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Tuesday, 3 June 2008
Australian Militia Force Structure, The Rifle Club Movement: A Distinct Factor in the Defence Problem
Topic: MilitiaRC - Rifle Clubs

Australian Militia Force Structure

The Rifle Club Movement

A Distinct Factor in the Defence Problem.


  Cover of the report



This interesting essay called "The Rifle Club Movement: A Distinct Factor in the Defence Problem" was read at a Special Meeting of the Council of the Metropolitan Rifle Clubs Association, held on 16 March 1909, at Champion's Town Hall Hotel, Swanston Street, Melbourne. It was subsequently published as a pamphlet by Fraser and Jenkinson, Printers, 343-5 Queen St., Melbourne. It maps the philosophy that lay behind the Rifle Club Movement in Australia prior to the Kitchener Report of 1910.




(No. 19 District. Rifle Clubs Unions).

The Rifle Club Movement:



(Captain of the Richmond Rifle Club).

TWENTY years hence, when a history of the defence system of Australia shall have been compiled, not' the least interesting chapters will be those relating to the Rifle Club Movement and its development.

The period to which the historian will chiefly refer for his facts will be during the two years immediately preceding, and the ten years following upon, the establishment of the Commonwealth.

During this period, an aspiration of the people found expression, and made itself sufficiently intelligible, to be not only capable of definition, but of receiving a suitable organisation, and to be recognised as a factor in the defence problem.

There is something about our Rifle Club Movement which causes it to be viewed with feelings of misgiving by many honest-minded military men of the Conservative type, and by those who claim to be progressive it is regarded as something which must be understood, and in some way identified with the military forces.

It is quite possible the movement has more to fear from its military friends than from thus pronouncedly hostile.

The Rifle Club Movement has been defined as a manifestation of the spirit of the people concerning defence; as an acknowledgment or recognition by the manhood of the Commonwealth of the fact that, should an enemy ever land on these shores, they must meet him.

If we are then, as a nation, living in conformity with Divine law, we need not fear the issue.

My object to-night is to show the Rifle Club Movement as a civilian institution, as a distinct factor in the defence problem. It possesses a personality of its own, which must be preserved, and, -whilst its course lies parallel and in harmony with the military forces, it must ever be absorbed or dominated by them.

I would like it clearly understood from the outset that the term "military domination", is used in no offensive sense whatever. It is a convenient expression; it expresses a fear on the part of rifle Cub members---a fear that is instinctive rather than logical, and, consequently, somewhat difficult to express, but certainly not less real on that account. It is an instinctive knowledge, that whilst an intimate relationship must exist, a mesalliance will be demoralising and disastrous to both.

I think, too, that by giving this instinctive dread of absorption the fullest publicity, and following up any train of thought it may suggest to its logical conclusion, the light may come which will lead to a complete understanding.

If we can establish our movement as a manifestation of the spirit of the people, we will have established something which must command the most profound respect and attention; something which must not only not be ignored, but to oppose which will be futile.

We will at once concede that the military forces constitute, not only the arm which strikes, but, in the fullest meaning of the words, the intelligence which makes them efficient and effective, and clam that the spirit of the people is the will power, the power which sustains and vitalises, which enables and requires each member of the body corporate to perform its legitimate functions.

The highest degree of military efficiency to which any nation may attain is to establish complete harmony between its military forces and the spirit of its people.

The spirit of the people is the exact measure of the capacity of the community for effective resistance.

As captain and enrolling officer of one of the strongest clubs in the Commonwealth, it is my privilege to receive the first confidences of new members. These are uniformly of such a character as to cause me to be proud of my countrymen, proud to be an Australian. One of the members expressed it as: “Captain, my object in joining the rifle club is that, should the country ever want its men to turn out, I don't want to be a damned fool." Any man who can give expression to this sentiment, however roughly, is to me a man and a b. other.

This is the sentiment which binds us, and, taken in the aggregate as expressive of a willingness on the part of the community to make sacrifice for the protection of our homes, is what we mean when me speak of “The Spirit of the People concerning Defence."

The history to which I have alluded will contain the life story of two of our most eminent citizen soldiers - Lt.-Colonel Sir Frederick Sargood and Colonel J. M. Templeton.

I do not mean that these men either established the Rifle Club Movement, or marked it with their personality. The nature of our movement precludes such a possibility. But a study of their lives, in their simplicity, their constancy to their youthful ideal, their transparent honesty, and sincerity of purpose, forms a faithful illustration of the spirit which animates our movement.

The Rifle Club Movement was surely sanctified by the fact that the special services rendered by these talented men were just prior to their decease, and form a fitting climate a devoted and eminently successful career.

With faculties rendered more acute by the approach of death, the prompting of their spirit, and the wisdom begotten by a well-spent lifetime, showed them it was only in an atmosphere of the most absolute freedom that the inner life of the movement would find expression.

The special service which Sir Frederick Sargood rendered was to free the movement from military domination.

That which Colonel Templeton did was to secure it a suitable organisation.

It was something more than a coincidence, or mere fortuitous combination of circumstances, which, at such a critical period in the history of our movement. Tare to it two glen so well able to interpret its spirit. It is an evidence that mighty influences are at work. When the time serves, the man also will be at hand.

Colonel Templeton was a man essentially a soldier. Military in all his habits, military by instinct and by training, he knew no recreation apart from military exercises. He brought an untiring zeal and boundless enthusiasm to every task he undertook.

Sir Frederick Sargood was a man of more diversified attainments and, whether his career is viewed from the military, the social, the commercial, or the Parliamentary standpoint, the same record of successful achievement will be revealed.

Neither of these men knew, nor sought, a royal road to success. They looked for no reward, except as a result of honest effort. They were too practical-minded to allow either fate or luck a place in their calculations. They were both born leaders of men, and possessed a full measure of those rare qualities which inspire zeal, enthusiasm, and devotion, in all those who submit to their leadership.

Constituted as the Victorian Parliament is--the most Conservative of Australian Parliaments-it is not easy to understand how such a radical departure from established military precedent as making provision for independent control of rifle clubs was effected. Some wonderful influence was exercised to cause a body so steeped in ultra-Conservatism as the Legislative Council of Victoria to belie its reputation, and its traditions, and allow the force of law to he given to such forward legislation as freedom from direct military control of rifle clubs, and the Wages Board system ire our factory laws.

Such an influence was the personality of Sir Frederick Sargood. The liveliest apprehensions and fighting spirit of Conservatism were fully aroused by both these measures. Argument had been exhausted without bringing conviction. Conservatism is superior to logic, and peculiarly susceptible to personal influence. It was to the tact and beautiful personality of Sir Frederick that a way out was found, and the Minister of Defence, rather than the Military Commandant, became the actual head off the Rifle Club Movement.

Before proceeding further, and because I want our discussion to have practical issue, I would like to know that we are in agreement upon our premises, else our talk may become like an harangue between a Freetrader and a Protectionist, or a Conservative and a Liberal, or a capitalist and a labourite.

Each of these may argue honestly, conscientiously, and logically from his own standpoint, but, because they are not in agreement upon their premises, they cannot agree in their conclusions. Each regards the best efforts of the other as just so much vapid utterance.

It is found the only basis of stable government is to recognise these each as an existent force, operating for the commonweal, provide that peace shall be maintained, freedom of conscience exist, and that these forces shall act and react each upon the other, producing a spirit of tolerance and compromise. Whilst each, as a force, remains true to its fundamental principles, and as individuals to the truth as they see it.

To understand the spirit of the people concerning defence, it is necessary to recognise that the military and the civilian are two distinct, but not necessarily antagonistic, forces. That they are distinct phases of the same question.

The premises to which I ask your acquiescence are:-A movement is something which moves. If it becomes stagnant or hidebound it cannot rightly be termed a movement.

Movement is an effect following a cause.

Movement means progression, and implies an objective.

The Means by which expression is sought.

The Intelligence which directs; every throb or pulsation which vitalises; every effort or impulse which bears upon the objective, we designate as The Movement.

Where we have an effect of such a tangible nature as the actual existence of 400 rifle clubs, with a membership of upwards of 20,000 men, in Victoria, the causes which led to their establishment ought to be capable of demonstration. And if we can trace the movement back to its cause, the objective should become apparent.

If our movement is what we claim it to be, we should be able to show it was conceived in the ordinary way; that there is nothing miraculous about it: that it is a visible effect, following an ascertainable cause; that it was conceived as an idea: that it was subjected to the ordinary processes of evolution and became a conviction universally held by the people.


One of my earliest recollections is the withdrawal of the British troops from Australia. I saw the 14th Regiment leave Victoria Barracks, accompanied them to Port Melbourne, and witnessed the embarkation.

As a spectacle, the event was an impressive one, but what it signified made it trebly so.

A great principle was at issue, which when viewed from the differing standpoints of British and colonial, speedily revealed that interests were not identical, or rather that they formed two distinct phase; of the same principle.

The question arose: Will the British troops who are paid by the colonies be available for Australian defence? The reply was: “Not necessarily. In the event of war, British troops must go where they can most effectively be used." No other answer was possible from the Imperial standpoint.

The views of colonial statesmen are, however, limited by their responsibilities and their jurisdiction. To assure a force, however insignificant, being available for local defence, the right of independent control must be conceded.

Many persons find it difficult or cannot discriminate between independent control and independence.

To understand the intensity of feeling which the withdrawal occasioned, it is necessary to know something of contemporary history. A few years previously, the Eureka Stockade incident had transpired. Victoria was occupied wholly by adventurous spirits, freemen from the whole civilised world. And the official classes were largely drawn from, or wholly tainted by administration of the convict system obtaining in other parts of Australia, the attitude adopted by whom speedily gave the fullest play to the spirit of insurrection, which necessitated the services of the soldiers to quell, the memory of which had not been effaced when the question of withdrawal arose.

In America, though the Civil War had ended, a great people were staggering under its awful after-effects. In Europe, first Denmark, and then Austria, had been vanquished by Germany. And the troops from Australia had barely reached European waters when the Franco-Prussian war broke out.

In such stirring times as these, it is small wonder if the exact significance of the withdrawal was rot fully appreciated.

The community was divided into two antagonistic camps. The official and governing classes, who arrogated to themselves the title of loyalists, regarded the bayonet of the soldier as the emblem of authority, the final word, the basis of law and order. These regarded the withdrawal as a most fatuous policy, as a shirking of authority, as a betrayal of their worthy selves, a depth of baseness worthy only of a vacillating and a pusillanimous Parliament.

It was believed in some quarters that the home authorities had acted in a spirit of pique, and, when the colonies refused to pay for the services of the troops, they had only to be withdrawn for these to realise their defencelessness.

It is certain, however, that a large majority regarded the withdrawal as severing the last link with a bad old past.

Democracy had stood defiant, and though, in the actual shock of war, it had been worsted, in all the forms of law and order it proved triumphant, and, standing between the infuriated officials and their exasperated victims, proved conclusively that, for the remedy of all social abuses, the ballot box, in the hands of an intelligent people, is a more potent weapon than the bayonets of the most skilled soldiery.

Then was forced home upon the Australian mind the truth that an idle soldiery is as much a menace to the social welfare as it is protection against a foreign foe; that a free people are the custodians, and must be the guardians of their liberties.

Then was horn the conviction that the citizens themselves must do their own soldiering; that the duty of defence against lawlessness from within, and invasion from without, is an ordinary obligation of citizenship.

This forms the basic principle of our Rifle Club Movement.

In his work on the progress of modern thought, Samuel Laing says: “What the foremost minds think to-clay, the mass of thinkers will think to-morrow, and the day after the great army of non-thinkers will accept as a self-evident fact."

At this latter stage do we stand to-day, and an expectant people awaits action by a hesitating and a halting Parliament.

The first stage may be said to have been from the Eureka Stockade to the withdrawal of the British troops, for then only the foremost minds were sufficiently free from the thraldom of tradition and of caste to discriminate between, righte us resistance and rebellion. The home authorities seem to have accurately diagnosed the trouble, and England's response to her rebellious colonists was not to overawe them with an armed force, but to confer upon them a full measure of self-government, and at a stroke made her troublesome officials amenable to the popular will. So far from having acted in a spirit, of pique, judging the event after a lapse of upwards of fifty years, and in the light of the Treaty of Vereeniging, it is nearer the truth to designate it inspired statesmanship. It is

undoubtedly the secret of England's colonising greatness. The outcome of this trustful confidence by Britain in her colonies is Australian loyalty as we know it.

Freed from military domination, the great mind of the people found itself free to act, and the need for an effective defence system was abundantly apparent. Freedom to act, without the necessary knowledge of how to act, constituted a stage that gave a certain amount of satisfaction to our ultraIoyalists, who themselves were incapable of thinking upon any new lines.

The reluctance to depart from established precedent, the mistakes and errors which have been committed and honestly acknowledged, the follies and conceits which have been slavishly copied and courageously discarded, form the happiest augury for successful achievement, and prove nothing except that our system is being subjected to the ordinary processes of evolution. It is certain that it will eventually adapt itself to its environment.

