemy, and a flank scout pushed out beyond it is the unexpected that sometimes upsets calculations.

Scouts with the flank guards usually move either in single file with 50 or more ands distance between them, or in half sections equally open.

In a typical case of a flank guard working where it is moving along the crest of a ridge parallel to the line of march, the troop itself will be just under the skyline on the side towards the column while the scouts will be beyond it, but not so that they are not under the observation of the troop leader. It is here that the movement in half sections for the scouts gains the preference, as while the line of scouts is in touch with the troops the outer scouts of the half sections can direct their march so as to prevent dead ground being caused through convex slopes, since they are again beyond those watched by the hoop leader, and still in touch with them.

It may often happen, however, that the hollows between the ridges or hills may not be sufficiently wide to afford scouted ground to the required amount being obtained. A ridge running parallel with that occupied by the flank guard at about a thousand yards from it is too close to allow unscouted ground to exist beyond it, as rifle fire can be directed over the latter by aid of the curve of trajectory, so as to fall on the column itself. In this case it is correct for the flank guard to maintain its position on the line of resistance, that is the nearest skyline, and to push its scouts out on to the second.

As a general rule the work of a flank scout is such that he cannot be fired on at less than 1,000 or 1,500 yards, silica he should allow no unscouted ridge to be within that distance of him. It is not meant by this that the flank scouts have any important frontal scouting to do in obtaining this result, since the only flank scouts that have any frontal work at all to do are those on the flank troop of the advance guard and the advance troop of the flank guard when it is working outside the former, and though all positions these scouts encounter have to be considered also from a frontal point of view, as they are the first to cross them, yet they have bpi enfiladed previously by the advance of other scouts. Any body of the enemy that attempts to move up to fire at a closer range on a flanking scout should have to do so under the observation of the scout, and since the flank guard work is that of defence, such a body must be kept at a distance by establishing a danger zone in front of it.

It sometimes happens that the exposed flank of a guard is towards a wide valley, so that the country is under the observation of the troop leader himself for a distance of perhaps 3 or more miles. In this case the scouts should be drawn in close to the troop as they can do no good ay being out. They would nave been on lower ground than the troop leader, and would have been able to have seen even less than he could. Moreover, the less efficient the scouts happen to be, the more apt will they be in circumstances of this kind to venture out beyond support in the endeavour to see something. This does not of course apply where there may be dead ground from convex contours in the watercourses. It is an exception to this when good scouts are purposely pushed out to supply the enemy with the unexpected.

It is only thoroughly efficient scouts who should be so used, ' as they must depend on themselves only if they encounter the enemy, and must know in such a case that their horses' legs will prove of more use, than their rifles. For a troop leader to push his troop out to assist scouts who have been working badly is verb often only to involve it with them, as there will then be a whole troop instead of only its scouts that has to be withdrawn. The best assistance that can be sent to men in such a trouble is an order to retire at once.

Scouts who notice the sudden appearance and disappearance of hostile scouts between them and the horizon in apparently flat open country, must draw their troop leader's attention to it, and the facts must be outlined to the squadron leader immediately. The correct inference is that there is hollow ground, and that the enemy are in possession of it, but since there is no indication of whether the force in occupation is a small one or a large one, the whole guard should be warned to expect an attack.

This method of bringing up troops is especially suited for an attack against a flank guard, and in the methods of dealing with it be perhaps certain distinctive features of flank scouting.

The point of danger is usually to be found in a depression that curves in towards, or crosses the line of march, since this permits of bringing the force under cover the whole way up to the striking point. Especially dangerous is the entrance to such a lateral gully that has near it farm buildings or trees, as these become a pivot of manoeuvre for the attack.

Understanding the possibilities of open country, therefore, scouts will always watch carefully any hostile scouts who may be seen moving approximately parallel with them. Often members of a small force move in this way who are only taking advantage of open country to inflict a minor attack on a flank guard, if the opportunity is afforded by bad working, so that their presence in itself is no cause for unusual steps to be taken beyond increased watchfulness.

Often they are scouts watching the movements of the column for purposes of information only, but at any time they may work in closer and open fire on the scouts or the troop. This probability need cause the scout no anxiety, as long as he can see them mounted, for while mounted they are harmless. If he should see them halt or dismount, he should hasten to the nearest cover, from which he can watch them, as bullets usually follow on the dismounting. So, too, if they disappear he may expect fire, but this latter is more often cause for informing the troop leader of the circumstance, as the reappearance must be closely watched for. Such will usually be much nearer the scout than; the disappearance from sight.

The correct defence to this method of bringing up troops is to push the whole flank guard further out, so that if an attack is made it will occur at such a distance from the column that its forward momentum will be lessened if it passes the flank guard, and can be checked by the additional support sent out from the column. By creating a greater interval between the column and the first point of resistance more time is gained to detail and handle these supports, which is a matter of great importance, as an attack by troops brought up "along the donga" is often very rapidly developed.


Previous: Part 2, The Scouts of the Screen

Next: Part 4, A Criticism of the Article


Further Reading:

Brigade Scouts

The Light Horse

Australian Light Horse Militia

Militia 1899 - 1920

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: The Australian Light Horse, Light Horse Duties in the Field, Part 3, Scouts, Pointers, and Connecting Files of the Flank Guard

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Thursday, 10 December 2009 10:24 PM EAST

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