Some essential factor is not fully recognised. It is the province of the Rifle Club Movement to discover this factor.

The great natural law which underlies the processes of evolution is that of polarity. Every living thing, or principle, is the product of two distinct forces working in harmony, each performing its natural functions. "Male and female created He them" was written early in the world's history.

Animate and inanimate nature is subject to the same laws. Though we have no faculty which enables us to comprehend the mysterious natural forces by which we are surrounded, our senses are given us to recognise those laws in operation, and with which we have no option but to conform. We recognise the province of the pistil and stamen in the vegetable world, environment and heredity in animated nature, the positive and negative currents in electricity and magnetism. The most stable of all known laws, that of gravity, we knew is itself an effect of attraction and repulsion. There can be no like without an unlike, no action without reaction. What is true of the physical is equally so of the psychological. We are on sound ground, and in a fair way to understand, all we can know of any phenomena, if we can discern the forces which are working for their development, and allot to each its proper sphere.

Taking the effective defence of the Commonwealth as our objective, before we can talk understandingly on the subject we must recognise the factors whose operations bring it within the pale of this natural law.

A generation, a full thirty years, passed from the withdrawal of the British troops until the establishment of the Rifle Club 'Movement upon its present basis, which was to recognise it as a civilian institution, and, though its kinship to the military forces is admitted, to assure it an existence free from the possibility of military domination.

This freedom was not attained without determined effort and keen controversy, and this State of Victoria thereby rendered great service to Australia and to the Empire.

The immediate effect was that 20,000 men enrolled, under the freer conditions in this State, whilst during the same period throughout the rest of Australia less that one-third that number were enrolled.

It was at this stage that Sir Frederick Sargood and Colonel Templeton rendered such signal service.

No two men ever occupied a higher position in the estimation of their fellows than did these, upon all matters relating to defence.

Both were of the Conservative school. None had better right to be regarded as a father, for each had grown grey in the service.

The fullness of years alone was responsible for their retirement from active work. Each had entered the service at an early age, had advanced step by step, until they had honourably and ably occupied every position, from the lowest to the highest, open to non-professionals.

The Defence Bill of 1883 was wholly the work of a school of earnest thinkers and workers, amongst whom Sir Frederick then Major Sargood, Colonel Templeton, and Major Christopherson were leading lights, and their onerous services wire rewarded by handsome recognition in the Parliamentary records of the State.

When the wave of patriotic fervour, occasioned by the Boer War, swept over Victoria, none were so admirably qualified to give it direction. The enthusiasm in the other colonies was not less intense, but it was less accurately diagnosed. Rifle clubs were there organised as a military reserve. They were given a military status, armed at the public expense, and required to conform to military conditions.

Colonel Templeton organised them here exactly on the lines of a regimental rifle club, rather than as a military unit, and desired no military status whatever. There is really nothing original about this conception. But there is in its application. It is recognised in military circles as necessary for practice, under other than service conditions, to relax discipline, to suspend military procedure, to obliterate rank, so that soldiers of all arms may, in their own way, perfect themselves, develop proficiency, and learn the wonderful possibilities and accuracy of the modern rifle.

Consider a regimental rifle club at voluntary practice, or a regimental contest. Officers and privates take the mound together, each is interested, not only in his own work, but also in that of his comrade for the time being. Each change of light or wind brings a quiet word of warning or advice from the one disengaged, each result is discussed, and adjustment made. There is a confidence which almost amounts to affection in their wonderful weapons. It is to the human element that all errors are attributed. .-end, in the effort to overcome these errors, gradations in rank are lost. Perfect equality here - the equality which is begotten of accurate knowledge. It is the mastery of mind over matter, intelligence and skill versus the elements.


It is the Cult of the Rifle.

A feature, however, that will at once strike the intelligent observer is that. at no voluntary practice, will more than one-tenth of the enrolled strength of the regiment be present, or sufficiently interested, to take more than a passing interest in the club's proceedings.

It is certain of an equal number of civilians, bound together by the loosest of ties, an equal interest will be displayed and equal results attained. Officers are conspicuous by their absence, or their presence is the exception which proves the rule. They plainly intimate that they are interested mere in the general average than in individual proficiency. The civilian club is wholly the field of the individualistic theory, whilst the military theory is that of socialism. A good general average is the height of military ambition; individual excellence that of the rifle club's. Both are right. They are distinct phases of the same question, and are natural polarities in effective rifle shooting.

The regimental club has no military status whatever. At the word of authority it will cease to exist. All the recognition it desires is to be regarded as the custodian of the honour of the regiment. For purposes other than that of rifle practice it has no reason for existence.

If it is necessary to free a regimental rifle club from all sense of military domination, what deplorable results must follow any attempt to bring civilian clubs under its controlling influence.

These facts were well within the knowledge and clearly in the minds of Sir Frederick and Colonel Templeton. So, too, was the danger of having organised bands of armed men, not fully amenable to discipline, recognised and amply provided against. Rifle clubs in Victoria are not organised as a military reserve. Should an emergency arise, it is intended they shall, as clubs, cease to exist, and the members, as citizens with some skill, be absorbed in the military forces. The act of enrolment is simply an acknowledgment that the individual recognises his liability, as a citizen, to the levee en masse conditions of the Defence Act, that he is interested in defence matters, and will do a citizen's part, not only in obeying the law but also in shaping it.

Rifle shooting is only a phase of rifle club work. It is in their anxiety to see the clubs become more “effective" in a military sense that our military friends are apt to retard rather than to forward such a desirable result.

Colonel Templeton recognised the futility of imparting instruction the members were unable or unwilling to assimilate. i.e. recognised their limitations.

The Rifle Club Movement - regimental and civilian - comprise the thinkers of the community concerning defence, and it absolutely certain the non-thinkers will accept their conclusions as self-evident facts.

The military forces and the spirit of the people are the two polarities, which, working in harmony, will evolve the highest military efficiency of which we, as a community, are capable of attaining.

This principle we want to make sure is embodied in the Defence Bill, anti some attempt made to define the sphere of each.

The morning, nine years ago, when the question was decided whether rifle clubs should be treated as military or civilian, one of our leading daily papers (the " Age ") made comparisons between the opinions expressed in its columns by the advocates of military control and "Our Correspondent. 'Burnley,' " (Capt. Campbell), showing that therein a distinct line of cleavage was revealed. It is that point of cleavage I want to get at tonight and from that point draw a line, broad, palpable, and well defined, separating the essentials for military efficiency from the ordinary obligations of citizenship. Military work should be regarded as services rendered and honestly paid for, whilst the benefits conferred by the preparatory work necessary to be classified as effective for defence are mutual.

Thorough-going efficiency and completeness in detail are the essential features of a military force; inefficiency is a military crime. The master mind, despotism and domination, are necessary for that concentration of thought and effort essential for success in war. The military must not be hampered by the tolerance and compromise which must ever mark the ways of the Rifle Club Movement. A lower standard of military efficiency than obtains in European armies we will not tolerate. The folly of applying European methods where European conditions do not exist must be at once recognised. We will not have a standing army, as the word is ordinarily understood. Our soldiers will not be taken even for a term from their ordinary associations. The only permanently employed men will be a sufficient general and instructional staff, a sufficient force of the specialised branches of the service and a sufficient nucleus for each regiment. Twenty or thirty days in the year are all that will be permitted for daylight training. Now if we expect them to attain to a satisfactory standard of efficiency it is evident they must be relieved of all initial and preparatory work, and devote their whole attention to organisation and active service conditions.

It is the province of the Rifle Club Movement to see that this relief is given. We must educate our members up to their responsibilities, and there is but one way by which this may be effected - that is, by making military training universal, and, as part of our educational system, compulsory.

Physical training, evolutions, company drill, rifle shooting, signalling, and first aid should all he part of our ordinary education system. The school period should be extended to 18 years for this purpose, and every lad required to attend a local gymnasium at night and to attain a prescribed standard of proficiency. We would then, at the military age, hand over for more complete training a youth well set up, well informed, well grounded in all the rudimentary essentials.

The education of our youth must be a reflex of the spirit of the people concerning defence.

The chief characteristic of the Rifle Club Movement is its individuality. It is an individual recognition of responsibility, and an individual effort to attain a standard of proficiency. That standard is admittedly low. The effort to elevate it must come from within. From the inception of each individual club until it is identified with the military system, in the person of the State Commandant, care is taken to recognise and preserve characteristic. At every stage the exact contrary to military methods and military procedure obtains.

Every member of the club has an equal voice in the transaction of all club business. Every club has equal representation in the council of the District Union. Every union or equivalent group of unions has equal representation on the Advisory Board. The Chairman of the Advisory Board is the State Commandant.

To the Australian mind the duality thus given to the position of our chief military officer adds to, rather than detracts from, the dignity of the office, he is able to not only keep a watchful eye upon everything pertaining to the military efficiency of the troops, but, through the Advisory Board, he feels himself in direct touch and harmony with the spirit of the people concerning defence.

The Advisory Board thus constituted is competent to deal with any question which can arise concerning rifle club matters, and clubs should be keenly on the alert against any interference whatever with its functions.

An interesting development, and one to which I am able to only make passing reference to-night, but hope to deal with more fully at some future date, is the interest displayed in rifle club work by the friendly Societies of the metropolis. This is a direct result of the expenditure by the Defence Department on miniature rifle ranges. Started at Richmond four years ago, there are now twenty lodges practically affiliated with the local club. Collingwood has been even more successful, having not only thirty lodges identified with it, but the Manchester Unity Order of Oddfellows have branched off, and established a fully appointed rifle club of their own, controlling seventeen lodges of that Order. Port Melbourne Club has 9 lodges; Fitzroy, 14; Essendon and Flemington, 17; Prahran, 19: each of which maintains a rifle team, the doings of which are the subject of nightly report and discussion. The opening of a miniature rifle range is the signal for the Friendly Societies anal the athletic clubs of the district to rally round, and no rifle club is properly equipped for its work until it has provided facilities for night practice. The significance of this development lies in the fact that we are thereby in direct touch with the best elements of the community-its provident man- hood. We have immediate access to, and can voice our aspirations on, the floor of almost every lodge in the metropolis. The 106 lodges enumerated above have a total of upwards of 20,000 members. The possibilities of this development appears to be limited only by the capacity of the officers to deal with it. We know the lodges stand ready to respond to wise direction.

It is gratifying to find the Rifle Clubs' Office fully abreast of this development and its possibilities recognised. The attention of the State Commandant was drawn to it, and he called for a report from its recognised leaders, and on their recommendation formed a Council to organise, to direct, and advise concerning miniature rifle range matters, so that they shall form an integral part of our defence system.

As the names of Sir Frederick Sargood and Colonel Templeton are indissolubly connected with emancipation of rifle clubs from military domination, so will the name of Major Boam be identified with the wise resolve that this Council, ,which has only just been called into existence, shall not be subject to the control or domination of any other existing body ; that it shall have an absolutely independent existence, and shall merge into our defence system in the person of the State Commandant, who is its presiding officer.

I submit the Rifle Club 'Movement has a work to do ; that it is not only a factor, but a controlling factor in the defence problem; that it has a personality of its own which must be preserved; that it can only perform its legitimate functions whilst it is free from the possibility of military domination.

I will therefore conclude with the observation with which we commenced. When a history of the defence system of Australia shall have been compiled, not the least interesting chapters will be those referring to The Rifle Club Movement and its Development.



Further Reading:

Australian Rifle Clubs

The Australian Militia, 1899 - 1920


Citation: Australian Militia Force Structure, The Rifle Club Movement: A Distinct Factor in the Defence Problem.

Posted by Project Leader at 12:12 AM EADT
Updated: Tuesday, 27 July 2010 6:09 PM EADT
9th LHR AIF War Diary, 3 June
Topic: AIF - 3B - 9 LHR

9th LHR, AIF

9th Light Horse Regiment

War Diary, 3 June

Pro Gloria et Honore - For Glory and Honour

Regimental March -  Marching Through Georgia



The following entries are extracted and transcribed from the 9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary, the originals of which are held by the Australian War Memorial. There are 366 entries on this site. Each day has entries as they occurred from 1914 to 1919. In addition to the 9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary, when appropriate, entries from the 3rd Light Horse Brigade War Diary and other regiments with the Brigade will also appear. Entries from the unit history, Darley, TH, With the Ninth Light Horse in the Great War, Adelaide, Hassell Press, 1924 will also appear from time to time. The aim is to give the broadest context to the story and allow the reader to follow the day to day activities of the regiment. If a relative happened to have served in the regiment during the Great War, then this provides a general framework in which the individual story may be told.


The Diary



Wednesday, June 3, 1914

See 4th Military District, South Australia for militia activities.



Thursday, June 3, 1915

9th Light Horse Regiment Location - Walkers Ridge
9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary - Rifle fire was opened on the enemy's trenches under cover of which four men [490 Private Suter, J.; 421 Private Hayward NR; 614 Private Pennycuick J; and 649 Private Wainwright, LN.] left the trenches and threw bombs into enemy's snipers trench. Turks then threw bombs at our trenches but without effect. Pennycuick and Suter again advanced and bombed sniper's trench.
3rd Light Horse Brigade War Diary - 8th and 9th Light Horse Regiments, nil casualties; 10th Light Horse Regiment, one wounded.
Carew Reynell Diary - No entry.



Saturday, June 3, 1916
9th Light Horse Regiment Location - Roadhead Serapeum.
9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary - Routine Patrol and Training work carried out.



Sunday, June 3, 1917
9th Light Horse Regiment Location - Um Urgan
9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary - Church Parade.


Monday, June 3, 1918
9th Light Horse Regiment Location - Ain Ed Duk
9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary - 2030 The Regiment moved to Ain Ed Duk arriving there 2245 and bivouacked for night.



Tuesday, June 3, 1919
9th Light Horse Regiment Location - Tel el Kebir
9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary - 1200 King's Birthday Parade.
1330 Sports including tent pegging with lance and sword, reveille race etc. Events were well contested and the standard was good considering the low strength of the Regiment.
Ayliffe, Captain SH, proceeded on ten days leave to Damascus.


Previous: 9th LHR AIF War Diary, 2 June

Next: 9th LHR AIF War Diary, 4 June



See: 9th Australian Light Horse Regiment, Contents
Australian Light Horse Studies Centre, AIF War Diaries of the Great War, Site Transcription Policy


Further Reading:

9th Light Horse Regiment AIF

Bert Schramm Diary

9th Australian Light Horse Regiment, Roll of Honour 

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: 9th LHR AIF War Diary, 3 June

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Saturday, 7 August 2010 2:23 PM EADT
Monday, 2 June 2008
Western Frontier Force, Egypt, 1915 - 1916, The History of the Composite Australian Light Horse Regiment
Topic: AIF - WFF

Western Frontier Force

Egypt, 1915 - 1916

The History of the Composite Australian Light Horse Regiment


The following is an unpublished essay written by Steve Becker in 2008 called: The History of the Composite Australian Light Horse Regiment. It is reproduced below.


On the 19 November 1915 a British Officer strode into the Officers Mess at Heliopolis, he was to be the Commanding Officer of the newly formed Composite Australian Light Horse Regiment and had come straight from the Staff of the 2nd Mounted Division where he had been given just 12 hours to assemble his regiment and be ready to move for operations in the Western desert. This officer was Major the Honourable Dudley Roger Hugh Pelham, 4th son of the Earl of Yarborough, educated at Eton and commissioned from The Royal Military Collage Sandhurst into 10th Hussars in 1894. He had served in the Boer War and was a well known cricketer who played first class cricket for the European India side of 1902-03 As he looked around the mess of the newly gathered Australian Light Horse officers he began to brief them of the situation.

Following the upraising by the Berber tribes in the North African desert one of these tribes known as the Senussi based at the Egyptian Oasis at Siwa had been engaged in a guerrilla war against the Italians who had taken the province of Libya from Turkey since 1911. In 1915 when Italy became an ally to Britain the Senussi encourage by Turkey turned their attention to Egypt where in the last month they have fired on British and Egyptian service personal and occupied the towns of Sidi Barrani and Sollum, and with the concern that should this uprising spread to the general Egyptian population the British position in Egypt would be threatened. It was decided to send all available troops into the desert to prevent this. How ever due to the situation at Gallipoli and the need to garrison the Suez Canal, as well as the movement of troops to Salonika, a number of composite formations would need to be raised from the available formations then in Egypt until regular units could be obtained.

The Composite Australian Light Horse Regiment was to be drawn from all the Australian Light Horse Reinforcements now under training and waiting deployment to Gallipoli and also those who by wounds or illness had yet to return or those that had been left behind to watch the stores and equipment in Egypt. The Squadrons were to be based on the present Light Horse brigades with “A” Squadron formed from the 1st Light Horse Brigade details, “B” Squadron from the 2nd and 3rd Light Horse Brigades details and “C” Squadron from the 4th Light Horse Brigade details. The medical staff would be drawn from the 3rd Light Horse Field Ambulance and the Signals from the 3rd Light Horse Signal Troop, men from the 3rd Light Horse Brigade train 12th Company Australian Army Service Corps would fill out the ranks of the Transport Troop. In all some 23 officers and 531 men were concentrated at Heliopolis for the adventure ahead.

The problems with sorting out the Regiment were to say the least overwhelming. Most of the Officers and men being new to the Army had only limited training in Australia before embarking to Egypt, Few completed any Troop, Squadron or Regimental training or knew how a Light Horse Regiment operated in the field or the tactic’s that involved. Added to the problems was the lack of equipment which was left over from the main theatres of war, the only thing there were plenty of were horses for the men and wagons for the Transport Troop.

The men did have their pick of the best horses in the Light Horse as they set about their training as a Light Horse Regiment. Fortunately a number of the officers and men were from the Light Horse Militia in Australia, whilst a number had served in the Boer War and had a firm grounding in the duties of Army, only there were a lack of qualified Non Commissioned Officer’s in the Regiment and the wholesale promotion of those who were believed could fill the duties of Troop Sergeant and Troop Corporal along with other Non Commissioned Officer’s ranks had to fill these important positions.

Thankfully there were a number of Veteran soldiers willing to pass on their knowledge, these included the Regimental Second In Command Major Thomas Daly of the 9th Light Horse Regiment who had started out as a Private in the 8th Militia Infantry Regiment in 1901 and commissioned in 1905, he had a solid background in handling men and along with the 40 year old Adjutant, Lieutenant Henry Forbes of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers who had served in the British Army since 1894 and had fought as a Sergeant in the Boer War winning the Distinguished Conduct Medal then as a Sergeant Major in the Warwickshire Yeomanry at the beginning of the present war.

There were around thirty men in the Regiment who could claim service in the Boer War and included such veteran’s as Arthur Thompson from the 3rd New South Wales Mounted Rifles and Bushveldt Carbineers who was a witness against Breaker Morant at his famous trial, Hamilton Yaldwyn as a Sergeant in the Queensland Imperial Bushman and later as Captain with the 7th Australian Commonwealth Horse, John Morris who began the war as a Private with the 1st Queensland Mounted Infantry and later returned as Squadron Sergeant Major of the 7th Australian Commonwealth Horse and who stayed to fight in Royston’s Horse during the 1906 Natal Rebellion, the men included many in Australian formations was well as British Soldiers and Sailors and a New Zealander from the 3rd Contingent along with men who travelled to South Africa to join and fight. The most famous of the Boer War soldiers was Captain John Hutton Bisdee VC he had won the Victoria Cross as a Private with the 1st Tasmanian Imperial Bushman and later returned as a Lieutenant in the 2nd Tasmanian Imperial Bushman. He had long service in the Militia and at the start of the war was the Commanding Officer of the 26th Light Horse Regiment Tasmanian Mounted Infantry and was now Officer Commanding “C” Squadron.

After a regimental parade on the 20 November the men were warned that the Regiment was to move to a camp outside Alexandria and the men packed up and boarded a train at Zeitoun and travelled by rail to Gabball Station at Alexandria before disembarking and moving down to Mex Camp the next day. The regiment being over subscribed by 30 soldiers had the choice of discarding that number before this move so the 524 officers and men that entered the Western desert were the best of the reinforcements available in Egypt.

Mex Camp was a large British base with many units forming and training. These units were part of the lately created Western Frontier Force under command of Major General A. Wallace, the principle combat units of this force were the Composite Yeomanry Mounted Brigade with three Composite Yeomanry Regiments which contained the mixed Squadrons and Troops of no fewer then 20 different Yeomanry Regiments all drawn from the replacements of the Yeomanry Brigades of the 2nd Mounted Division and along with the Composite Infantry Brigade which comprised the 2/8th Middlesex, 2/7th Middlesex, 1/6th Royal Scots and the 15th (Ludhiana) Battalion of Sikhs made ready for operations in the Western desert of Egypt.

Here the Light Horse Regiment was attached to the Composite Yeomanry Mounted Brigade and started training in earnest in the formations and drills of a Mounted Regiment in the field however with a great deal to learn and limited time the training was intensive with short breaks for leave into Alexandria. On the 1 December the training program was interrupted and supplemented when the men were issued with new equipment including swords and rifle buckets to integrate them with the British Yeomanry regiments.

Nevertheless all too soon the Regiment was warned to be ready to move as the Senussi were approaching the Port town of Matruh and had cut the El Daaba road and were needed to support the forces already deployed there. An advance component of the Regiment loaded stores, signalling equipment and baggage on ships to sail for Matruh on the 6 December while the main body of the regiment would travel by rail to El Daaba on the 8 December then move cross country to Matruh. Only due to the poor water supply each Squadron would need to travel separately supported by the water wagons of the Composite Australian Army Service Corps of the 1st Australian Divisional Train under Major Albert Holdsworth with Major Frederick Francis, two officers and 93 men of whom an advance party under Lieutenant Claude Thomas had left on the 4 December with the 15th Sikhs and the 2nd Composite Yeomanry Regiment to Matruh. The Regiment began reforming as they arrived in Matruh between the 11 and 12 December.

The Affair at the Wadi Senab 11 to 13 December 1915


Map source: British Official History of the War Military Operations in Egypt and Palestine Aug 1914 to June 1917 by Lt. Gen. Sir George MacMunn and Capt. Cyril Falls

On the 11 December "A" Squadron under Captain Ernest Hudson was the first element of the Composite Australian Light Horse Regiment to arrive at Matruh. However no sooner had this Squadron arrived when it was ordered to move as quickly as possible to support the Yeomanry moving to Samaket el Medwa 16 Km south of Matruh.

This Yeomanry force was under command of Lieutenant Colonel JLR Gordon (15th Sikhs) comprising;

• 15th Battalion Sikhs (two Companies),
• 2nd Composite Yeomanry Regiment (Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Dorsetshire Squadrons),
• Yeomanry Machine Gun Section (three Machine Guns),
• Nottinghamshire Battery RHA (one section of two guns),
• A detachment of Royal Navy Armoured cars (four Rolls Royce Armoured cars), and
• 1st South Midland Field Ambulance (one section)

At 7 am on the 11 December the Infantry under Lieutenant Colonel JLR Gordon marched west from Matruh along the coast road while the 2nd Composite Yeomanry Regiment under Major Wigan and the section of guns of the Nottinghamshire Battery RHA with two Armoured Cars moved south west following the Khedivial Motor road under orders to conduct a sweep to the south and drive the Senussi into the infantry to the north.

After 11 am the advance guard of the Buckinghamshire Squadron under Captain Cheape having crossed the Wadi Raml exposed their right flank and came under disarray fire from the direction of the Wadi Mejwa. The Commanding Officer of the 2nd Composite Yeomanry Regiment sent Major Foster’s Berkshire Squadron to the left front and Major Reeves Dorsetshire Squadron to the right to bring the Senussi under fire while the remainder of the column continued on the road.

As the squadrons were deploying into position Major Foster suddenly ordered his Berkshire Squadron to charge the unseen shooters targeting his men, the Squadron quickly advanced into the attack forming into line as they charged across the flat ground all the time coming under unexpected heavy fire from an unknown position, killing Squadron Sergeant Major William Cox.

The Senussi position was soon found as the Squadron stubbled into Wadi Mejwa thought to contain some of the Senussi only to find it held over 300 tribesmen. The Berkshire Squadron how trapped were forced to fight for their lives as the Senussi were not prepared to take prisoners.

Seeing the situation Major Wigan commit more of his column to help by attacking the flanks of the Senussi supported by the armoured cars and the guns, soon the Senussi seeing their flank being turned broke and ran onto the high ground of Gebel Medwa and into the many wadis to west to continue the skirmish and where the yeomanry became engaged with the Senussi in a running fight which developed back to the Wadi Senab.

In the early afternoon “A” Squadron the Composite Light Horse Regiment arrived to help, however the fighting was almost over and were directed to clear the remainder of the rear guard from the Wadi Senab. By 3 pm the engagement was over which allowed the medical services to recover the one officer (Colonel Snow) and 16 other ranks killed and two officers and 16 other ranks wounded, most came from the Berkshire Squadron. About 83 of the Senussi were killed in this action and seven taken prisoner. After dark the entire force concentrated at Ras umm er Rakham with the 15th Sikhs.

The next day, 12 December saw many of the Yeomanry horses to fatigue to move and patrols had to be drawn from the fit Yeomanry and “A” Squadron to examine the battle area during which they captured 25 prisoners and seized a quantity of cattle and camels neglected by the Senussi.

That evening the force was reinforced by two companies (C and D with Machine Gun section) of the 1/6th Royal Scots under Lieutenant Colonel A.O. Jenney with a supply convoy of stores which left Matruh at 10.30 am. This convoy included an element of the Composite Australian Army Service Corps under Lieutenant Claude Thomas.

On the morning of 13 December the column was ordered by Lieutenant Colonel Gordon to continue its advance on Ras Manaa and began to move at 8 am in the direction of Dawar Hussein along the coast road. In the van guard was the Dorsetshire and Buckinghamshire Yeomanry Squadrons then one company 15th Sikhs followed by two companies 1/6th Royal Scots while the reminder of the column with the Berkshire Squadron and one company 15th Sikhs and the machine gun section of the Royal Scots remaining at Ras umm er Rakham.

In the interim “A” Squadron the Composite Light Horse Regiment was ordered to investigate the wells at Bir Shola, about 40 Km south west of Ras umm er Rakham before joining the main column near Ras Manaa. Captain Hudson commenced his movement at 8.30 am following part of the way at the rear of the main column before turning off towards Bir Shola.

Shortly after 9.15 am as the leading Yeomanry Squadron was approaching the Wadi el Hasheifiat the columns long left flank became suddenly engaged by the Senussi estimated to be between 1200 to 1500 men with two guns and two or three machine guns. These were deployed along the cliffs of the Gebel el Olamiya forcing the British to move to their left to counter this fire. Small groups of the Senussi attacked the Yeomanry in the Wadi to cut them off from the 15th Sikhs as the Royal Scots found them selves under heavy attack on the coast road and the flanking platoon from C Company under Lieutenant Jardine was badly cut up.

Meanwhile “A” Squadron moved to attack the right flank of the Senussi while the Yeomanry attacked the left flank in the Wadi el Hasheifiat however any cooperation was impossible due to the ground and Senussi fire wounding Trooper Sydney Baker “A” Troop shot in the leg and Trooper George Hicks “C” Troop shot in the shoulder.

Around 10 am the Senussi brought their field guns into action and one or two 4 inch guns opened fire on the column still they were poorly handled and unlike the Machine guns which hit the Royal Scots very acutely. Under cover of this fire the Senussi moved to surround the Column and cut them off from Matruh. This forced Lieutenant Colonel Gordon to order Royal Scots to retire on his position however due to their many wounded his could not be undertaken at present and “A” squadron was directed to retire and defend Gordon’s Head Quarters as he tried to concentrate his scattered and disorganized forces into an all round defence.

Lieutenant Colonel Gordon then sent a heliograph message to the supply column at Ras umm er Rakham for help and the machine gun section of the Royal Scots and three officers and 73 men of the Composite Australian Army Service Corps and Royal Scots Transport “turned out full of fight with shirts and trousers and with rifles and bandoliers” and moved to the sound of the guns.

About a mile short of the column they found the Senussi positioned in some wadis to the rear of the column and Lieutenant Claude Thomas attacked by dividing his men into three sections under himself, Lieutenant Louis McQuie and Lieutenant Norman Henderson the Transport officer of the Royal Scots while the Royal Scots machine gun section provided cover and took the tribesman under fire. Once in position he led an assault on the Senussi who scattered on there approach. Seeing a ammunition limber stuck fast in the mud Lieutenant Thomas went to help by pulling two mules across the open only to fall mortally wounded as Sergeant Albert Sanders took command and led his party clearing the wadi losing Driver Andrew Thompson killed and about five men of the Australian Army Service Corps wounded. Having now secured this position they were required to leave part of this force to protect the column’s rear while the remainder joined Lieutenant Colonel Gordon.

Sometime after 10 am news of the Senussi attack was passed back to Matruh where the remainder of the Composite Light Horse Regiment under Major Pelham were order to mount and move as quickly as possible to the battle area with one section of two guns of the Nottinghamshire battery, these fresh reinforcements arrived at Ras umm er Rakham around 2.15 pm and joined the defences near Lieutenant Colonel Gordon’s Head Quarters.

These squadrons were quickly moved to the left rear of the Royal Scots supported by the guns of the Nottinghamshire Battery, which with some good shooting stopped the tribesman from pressing their attack, both “B” Squadron under Captain Brune moved to the right of “A” Squadron while “C” Squadron under Captain Bisdee VC moved to its left, there they formed lines with “A” Squadron in the centre to repel an expected attack, only the Senussi held back allowing the Yeomanry, 15th Sikhs and the Royal Scots strung out along the Coast road to concentrate around 3 pm under the protection of the Light Horse near Lieutenant Colonel Gordon’s Head Quarters.

Around 3.15 pm Lieutenant Colonel Gordon sent the now combined forces against the Senussi positions with the Royal Scots attacking the Gebel el Olamiya ridge while the Composite Light Horse Regiment moved to the flank. During this fighting Corporal John Kelly and Trooper Edward Clements “A” Troop “C” Squadron were wounded as the Regiment moved to cut the Senussi off on the high ground. Meanwhile the Royal Scots lead by the Adjutant Captain Gillatt and Major Milligan took the fight to the tribesman capturing the ridge line, only due to the terrain this couldn’t be completed before their adversary had fled where the Royal Scots lost during the day three soldiers killed and three officers and fourteen men wounded. The Light Horse Regimental Padre Captain William Devine had taken up a rifle and fired at the Senussi until all the Royal Scots wounded were recovered, he would later win a Military Cross and the French Croix de Guerre with the 48th Battalion in France.

The Senussi now escaped onto the high ground however they continued to shell the area and snipe at the reforming troops who had taken the Gebel el Olamiya ridge line from the Senussi nevertheless Lieutenant Colonel Gordon didn’t follow up the fleeing tribesman instead he withdrew his troops and were allowed to retire to their camp at Ras umm er Rakham without serious torment before darkness. The column spent a quiet night with no firing or attacks by the Senussi, little knowing the Senussi had moved to cut off the columns return to Matruh and lay an ambush.

The Column recorded some 9 other ranks killed and 6 officers and 50 other ranks wounded however they believe they had killed some 250 of the Senussi only their true casualties were very much lower being less then 150 killed and wounded. The columns wounded were evacuated by sea during the night using the hospital ship “Rashid”.

At 6 am on the morning of 14 December the column began there return to Matruh, while the garrisons at a number of wells were withdrawn as General Wallace wanted to concentrate and reinforce his available forces at Matruh.

Around 9.30 the Senussi conducted an ambush against of the column only the tribesman had been in the field for some time and had little to eat or drink and the sprit of victory had left many of them and most had slowly retired to their bases during the night leaving few to engage the column. The column passed the ambush site with only a few artillery shells falling and the odd shot being taken. Most accounts don’t even mention any contact at all.

Between the 15 and 24 December heavy rain turned the ground to mud making it unfavourable for major operations to be were undertaken nevertheless the Light Horse and Yeomanry continued there patrol work as snipers were the main concern to the garrison along with the cutting of the road to El Daaba.

On the 16 December Major Pelham took the Composite Light Horse Regiment out in force clearing to a distance of 5 Km’s of the perimeter of Matruh, on the 17 December they had an encounter with the Senussi near the White Sands hills only the tribesman fled before the Light Horse came into contact and the regiment returned to Matruh that night.

On the 18 December “C” Troop “B” Squadron under Lieutenant John Land conducted a patrol outside Matruh only to get into trouble when fired on by the Senussi, the Regiment was alerted to support them when Lieutenant Land extracted his Troop with only one men wounded, Trooper Henry Hausknecht who was shot in the thigh.

During this interlude new units began to arrive by sea at Matruh including the 1st Battalion New Zealand Rifle Brigade, two 4 inch Naval Guns and “A” Battery Honourable Artillery Company with the Composite Yeomanry Brigade Head Quarters under General JDT Tyndale-Biscoe and the 1st Composite Yeomanry Regiment. The Berkshire Squadron 2nd Composite Yeomanry Regiment was returned to Alexandria on the 17 December by sea to be disbanded back to its parent regiment.

The Affair at the Wadi Majid 25th December 1915


Map source: British Official History of the War Military Operations in Egypt and Palestine Aug 1914 to June 1917 by Lt. Gen. Sir George MacMunn and Capt. Cyril Falls


Meanwhile the Senussi were still gathering their forces at Gebel Medwa south of Matruh while another force was at Halazin. The leader Ja Far Pasha had a base of three regular Battalions each about 300 men trained by Turkish advisers and the balance native tribesman. This numbered around 5000 men, four guns and a number of machine guns.

Between 23 and 24 December two BE 2c aircraft from “B” Flight 14 Squadron Royal Flying Corps under Captain FH Jenkins made reconnaissance patrols in the area of Gebel Medwa and Halazin finding these concentrations and General Wallace ordered a surprise attack on the main force at Gebel Medwa on Christmas day.

The attacking force would be made by two columns each would advance under cover of darkness and attack the Senussi by surprise at Gebel Medwa in the morning.

The Right Column under Lieutenant Colonel Gordon with;

• Buckinghamshire Squadron 2nd Composite Yeomanry Regiment,
• Nottinghamshire Battery RHA (one section of two guns),
• 15th Battalion Sikhs,
• 1st Battalion New Zealand Rifle Brigade,
• 2/8th Middlesex,
• 137th Indian Field Ambulance,
• 1st South Midland Field Ambulance (less one section), and
• Water section Composite Australian Army Service Corps.

This Column would advance by night along the Khedival Motor road and attack the Senussi frontally.

While the Left Column under General Biscoe with;

• Head Quarters Composite Yeomanry Brigade,
• 1st Composite Yeomanry Regiment (Hertfordshire and Duke of Lancaster’s Own Squadrons and composite Derbyshire and City of London Squadron),
• Composite Light Horse Regiment (three Squadrons),
• Nottinghamshire Battery RHA (one Section of two guns),
• Yeomanry Machine Gun Section, and
• 1st South Midland Field Ambulance (one section)

This Column would make a wide 10 Km detour east up the Wadi Toweiwia then west to cut the Senussi retreat from Gebel Medwa.

At 4 pm on the morning of the 25 December, the Left Column departed camp to begin there turning movement while at 5 am the Right Column started their march as the Buckinghamshire Yeomanry in front screened the column while the 15th Sikhs, 1st Battalion New Zealand Rifle Brigade and the 2/8th Middlesex followed in complete silence.

Around 6 am the sun began to rise when the Senussi pickets saw the leading British column moving alongside the Khedival Motor road and lit the warning bon fires alerting the Senussi into their battle positions. As they rushed to their defence’s one of their guns opened fire on the column.

At 7.15 am the Right Column crossed the Wadi Raml and Lieutenant Colonel Gordon ordered the 15th Sikhs under Major Pennefather to attack the Senussi south west of Gebel Medwa and send one company forward to occupy Gebel Medwa which appeared not to be held by the Senussi. Gebel Medwa was successfully taken by the Sikh company after 7.30 am without a fight while the main column continued there advance on the main Senussi position behind the Wadi Medwa

At 8 am the enemies artillery became more effective and the Nottinghamshire‘s guns took them under fire at about 2000 metres, this was helped by the guns from the Sloop “HMS Clematis” firing at over 10 Km’s off Matruh and the use of a spotting aircraft from 14 Squadron Royal Flying Corps for the ship which silenced the Senussi guns.

By 9 am the 15th Sikhs, were still fighting in front of Wadi Medwa when Lieutenant Colonel Gordon sent a company of the Middlesex Battalion to relieve the Sikh company on Gebel Medwa to concentrate the Sikh battalion. The assault by the Sikhs was a classic frontal advance under fire, which was supported by the 1st Battalion New Zealand Rifle Brigade under Major Austin which at 9.30 am moved “A” company under Major Kay to the left flank of the Sikhs and Captain Puttick’s “B” company to the right, at the same time the Buckinghamshire Yeomanry and the remainder of the Middlesex Battalion were sent to the enemies left to turn that flank.

This attack was finally successful when the ridge was taken after 10 am by the Sikhs and the Senussi broke and fled into the wadis to the west, however the yeomanry of the Left Column had still not arrived in the battle area and the tribesman had time to escape as the Infantry followed the fleeing Senussi fighting from wadi to wadi. A young Sikh officer which took part in the assault was Lieutenant John Smyth VC who had already won the Victoria Cross in France with his regiment and would later rise to General and Commander of the 17th Indian Division in Burma during World War 2.

The late arrival of the Left Column was in part due to the slowness in clearing the Wadi Toweiwia at 7.30 am when the wheeled transport was delayed by the rocky ground leaving the Hertfordshire Yeomanry squadron to lend a hand and later joined the Right column when the Left column had advanced to far ahead.

At 8 am the lead Squadron of the Left Column was Captain Bisdee “C” Squadron Composite Light Horse Regiment guided by Lieutenant Beck when they found there way blocked by a mixed force of Senussi camelry and cavalry 6 Km’s due south of the Gebel Medwa during which they fired on wounding Trooper Clifford Brown “A” Troop in the leg.

This obstacle was removed when the guns of the Yeomanry Machine gun section came into action with the guns of the Nottinghamshire Battery forcing the Senussi to retire to the west nevertheless they had delayed the Columns advance till 9 am.

Following this action the Yeomanry and Light Horse of the Left Column kept moving west pursuing the retiring mounted Senussi not knowing that the Right Column was successful and the Senussi infantry were escaping, a number of messages sent to the Left Column from General Wallace all failed to contact them until 3 pm when the messages were seen and acted on. Its is reported that Major Pelham had seen these signals and requested his regiment go and engage these retiring enemy Infantry only General Biscoe considered it to difficult to undertake.

The Left Column then moved north to the area of the Wadi Majid and joined the New Zealand Rifle Brigade who’s “A” and “B” companies had trapped about 150 men of the Senussi rear guard. The Light Horse Squadrons moved up to the high ground supported by two squadrons of Yeomanry and two guns of the Nottinghamshire Battery to bring fire onto the Senussi only to come came under fire from hidden positions around the wadi, this fire hit the leading Troop under Lieutenant Frank Snow mortally wounding Trooper Henry Creed “A” Troop “A” Squadron in the head and wounding Captain Ernest Hudson. Harry Creed was a young 19 year old Railway clerk from Sydney whose parents lived in Nelson New Zealand and became the only Light Horse soldier to die in the Composite Light Horse Regiment, other casualty was Trooper Albert Roberts “B” Troop “B” Squadron wounded in the hand.

Again most of the Senussi had escaped and the Right column was ordered to concentrate on the Wadi Medwa after 5 pm and rested on the battlefield while the Yeomanry and Light Horse of the Left Column were ordered to return to Matruh that night. After a cold wet night the Right Column returned to Matruh on the morning of the 26 December.

British casualties were given as 13 killed and 51 wounded, among the dead were six men (CSM Purkis) and 14 wounded from the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, while the Senussi dead were estimated to be around 300 with between 20 and 82 prisoners.

On the 28 December with the weather once more slowing operations General Wallace decided to clear the Senussi from his rear and open the track from Matruh to El Daaba. A Column under General the Earl of Lucan commander of the Composite Infantry Brigade was sent to clean up the largest concentration at Bir Gerawla.

This force included;

• Composite Light Horse Regiment (three Squadrons),
• 1st Composite Yeomanry Regiment (Hertfordshire and Duke of Lancaster’s Own Squadrons and composite Derbyshire and City of London Squadron),
• Nottinghamshire Battery RHA (one section of two guns),
• 15th Sikhs,
• 2/7th Middlesex,
• 1st Battalion New Zealand Rifle Brigade,
• 1st South Midland Field Ambulance,
• 137th Indian Field Ambulance, and
• Water section Composite Australian Army Service Corps

When the column arrived at 7 pm at Bir Gerawla no resistance was met and the Senussi had fled. The column destroyed stores and stock belonging to the Senussi and the local Bedouin, then moved to Bir Zarka south of Bir Gerawla however again the Senussi had fled after which the column returned to Matruh by the 30 December having destroyed eighty tents and large quantities of grain and bringing in 100 camels and 500 sheep. The biggest hazard to the men was the ground socked by rain and now no more than sludge this forced the men to drag all the wheeled transport and guns by hand.

By the start of a new year at war the weather yet again turned appalling with large falls of rain over the area of operations, this seriously restricted the movement of cavalry and wheeled transport. On the 1 January 1916 a patrol of “B” Troop “B” Squadron under Lieutenant Warren Palmer with Captain Purdy “C” company, the Adjutant Captain Bell and medical officer along with about 40 men of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade went out to find the body of Corporal Beresford-Wilkinson killed on the 25 December around the Wadi Medwa, when the body was recovered they returned that night without incident.

At this time the 3rd Light Horse Regiment entered the field as an element of Minia Force part of the Western Frontier Force which took up positions at the Wadi Natrum about 60 Km’s north west of Cairo to cover the Nile River from Senussi attacks from the Baharia Oasis while the remainder of the 1st Light Horse Brigade followed around the 13 January 1916 to join them.

On the 9 January the weather had cleared enough to continue operations and once again Lord Lucan was ordered to take a column out to destroy the Senussi encampments between Matruh and El Daaba in particular a camp of 80 plus tents at Gebel Howeimil.

This column was composed of the following;

• Composite Light Horse Regiment (three Squadrons),
• 1st Composite Yeomanry Regiment (Hertfordshire and Duke of Lancaster’s Own Squadrons and composite Derbyshire and City of London Squadron),
• “A” Battery Honourable Artillery Company (one Section of two guns),
• 2/7th Middlesex (two companies),
• 15th Sikhs (two companies),
• 1st South Midland Field Ambulance,
• 137th Indian Field Ambulance, and
• Water section Composite Australian Army Service Corps under Captain Chester Reynolds.

Before this move the famous Thomas Henley MLA of the Australian Comforts Fund arrived in Matruh on the 11 January brining the War Chest Funds Christmas Billies, he had picked up the nickname of “King Billy” for his valuable work in the Western desert. These were passed around the regiment as well as the British soldiers and contained all types of wonderful things not seen by these men for some time. An English soldier mentioned the Australians as “a splendid corps, indeed the word “friendly” is not quite enough only “Matey” expresses so much better”.

The column was ready to proceed on the 12 January and moved to Baqqush on the afternoon of the 13 January, the slow going was due to the ground saturated by rain which made the movement of horse and wheeled transport very difficult. Next day the column arrived at Gebel Howeimil which was found deserted, nevertheless a number of smaller camps in the area were found and burned while the stock was taken and a number of prisoners captured, once completed the column returned to Baqqush that night having travelled around 80 Km’s across difficult terrain.

On the 15 January “B” and “C” Squadrons with the Regimental Headquarters of the Composite Light Horse Regiment with one section “A” Battery Honourable Artillery Company were sent to El Daaba as part of the garrison while the main column returned to Matruh on the 16 January with 13 prisoners, 140 camels and 50 cattle as prizes.

Once at El Daaba the Regimental Headquarters and “B” Squadron proceed to Alexandria and were disbanded around the 19 January while “C” Squadron remained as protection at El Daaba with a few cars of the Royal Navy Armoured car section until it was returned to Alexandria and disbanded around the 5 February.

During this period the Yeomanry Composite Regiments were also under going changes as formations were being returned to Alexandria to be reformed with their Regiments which had now returned from Gallipoli. These complete units were slowly moving into the desert to merge with the Western Frontier Force.

The Affair at Halazin 23 January 1916



Map source: British Official History of the War Military Operations in Egypt and Palestine Aug 1914 to June 1917 by Lt. Gen. Sir George MacMunn and Capt. Cyril Falls


On the 19 January aircraft from 14 Squadron Royal Flying Corps again located the Senussi encampment at Halazin around 35 Km’s south west of Matruh which contained over three hundred tents including that of the Grand Senussi. General Wallace ordered the Troops to be ready to move as soon as the South African Brigade had arrived at Matruh. By the 21 January the 2nd Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Tanner had arrived and General Wallace decided to move with those forces available to destroy the camp.

The force again divided into a number of Columns, the Right Column under Lieutenant Colonel Gordon with;

• Duke and Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry (one Squadron),
• Nottinghamshire Battery RHA,
• 15th Sikhs,
• 2nd South African Battalion,
• 1st Battalion New Zealand Rifle Brigade, and
• 137th Indian Field Ambulance

The Left Column under General Biscoe with;

• 1/1st Buckinghamshire Yeomanry Regiment (three squadrons),
• Composite Yeomanry Regiment (Hertfordshire and Dorsetshire Squadrons) with “A” Squadron Composite Light Horse Regiment,
• Yeomanry Machine gun Section,
• “A” Battery Honourable Artillery Company (less one section at El Daaba), and
• 1st South Midland Field Ambulance

Reserve Column of General Wallace’s Head Quarters with;

• Australian Signal Section Composite Light Horse Regiment,
• Surrey Yeomanry Squadron (two Troops),
• 1/6th Royal Scots (two companies A and B), and
• A detachment of Royal Navy Armoured cars

Baggage escort of;

• 2/8th Middlesex (two companies), and
• Composite Australian Army Service Corps under Captain Chester Reynolds

The force left Matruh at 4 pm on the morning of 22 January and moved to Bir Shola where they camped and spent a chilly night sleeping on the wet ground awaiting all columns to concentrate.

At 6 am on the 23 January both the Right and Left Columns moved to Halazin followed by the reserve Column while the baggage train remaining at Bir Shola, the Right Column advanced covered by the cavalry of Left Column with “A” Squadron acting as the advance guard. Around 8.25 am the Senussi forward posts were found and “A” Squadron moved to engaged them, when the fighting became intense General Wallace ordered a squadron of the Buckinghamshire yeomanry with “A” Battery Honourable Artillery Company forward as support while the Infantry of the Right Column were dispatched around 10 am to take over the advance from the Cavalry.

The 15th Sikhs led the advance supported by the 2nd South African Battalion and the 1st New Zealand Rifles, while the Light Horse and Yeomanry of the Left Column now relieved by the infantry moved to the Senussi right flank to protect the Infantry and to out flank the defences. The guns of the Nottinghamshire Battery covered the Infantry advance as the tribesman retired in front of the Right Column until the Senussi arrived at Halazin and took up prepared positions in the shape of a semi circle and waited the British attack having drawn them into a trap.

At 11.45 am as the 15th Sikhs closed on the main entrenchments two companies of the 2nd South African Battalion with their new Lewis machine guns were moved to support the exposed right flank of the Sikhs as the Senussi now appeared in force on the Sikhs right. At around the same time large forces of the Senussi were seen moving onto our left flank to engage the cavalry of the Left Column.

The Senussi now pressed their attack against the 2nd South African Battalion’s right flank and a company of the New Zealand Rifles with their Machine Gun section was sent to the enemies left to take them under fire, this stopped that attack however the Senussi again sent forces to there right outflanking the New Zealanders, forcing the commitment of a company of the Royal Scots under Major Adams from the reserve to counter that threat losing one killed and five wounded.

Mean while the large Senussi forces on our left slowed any advance by the leading Squadrons of the Buckinghamshire Yeomanry Regiment as the Senussi pressed their attack around 1.30 pm when the yeomanry were forced under pressure to retire. “A” Squadron under Captain Hudson was to the rear supporting two Squadrons of the Buckinghamshire yeomanry were also forced to cover the retiring Yeomanry under heavy Senussi fire.

As the yeomanry fell back through the Light Horse “A” Squadron found itself in the front rank and soon had to conform with the Yeomanry and to conduct a fighting withdrawal Troop by Troop as the Senussi fire increased in strength and parties tried to out flank the Light Horse line, Sergeant Albert Maxwell “A” Troop was shot in the knee, and both Trooper Thomas Bushby and Trooper Albert Wyatt from “C” Troop were shot in the thigh during this intense fighting.

To its rear “A” Squadron was supported by the Dorsetshire Squadron and “A” Battery Honourable Artillery Company which provided artillery support to the infantry, and on the approach of the Senussi one gun had to pivot to the left to engage them, still the Senussi pushed on in overwhelming strength as all the cavalry retired back as far as the Reserve Column and the Head Quarters of General Wallace.

To restore the situation half of “A” and “D” companies of the New Zealand Rifles under Major Kay were ordered with the remaining Squadron of the Buckinghamshire yeomanry to move to their rear to support the cavalry and protect General Wallace’s Head Quarters. This attack on the left flank of the Senussi checked them for a while allowing the cavalry to reform and sort them selves out while “B” company under Captain Puttick soon arrived to assist. Signaller Percy Nance of the Australian Signal Section Composite Light Horse Regiment with General Wallace’s Head Quarters manned his post under heavy Senussi fire relaying messages as the action flowed around him.

The battle now took on the surreal as the 15th Sikhs were still advancing onto the Senussi entrenchments while the British left and right flanks were being turned or beaten back by the Senussi.

At 2.45 pm the 15th Sikhs supported by the South Africans and New Zealanders over ran the Senussi trenches forcing the tribesman to escape in all directions abandoning all their equipment and stores in the camp. This also led to the pressure on both flanks suddenly disappearing as the Senussi departed the battlefield at high speed, however the worn out cavalry forces of the Left Column were to exhausted for any vigorous pursuit of the fleeing Senussi and along with the Armoured Cars who were stuck in the mud with many of the horses worn out from the sticky mud and hard fighting the battle closed around 4.30 pm.

The cost of the battle were given as 312 men with one officer (Captain Walsh) and 20 men killed and 13 officers and 278 men wounded, of whom the South Africans lost one officer (Captain JD Walsh) and 7 men killed with four officers and 102 men wounded of whom one officer (Lieutenant WG Strannock) and two men died of wounds while the New Zealanders lost one man killed and two officers and 30 other ranks wounded. The British believed Senussi losses were 200 killed and 500 wounded only the British again failed to finish the Senussi off as the majority escaped to reform again.

After the battle the column was too fatigued to move and with the ambulances and supply wagons stuck in the mud and unable to join them until morning as the Columns spent another cold wet night on the battlefield with neither blankets or greatcoats, recovering all the wounded and burning the encampment and looting what ever could be found.

On the morning of the 24 January the Senussi showed no sign of continuing the battle and at 8.30 am the force moved back to Bir Shola and the limited comfort of the baggage train, as the ground turned to mire. The weather cleared on the 25 January and the force retired to Matruh, it was said in good spirits with 25 train wagons and 20 other vehicles of the Composite Australian Army Service Corps or the artillery limbers carting the suffering wounded and the dead.

Once at Matruh all the remaining Composite Forces were finally broken up and returned to there units, this included “A” Squadron and the Composite Australian Army Service Corps who left Matruh around the 30 January and returned to Alexandria on the 5 February. With large forces now available in Egypt these were now being sent into the desert for a second offensive against the Senussi and replaced all the composite Yeomanry units with fresh veteran units of the 2nd Mounted Yeomanry Brigade, General Wallace was relieved due to physical strain and General W.E. Peyton arrived to command the advance on Sollum.

Finally on the 9 February “A” Squadron was disbanded and the Composite Australian Light Horse Regiment disappeared into history. However the 1st Light Horse Brigade continued operations as part of the Western Frontier Force covering Baharia Oasis until the 11 May 1916 when the Brigade was redeployed to the Suez front.

What value could be said about the Composite Australian Light Horse Regiment and all the Composite forces in the Western desert at that time? The forces were themselves no more then a stop gap until regular Troops could be released and the job they were given was to stop Senussi expansion into Egypt and protect Matruh. This they did even if they were unsuited to the mission they were given with almost all the Mounted composite units being drawn from poorly trained reinforcements. Added to the problems of the Troops was the weather which was the worst for some time and large rain falls over the area of operations was something never expected in the desert, that with the surprising ability of the Senussi to reform their ranks and fight was a lesson to the British Generals who believed all they had to do was show the colours and the tribesman would run away.

It was said by the British Command in their official report that “Had the standard of training and the experience of the whole column been equal to those of the 15th Sikhs, the Senussi might have been heavily defeated”. Of all the units that saw action in the Western desert between December 1915 and January 1916 the 15th Sikhs was the most experienced having fought in France while no other British unit had as yet seen action.

However the Composite Australian Light Horse Regiment never received the recognition it deserved for its work in the western desert as the Senussi campaign took place between the great battles at Gallipoli and the later Light Horse victories in the Sinai desert, even Gullett’s History of the AIF in Sinai and Palestine Volume VII The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 has no mention of the Composite Light Horse Regiment only these few words on page 50,

“Meanwhile on the 23 January a composite British force including Indians, New Zealanders, South Africans and Australians, had captured and burned the Senussi camp at a point 25 miles west of Mersa Matruh, and so eased British anxiety about the Egyptian western desert.”

There is an excellent description of this campaign in CEW Bean’s History of the AIF in France 1916 Volume 111 Annex 1 the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918.

Nevertheless the Composite Australian Light Horse Regiment was the first mounted force used by Australia in the Great War and fought Australia’s first cavalry actions of that war and this experience would later served the men well in the great victories ahead.

Three men are known to be awarded decorations with the Regiment during its actions in the Western desert they are, Sergeant Albert Maxwell awarded the Italian Bronze Medal while Major Dudley Pelham Commanding Officer and Signaller Percy Nance received a Mention in Dispatches.

These are the major appointments to the 1st Composite Australian Light Horse Regiment;

RHQ (54 men)
Dudley Roger Hugh Pelham 10th Hussars Maj to T/LtCol CO
Thomas Joseph Daly 9 LHR Maj 2ic
Henry Norman Forbes 5th Lancers Lt Adjt
Gerald Eugene Macdonald Stuart 3 LHFA Capt RMO
Nicholas O'Brien 15Bn Lt Sig/officer
Alfred Watt 8 LHR Lt QM
William Archibald Moore 3 LH Bde HQ Capt Chaplain (CofE)
William Devine AACD Capt Chaplain (RC)
Harry Worthington 9 LHR Capt Vet Officer

John Frederick William McDonald 9 LHR A/Sgt to RSM *reduced to Sgt/TSSM 12th Dec 1915 to B Sqn ** replaced by SSM Bowden
Albert Edward Dyos 5 LHR RQMS
George Bailey Fletcher 9 LHR Farrier QMS
Frank George Lawrence 9 LHR Saddler Sgt
Patrick John Malone 8 LHR Transport Sgt
Leonard Lewis Scorer 3 LH Sig Troop Signal Sgt
Joseph Clegg RASC Armourer Sgt

SHQ A Sqn (20 men)
Ernest Alfred Knight Hudson 1 LHR Capt OC A Sqn
Graham Wallas 1 LHR A/Sgt to SSM A Sqn
Herbert Victor Trickett 1 LHR Pte to SQMS A Sqn
Robert William Cooper 8 LHR S/Smith Cpl to Farrier Sgt A Sqn

A Troop A Sqn (35 men) (based on 10R/1 LHR)
Frank Noel Snow 1 LHR 2/Lt A Troop Officer A Sqn
Albert Maxwell 1 LHR Pte A Troop Sgt A Sqn

B Troop A Sqn (30 men) (based on 11R/2 LHR)
George Taylor Pledge 2 LHR 2/Lt B Troop Officer A Sqn
Robert Dingwell Butters 2 LHR Pte B Troop Sgt A Sqn

C Troop A Sqn (40 men) (based on 9R and 11R/1 LHR)
Harold Ireland Johnson 7 LHR 2/Lt C Troop Officer A Sqn
William Harrington Cowper 1 LHR Pte C Troop Sgt A Sqn

D Troop A Sqn (31 men) (based on 9R/1 LHR)
Alan Pearse 6 LHR 2/Lt D Troop Officer A Sqn *Lt Yaldwyn to B Sqn
Charles Seton Logan 1 LHR Pte D Troop Sgt A Sqn

SHQ B Sqn (16 men)
Fulke Prideaux-Brune 1 LHR Capt OC B Sqn
Arthur Henry Bowden 7 LHR Pte to SSM B Sqn * to RSM 12 Dec 1915 ** replaced by T/SSM McDonald
Arthur Wyatt Miles Thompson 10 LHR A/Sgt to SQMS B Sqn
James Rusher Campbell FQMS 9 LHR Far/Sgt to Farrier QMS B Sqn

A troop B Sqn (38 men) (based 9R/10 LHR)
Albert Hopkins 10 LHR 2/Lt A Troop Officer B Sqn *FGCM drunkenness 8 Dec 1915 (who replaced him unknown)
John Graham Sandilands 10 LHR A/Cpl A Troop Sgt B Sqn *to hosp Dec 1915.
Eric Alexander Miller 10 LHR A/Cpl A Troop Sgt B Sqn

B Troop B Sqn (40 men) (mixed 2, 4, 6 and 10 LHR's)
Warren Clive Palmer 2/Lt 10 LHR B Troop Officer B Sqn *Lt Pearse to A Sqn
Horace Andrew Forward 10 LHR Pte B Troop Sgt B Sqn *to hosp Dec 1915
Edward O'Keefe 9 LHR Cpl B Troop Sgt B Sqn

C Troop B Sqn (30 men) (based 9R/5 LHR)
John Norman Land 5 LHR 2/Lt C Troop Officer B Sqn
Walter John James Bloomfield 8 LHR A/Sgt C Troop Sgt B Sqn

D Troop B Sqn (37 men) (based on 11R/5 LHR)
Hamilton Yaldwyn 5 LHR 2/Lt D Troop Officer B Sqn *changed from A Sqn **FGCM drunkenness 8 Dec 1915 who replaced him unknown.
Denis Vincent Hannay 5 LHR Lt D Troop Officer B Sqn *possible to 2ic B Sqn
Charles Hugh Lyon 8 LHR Sgt D Troop Sgt B Sqn
Ewen Gore Stewart 5 LHR A/Sgt D Troop Sgt B Sqn

SHQ C Sqn (16 men)
John Hutton Bisdee VC Hon/Maj 12 LHR to Capt OC C Sqn
Michael William Cowell 8 LHR Sgt to SSM C Sqn
Norman George Burnett 11 LHR Pte to SQMS C Sqn
James Arthur Brocos Phillip 10 LHR Far/Sgt to Farrier Sgt C Sqn

A Troop C Sqn (32 men) (based on 4R/11 LHR)
Aubrey Sydney Nobbs 11 LHR 2/Lt A Troop Officer C Sqn
Thomas Norman Johnson 11 LHR Pte A Troop Sgt C Sqn
Duncan McIntrye 11 LHR Sgt A Troop Sgt C Sqn

B Troop C Sqn (30 men) (based on 4R and 5R/12 LHR)
William Beck 12 LHR Lt B Troop Officer C Sqn
Alfred John Finlayson Bugler 12 LHR B Troop Sgt C Sqn

C Troop C Sqn (36 men) (based on 2R/13 LHR)
John Crisop Morris 13 LHR 2/Lt C Troop Officer C Sqn
William George Sydney Holland 13 LHR A/Cpl C Troop Sgt C Sqn *to hosp Dec 1915
William David Tollens 13 LHR A/Sgt C Troop Sgt C Sqn

D troop C Sqn (38 men) (based on 5R/13 LHR)
Arthur Ernest Constable Lord 13 LHR 2/Lt D Troop Officer C Sqn
Albert James Gibson 13 LHR Pte D Troop Sgt C Sqn *to hosp Dec 1915
Silverton Silas Claude Payne 13 LHR A/Sgt D Troop Sgt C Sqn

Sources both Official and Non Official

British Official History of the War Military Operations in Egypt and Palestine Aug 1914 to June 1917 by LtGen Sir George MacMunn and Capt Cyril Falls,

History of the AIF in Sinai and Palestine, Volume VII, the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 by HS Gullett,

History of the AIF in France 1916 Volume 111 Annex 1 the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 by CEW Bean,

Supplement to the London Gazette 21 June 1916 Operations on the Western Front to 31 January 1916 by General Maxwell,

History of the Berkshire Yeomanry Regiment,

The Campaigns in Palestine by General Morshead,

Nominal Roll book 129 of Composite Light Horse Regiment Field Returns B213 – 7-1-16, 26-1-16 and 24-3-16,

History of the Operations of the 1st Div Train AWM 16 4360-3-1 (unpublished)

History of the 3rd LHFA by Capt Gerald Eugene Macdonald Stuart (unpublished),

History of the South African Forces in France,

History of the 6th Bn Royal Scots,

History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade by Austin,

Equal to the Task History of the RAASC by Fairclough,

With Our Army in Palestine by Anthony Bluett

Personal Diary of Sapper Charles William Jamieson 3rd LH Sig Troop (unpublished),

Personal account by Lt Heath Surrey Yeomanry,

Personal letter by Jack McGlade (unpublished),

Personal diary of Dvr S. Stevenson (unpublished), and

Personal diary of WJ Darmody 1 Div Train (unpublished)



By kind permission of Steve Becker, below is an account of the Australian Composite Regiment which fought in the western desert of Egypt as part of the little known campaign against the Senussi and their uprising in late 1915.


Further Reading:

Western Frontier Force, Egypt, 1915 - 1916


Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: Western Frontier Force, Egypt, 1915 - 1916, The History of the Composite Australian Light Horse Regiment

Posted by Project Leader at 3:58 PM EADT
Updated: Tuesday, 27 July 2010 6:21 PM EADT
Western Frontier Force, Egypt, 1915 - 1916, 9th Light Horse Regiment and the Composite Regiment
Topic: AIF - WFF

Western Frontier Force

Egypt, 1915 - 1916

9th Light Horse Regiment and the Composite Regiment



Senussi Rebellion and the role played by the 9th Light Horse Regiment with the Composite Regiment

While the bulk of the men from the 9th LHR were freezing on the Gallipoli Peninsular and preparing to leave, another group of their comrades, were just moving into a new theatre of conflict in the Western Desert of Egypt. This was one of the lesser-known campaigns fought by men of the 9th LHR occurred during November and December 1915 and ending for the 9th LHR in January 1916. The conflict became known as the Senussi Rebellion, which rolled on throughout the western borders of Egypt.



The Senussi were followers of an Islamic sect founded in the eighteenth century by a pious sheikh. The chief aim of the sect was nationalistic in that it aimed to use Islam and the rifle to unite all Moslems throughout North Africa into one Islamic nation. It drew upon the nomadic Arabs inhabiting the fringe regions and deserts of Egypt and Libya. As the years progressed so did their militancy and insularity. The Senussi’s used Siwa Oasis as the centre of their movement.





It was from Siwa Oasis that for many years the Senussi, led by Sheikh Sayyid Ahmed, were in armed conflict against the Italians in Libya since 1911 when they seized the Ottoman province of Tripoli. They even helped the Turks fight the Italians at Cyrenaica. All the while they maintained good relations with the British administration. This low level guerrilla war of the Senussi’s against the Italians was still ongoing when the Great War broke out. It was at this point that things changed as far as the British were concerned.

Initially the nationalistic Arabs throughout Egypt were particularly hostile to the British when they declared a protectorate over Egypt in December 1914 in response to the war with the Ottoman Empire. Turkish agents were not quiet. They went throughout Egypt stirring up the nationalists with Ottoman propaganda while the Germans supplied lavish amounts of cash.  While this destabilised Egypt, it had little influence upon the Senussi who remained friendly with the British.

Things changed in May 1915 when Italy negated their alliance with German and Austria and subsequently declared war on Turkey as an ally of Britain. For the Senussi, the British were now allies of their sworn enemy and thus now their enemy. The pressure was far too great for the Senussi to remain silent and they stirred into rebellion against the British. For months it was a low level rebellion which the British hoped to control with minimal effort.
Things came to a head in November when the crews from the HMT “Moorina” and HMS “Tara” made their way near Cyrenaica after both their ships were torpedoed by German U Boats. After the British sailors landed on the coast, they sought assistance from the local people. They were taken in and given accommodation while the locals informed the Senussi militia. Later on, the Senussi abducted the sailors and held them as prisoners of war although they might have been willing to ransom them.
The abduction of the sailors was an ideal opportunity to send a message to the British authorities that these captives represented a clear declaration of war against them. The Senussi's were ready. Jaafar Pasha, a competent Ottoman General had whipped a loose force into a highly trained military force of some 5,000 regular forces. In addition there were many irregulars who were only too willing to throw in their lot with the Senussi’s if there was the prospect of loot. In addition to the regular forces, the Ottomans supplied and manned mountain guns and machine guns. The Senussi’s could put quite a formidable force into the field. This danger was not lost on the British.

After the abduction, events moved rapidly. Emboldened by their first action, Senussi units rode out from Siwa Oasis and raided Sollum and Sidi Barrani, two British posts, which connected Alexandria to Matruh along the coast. The pressure was too intense on such small posts so the British withdrew to Mersa Matruh. An urgent call was made to Cairo for more forces to contain the rebellion.

For General John Maxwell, British commander for Egypt the situation created a tricky situation. Tactically, there were problems created in exposing supply lines to Gallipoli to attack. Even worse, should this rebellion become more widespread, it would also threaten the Suez Canal, something that Maxwell had to defend with every man available. Since there were very few trained forces in Egypt, Maxwell needed to cobble together an army from the disparate units left in Cairo and Alexandria. He dispatched Major-General Wallace, on 11 December 1915, to lead a composite unit known as the Western Frontier Force to be based at Mersa Matruh for operations against the Senussi.



The Australian formation was to be called the Composite Regiment, made up of men drawn from every training depot in Egypt. Added to them were men from the 9th LHR‘s reinforcements based at the Heliopolis Racecourse. For mobility, all horses to be supplied to this Regiment were to come from the 3rd Light Horse Brigade. This meant that in addition to the fighting men, the farriers were to be drawn from the ranks of the 3rd LH Bde, the men who were left behind from Gallipoli to look after the horses.

The CO of the Composite Regiment was drawn from the Yeomanry with Major Pelham of the 11th Hussars given the post. Second in command was an Australian, Major Tom Daly from the 9th LHR, the erstwhile commander of the 3rd LH Bde Details camp at Heliopolis. Working quickly, Pelham and Daly put together a force of about 535 men. The medical staff was drawn entirely from the 3rd Light Horse Field Ambulance. When the nominal roll was submitted to Wallace, in true bureaucratic style, Cairo staff informed Daly that the Regiment was over-strength by 30 men, who needed to be dropped from the roll. The emergency was not so great as to overlook legal niceties. To keep the indents on rations legal, 30 men were sent back to the various details camps.

When the personnel in the regiment was sorted out, it was moved from Cairo to Alexandria by rail. When they arrived at Mex camp in Alexandria, the men were issued with swords and rifle buckets in addition to all their other light horse issued gear. This altered the nature of the force from light horse to heavy cavalry. It was the first time Australian forces were issued with swords during the Great War. When all the appropriate stores were issued, the men were prepared for action through one week’s intensive training. Part of the syllabus involved the use of swords, a novelty to the Australians.

It was at Mex that the first casualties were suffered. Twenty men from the Composite Regiment went ill through an epidemic of mumps. This left only 485 men in the Regiment, a time when Daly would have reflected that the other 30 men sent back to the camps would have been quite useful at that moment.

Orders were issued that Matruh was to be established as the base for all the Composite Regiment’s operations. Since a large Senussi force periodically cut the road from El Daaba to Matruh and only a regiment of armed men would be able to deal with any attack. In response, all surplus baggage was to be shipped to Matruh. The men horses were entrained to the railhead at El Daaba with instructions to march to Matruh. The first squadron left El Daaba on Wednesday, 8 December 1915 and began their long and slow march.

Because of the poor water supply, the trip from El Daaba to Matruh cope with any more than 200 horses in a day. Consequently, the Composite Regiment had to be broken into smaller formations and proceed in the stages at Squadron strength. The journey was some 135 kilometres in distance which could be only completed in 30 – 40 kilometre stages. Along the way Indian troops established and maintained outposts to keep the route open. The squadron protecting the Regimental Headquarters also acted as the escort for the Divisional Train. The march went smoothly and all men arrived at Matruh between 11 and 12 December 1915.

Matruh was a good choice as it was easily defended. On one side was a moat made by the Mediterranean Sea while on the other side was a series of hills. Each of the hills surrounding Matruh held a redoubt. These heavily armed outposts held men and machine guns surrounded by a formidable barrier of barbed wire. Apart from sniping, the Senussi had little ability to breach the defences of the position and capture Matruh.

To overcome the lack of water, each regiment set up their own water supply team comprising an officer and four men, all mounted with pack horses carrying pumping outfits, water testing kits and chlorination boxes. They travelled immediately to rear of the regimental advance guard. Their job was to ensure a good clean water supply. Because of the various bacteria in the water, it had to be chlorinated to kill off any harmful life. In so doing, sometime the chlorination ended up to be so strong that the subsequent product tasted like it came out of a swimming pool. For the men and horses it was bitter and difficult to drink.

At first, wells were used by the troops but they were soon depleted within days. By the beginning of January a desalination plant had been brought into Matruh which ensured a plentiful water supply to the troops. One side product for the men was the ability to enjoy the great luxury, they had water for a hot bath.

However, that was in the future. For the men arriving from their weary trip from El Daaba to Matruh, they went almost immediately into action. On Saturday, 11 December 1915, the men came face to face with the Senussi and came off second best. The day started when the first Composite Regiment squadron to arrive at Matruh, ‘A’ Squadron, was detailed to give support to a Yeomanry patrol working in the area about 10 kilometres south of Matruh near a place known as Samaket el Medwa. As they rode along, the advanced guard of the Yeomanry patrol spotted a small group of Senussi hiding in a depression. Apparently throwing all caution to the wind and seeking a glorious martyr’s death, the little group of Senussi began shooting at the passing Yeomanry. There was nothing more calculated to get the attention of the Yeomanry patrol and it did indeed have the desired result.

While out of the killing zone, the Yeomanry formed up, drew their swords and prepared to charge down the Senussi shooting at them. In seconds the might palfreys of the Yeomanry came charging, swords waving in the air, with the men whooping towards the little group of Senussi. As the Yeomanry came thundering down, the Senussi were seen to retreat into a gully. Into the gully galloped the men from the Yeomanry followed by the Composite Squadron. To their great surprise, suddenly 100 Senussi stood up from their concealed positions and began to shoot at the horsemen. The men knew they had fallen into a trap and fighting their way out with severe casualties seemed the only result. The shoot out began at close quarters. Fierce and bloody fighting began as the Yeomanry and Composite Squadron fought for their very survival.


But in true poetic fashion, they were rescued at the last minute. A couple armoured patrol cars from the Royal Navy Armoured Car Division were making a sweep when they fortuitously showed up on the scene. A man sent out on his horse to get help by the Yeomanry commander, alerted the patrol cars as to the situation. After a couple minutes discussion to work out the best tactics, the patrol cars moved to outflank the Senussi. A few bursts of their machine guns gave the Senussi the uncomfortable message that the trap was finished. It was time for the Senussi to move and they did with great rapidity. The wounded were few and able to be transported back to Matruh by the armoured cars.

For the men of the two units, it was a wake up call alerting them to the ability of their foe. If they thought it was going to be simple, this example of Senussi tactics said otherwise. Caution regarding engagement was now the watchword. This group moved along the Khedivial Road until swinging up north through Wadi Sinab to meet up with a main body at bivouacking near Ras umm er Rakham.

On Monday, 13 December 1915, ‘A’ Squadron of the Composite Regiment marched off to Bir Shola, an oasis some 25 kilometres south west of Matruh. When they concentrated with other units, they were part of a greater force, which included two Yeomanry squadrons, a Sikh Battalion, and the 6th Royal Scots Battalion. In opposition to this force was a large force of Senussi spread over a large area. As the units went into action, the allied forces could only respond to the rapid movements of the Senussi. Initially the resulting fight turned out to be an all out melee. Then Sikhs delivered the most powerful blows at Hazalin watched on by everyone else. So excited was everyone about engaging in action that even Padre Devine, posted to the Composite Regiment, found a rifle and took part in the fight. The day was a draw with the Western Frontier Force disengaging and withdrawing to their night bivouacs at Ras umm er Rakham.


The casualties for the day were 65 men. In picking the men up, instead of stretcher bearers from the field ambulance clearing the battlefield, storemen and drivers from the Australian Supply Corps undertook the arduous task. Some were wounded while collecting the wounded. The injured men were evacuated to a temporary casualty clearing station at Ras umm er Rakham where they were patched up and sent onto a hospital ship called "The Rashid", the former pleasure yacht of the Khedive of Egypt.

That night the men all stood to arms in anticipation of a Senussi attack on their position at Ras umm er Rakham. Nothing happened. For the allied force, the night passed quietly and in peace. The next morning revealed the full story.

As the Allied force went to rest at Ras umm er Rakham, the Senussi thought that the Western Frontier Force would march back to safety of Matruh for the evening. In anticipation of this move, they moved off from Bir Shola and raced as fast as possible to take up a position between Ras umm er Rakham and Matruh and so set an ambush for the unwary force. For them nothing happened either as the Allied force rested at Ras umm er Rakham.

The Western Frontier Force moved off at 6am Tuesday, 14 December 1915, and marched towards Matruh. In the meantime, the Senussi had moved to their ambush position without having eaten or drunk any water. The sun was hot, the men hungry and thirst and feeling very jaded. At 9am, the main force of irregulars was fed up and began to move off leaving a few regulars behind to maintain the ambush.

Half an hour later, at 9.30am the Western Frontier Force arrived at the ambush site. The Senussi regulars could do little else than mount some desultory fire from a mountain gun and precious little else. After a few angry shots, the Senussi retreated and the battle was over after their whimper of an attack. The Allies arrived at Matruh by lunchtime with no casualties. It was clear that one phase of fighting ended in stalemate. It required a new offensive, which was best done by the armoured cars.

After this action, the Light Horse was confined to undertaking routine patrols during the night and day. It was boring work requiring a great deal of concentration while riding over the miles of featureless landscape. At times the close attention lapsed and trouble occurred.

Sometimes things got out of hand and the notion of routine patrol became very much a misnomer. During one occasion, on Saturday 18 December 1915, a troop found itself surrounded by the Senussi who were advancing on the hapless troops. Brisk musket fire from the troop of Light Horsemen was the only thing that held the Senussi at bay although this was only short term. As time went on, things became very uncomfortable for the men who were now fighting to stay alive. In the distant, the advanced guards from the Composite Regiment heard the gunfire and determined the direction. It was obvious that the firing was intense and in the direction where the patrol should be located. The Regiment turned out in force and rode off quickly to rescue their comrades. By sheer determination to survive coupled with excellent training, the troop extricated itself without any assistance. When the Regiment arrived, their only task was to chase off the attacking force which melted away when confronted by such a large force. The troop, despite the intense firefight, suffered only one man wounded. Feeling relieved, the troop rode accompanied by the regiment to Matruh for some well earned rest.

On receiving information that there was a concentration of Senussi south of Matruh around Wadi Medwa and concentrated around a redoubt on Gebel Medwa, a plateau rising above the wadi. On Saturday, 25 December 1915, Christmas Day, the Western Frontier Force left Matruh in 4.00am for a sortie force. The force was broken into two columns, the first being the main force which moved down the Khedivial Road towards Wadi Raml, the most direct route to Gebel Medwa. The other force, a highly mobile cavalry regiment went directly south to follow Wadi el Toweiwia until swinging due west to outflank the retreating Senussi and so capture them.

After reaching Wadi Raml, things then became hard for the force. No tracks leading into the wadis meant that moving wagons up and down slopes required the use of drag ropes and brute force. The horses had to be carefully moved up and down the banks. Once on the plateau they set a course to the west until they encountered the Senussi near Gebel Medwa at about 8am that morning.

The Senussi felt comfortable in letting the force come to them. Their plan was to shoot at the Allied force only when they were close enough to engage at point blank range. At 40 metres, the Senussi opened fire. One man suffered a flesh wound. The fighting heated up with the Senussi being forced to retreat since they were being attacked simultaneously from the north and south. This pincer movement forced the Senussi to move so by 10am the they were retreating westward. The Senussi moved all over the place with feints and ruses being attempted. By 5pm, the Senussi force of about 300 men was trapped in a gully surrounded by the various Allied units. They were fired upon with shrapnel and rifle fire.


An order was given to the force to retire to Matruh. For those on the south side of the gully it meant climbing down some 50 metres to the bottom of the gully and then climbing up again. The men of the Composite Regiment dismounted and walked their way over. Following them came the New Zealand Infantry Battalion. Inside the gully were the remains of a slaughtered force. The Western Frontier Force suffered one dead and four wounded. This was due to good luck by the force and poor shooting from the Senussi.

Apart from the trapped Senussi, the other group with the tough luck story was the Field Ambulance team with their Maltese cart. Unable to ride it down, they asked for assistance from the Composite Regiment and the New Zealanders. No one wanted to lend a hand. They were left to their own devices. With the occasional pot shots fired at them, the men winched their cart into the gully, walked the horses up the other side and then winched the cart up again. The return of a few Senussi gave the men a spur to get a move along. Feeling sorry for themselves they trudged each weary kilometre to Matruh, a 20 kilometre march. Just when they thought things could not get any worse, the heavens opened up with a torrential downpour while they were within sight of Matruh. Dry tents and warm tucker restored their jaded feelings.

After this foray the role of the force went back to routine patrols. Sometimes raids were undertaken to capture supplies of food and fodder which could be used by the Senussi. By the middle of January 1916, the rebellion was substantially reduced. At this time the South African Infantry Battalion joined the force at Matruh relieving the Composite Regiment who set out for Cairo on Thursday, 20 January 1916.


The movement to El Daaba proved to be difficult. More rain fell turning the tracks into a quagmire over which the transport carts had to move. When the Composite Regiment arrived at Agagia, they were asked to remain since a spy had reported the presence of the Senussi leader, Sidi Haroun who was waiting with a couple mountain guns and a force in an attempt to ambush the Regiment. With that in mind, the Regiment marched south for 60 kilometres searching for the elusive force but found nothing. Apparently smoke signals were used to alert the Senussi of the approaching force and they had disappeared.

The rest of the trip to El Daaba where the Composite Regiment took the train to Heliopolis was quiet. By the end of January 1916, all the Light Horsemen had returned to their respective regiments while the horses were returned to the regiments of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade.

Antill was relieved to get the horses back as the 3rd LH Bde was going through a major retraining program. Prior to the arrival of the horses, the men were reduced to practicing their horse skills on wooden horses. It was a good joke for the men but a frustration for the officers. Now the 9th LHR was finally complete again, the real training could begin.


Participants in the Senussi Campaign

This is a list of the 30 men from the 9th LHR who took part in the Senussi Campaign from November 1915 to January 1916.

386 Dvr Jack Brown
107 Far Sgt James Campbell
892A Pte William Carter
24 Dvr James Clark
25 Dvr Michel Cole
396 Sdlr Ernest Couzens
76 S/Smth Melville Farmer
8 Farrier Quartermaster Sgt George Fletcher
640 S/Smth Ray Frauenfelder
416 Dvr Stanley Gundry
420 Pte Thomas Hamilton
418 Pte George Hayhoe
863 Pte Harold Kelly
432 Dvr Philip Kirk
149 S/Smth Sgt Frank Lawrence
168 Dvr Joseph McCarthy
167 S/Smth Harold Mertin
29 L/Cpl William Mingo
162 Dvr John Morrissey
611 Sgt Edward O'Keefe
1116 Pte Edward Parker
1139 Pte Thomas Nathaniel Rickaby
32 Pte Fred Rigby
481 Pte Alfred Rooney
480 Pte Arthur Rowe
613 Pte Thomas Smith
563 Dvr Alfred Stancliffe
199 S/Smth Corporal James Taylor
608 S/Smth Corporal William Turner
Capt Harry Worthington



Further Reading:

Western Frontier Force, Egypt, 1915 - 1916


Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: Western Frontier Force, Egypt, 1915 - 1916, 9th Light Horse Regiment and the Composite Regiment

Posted by Project Leader at 3:43 PM EADT
Updated: Tuesday, 27 July 2010 6:25 PM EADT
Great War, Military Biographies, The old man of the AIF, George Paul
Topic: GW - Biographies

Great War

Military Biographies

The old man of the AIF, George Paul


George Paul, 1918


3664 Corporal George Paul and the AIF

The story of 3664 Cpl George Paul's enlistment in the AIF makes fascinating reading. At 69, he became one of the oldest recruit to see service in the AIF.

Here is the article from the Sydney Mail, 7 August 1918 at p. 34:

Enlisted at 69.

There are few soldiers or the A.I.F. possessing long a record of soldiering as Corporal George Paul, now living at Wallaballah, a little township two miles from Quirindi. He must have surely been born under the planet of Mars, for he has fought in all the principal British campaigns during the last half century. Corporal Paul served first in the Ashanti war in 1873-4, under Sir Garnet Wolseley, and afterwards in the Zulu War of 1874, under Lord Chelmsford, father of the one-time popular Governor of New South Wales, and Queensland, and now Viceroy of India. He fought again at Tel-el-Kebir under Sir Garnet Wolseley, in 1882, and went twice to the Boer War of 1899-02, under Sir Ian Hamilton and Lord Methuen. He holds the Ashanti, Zulu. Egyptian, and King's and Queen's South African medals. Finally, and most remarkable of all, he enlisted in the A.I.F., and fought in France with the Tunnellers. He was then 69 years of age and how he came to he enlisted, both for the Boer War and the present war is a long story. It turned that when a man is keen enough, or when fighting is still the blood, nothing will stop him. It is all open secret, locally, that his official age was a year younger when he enlisted in the Boer War than when he joined the A.I.F. When the first 'March to Freedom’ arrived at Quirindi last May, the veteran Corporal was there to meet it, and instantly he picked up the step, and marched into town with the boys, keen on joining up again. With all his half-century of soldiering, the years lie lightly upon him, and with his easy carriage, alertness, and bronze face, "old George" would pass easily amongst strangers as a man of fifty. The story of his life deal with adventure and events, which, together, make up some of the most stirring chapters in the history of the expansion and consolidation of the British Empire. Our illustration shows Corporal Paul in his A.I.F. uniform. What an example for young Australians who have not answered the call.

The story was repeated again in the R.S.S.I.L.A. Official Year Book [Coronation Issue], 1937 which gave a brief vignette about the man similar to that in the Sydney Mail article shown above. Since the R.S.S.I.L.A. Official Year Book was published in 1937, and given the year was when George Paul died, the story was more of an obituary.

George Paul had his baptism registered on 15 February 1848 at the parish of Dornoch, Sutherland so we can assume he was born somewhere around that time. His father was James Paul [b. 1832] and mother known as Kate. We know from NSW Certificate No. 15984 that George Paul died at Quirindi in 1937, making him 89 at the time.

While nothing about him prior to 1900 can be verified, there is nothing in his story that leads to doubt about accepting his history of service. Once he commences service in Australia, then he is picked up by the official records.

The first official record of service we have is that 1123 Trooper George Paul enlisted in the Bushies, the New South Wales Imperial Bushmen. Here are his details from Murray:


George Paul

Service number: 1123

Rank: Sergeant


Conflict: South Africa, 1899-1902 (Boer War)

State: NSW

Source: Murray page number - 104


He was allocated to the last formed NSW squadron, F Squadron. Here is his name and rank recorded on the list published in the Sydney Mail, 7 April 1900 at p. 79. George Paul's name is underlined in red.


New South Wales Imperial Bushmen, F Squadron, Sydney Mail, 7 April 1900.


The Sydney Mail, 28 April 1900 at p. 984 published a photograph of all the men from F company taken the day before they departed. 1123 Trooper George Paul is circled in red.


Some men of the New South Wales Imperial Bushmen, F Squadron
[From: Sydney Mail, 28 April 1900, p. 984.]

Paul embarked from Sydney on the Armenian, 23 April 1900. He spent over a year in South Africa taking part in many of the key engagements of the war.

He arrived back in Sydney on the Orient landing at Cowper Wharf, 15 July 1901. A cartoon series of the landing published in the Sydney Mail, 27 July 1901, p. 217.


A cartoon series of the landing
[From: Sydney Mail, 27 July 1901, p. 217.]


Paul was awarded the Queen's South African Medal with 5 bars - Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Transvaal, Rhodesia and South Africa 1901. There is a bit of a question as to whether he arrived as a Sergeant or Lieutenant.

Paul's next period of service reflected some form of senior rank as he enlisted as 23 Sergeant George Paul, 1st Australian Commonwealth Horse (NSW), A Squadron. Here is his Murray entry from the AWM:


George Paul

Service number: 23

Rank: Trooper


Conflict: South Africa, 1899-1902 (Boer War)

State: NSW

Source: Murray page number - 169


Since this was a Commonwealth formation, his Attestation Papers can be accessed through the NAA.

Again the Sydney Mail was on the job. In the edition of 8 February 1902, at p. 344, they published a picture of the 1st Australian Commonwealth Horse (NSW), A Squadron where we see Sgt Paul seated with his men. He is circled in red.


1st Australian Commonwealth Horse (NSW), A Squadron

[From: Sydney Mail, 8 February 1902, p. 344.]


Paul embarked from Sydney on the Custodian, 18 February 1902. By the time they arrived and prepared for action, the war was coming to a close. Peace broke out on 2 June 1902.

George Paul returned from South Africa on 11 August 1902.

After that, we lose touch with him although it appears that he might have married somewhere along the way. His attestation papers mention a wife Mary Ann but there is no record of this marriage in NSW.

During the Great War, while the "Freedom March" passed by his town, he began the march again and enlisted as a soldier. When he joined up his previous military service was recognised and was made Acting Sergeant but on active service was promoted to Corporal. Here he is in uniform, 3664 Cpl George Paul, No 4 Tunnelling Company prior to embarkation.


A brief military biography of George Paul from The AIF Project:

Regimental number3664
Place of birthDornoch, Scotland
AddressWallabadah, New South Wales
Marital statusMarried
Age at embarkation48
Next of kinWife, Mrs Mary Paul, Wallabadah, New South Wales
Previous military serviceServed in the Ashanti War, 1873-4; Zulu War, 1874; Tel el Kebir, 1882; Boer War, 1899-1902.
Enlistment date19 October 1915
Date of enlistment from Nominal Roll18 October 1915
Rank on enlistment2nd Corporal
Unit nameTunnelling Company 4, Headquarters 1
AWM Embarkation Roll number16/10/1
Embarkation detailsUnit embarked from Sydney, New South Wales, on board HMAT A69 Warilda on 22 May 1916
Rank from Nominal Roll2nd Corporal
Unit from Nominal Roll4th Tunnelling Company
FateReturned to Australia 17 March 1917
Discharge date14 June 1917
Other details

War service: Western Front

Embarked Sydney, 22 May 1916; disembarked Plymouth, England, 18 July 1916.

Proceeded overseas to France, 15 October 1916.

Admitted to 26th General Hospital, Etaples, 6 December 1916 (debility); transferred to England,13 December 1916, and admitted to Dover Hospital; discharged to No 1 Command Depot, Perham Downs, 16 December 1916.

Marched out to No 2 command Depot, Weymouth, 20 November 1916.

Commenced return to Australia from Plymouth on board HT 'Beltana' for discharge (senility), 17 February 1917; arrived Sydney, 15 May 1917; discharged (medically unfit), 14 June 1917.

Medals: British War Medal, Victory Medal
Miscellaneous detailsReal age: 69
Date of death1937
SourcesNAA: B2455, PAUL George
Sydney 'Mail', 7 August 1918.



Paul embarked from Sydney on the HMAT A69 "Warilda", 22 May 1916 and arrived at Plymouth on 18 July 1916. From there he went to France on 16 October 1916 ending up at the base at Etaples. Once there, after 2 months, on 6 December 1916, he was admitted to hospital at Etaples with debility. From that moment he was on his way back to Australia, first to Tidworth, then Weymouth, and finally Plymouth where he boarded the Beltana on 17 February 1917 for a trip back to Australia. It looks like the military authorities finally tumbled to the fact that George was not 48 but a tad bit older. When Paul reached Sydney, on 14 June 1917, he received a medical discharge on the grounds of senility.

This is indeed one of those good stories, which occasionally we come across and makes it a sheer joy to research.


Further Reading:

Great War, Military Biographies

Great War, August 1914

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: Great War, Military Biographies, The old man of the AIF, George Paul

Posted by Project Leader at 9:12 AM EADT
Updated: Tuesday, 27 July 2010 6:35 PM EADT

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