When we speak of ANZAC we mostly think of the infantry men who landed on that fateful day on the April 25, 1915.
But today I would like to draw your attention to a major reinforcement by the Australian Light Horse which occurred three weeks after that first landing. The 1st Light Horse Regiment of the Australian Imperial Force was raised in August 1914 and incorporated elements of militia regiments (including the NSW Lancers and the Hunter River Lancers) and men from country districts who could ride. In October 1914 the Regiment sailed for Egypt.
The Australian light horse was garrisoned at Cairo at the time of the initial landing on Gallipoli and when news of the ‘warm welcome’ the Turks had given the Allies, the light horsemen were dismounted, issued with infantry kit, stripped of their cavalry colour patches to conceal their identity as mounted rifles and rushed to the support of their mates.
They arrived on May 12, 1915 and were immediately thrown into action. Although they had received no training in this style of conflict they acquitted themselves with distinction. When the decision was taken to withdraw from Gallipoli over a two night period on the 19th /20th December 1915, the light horsemen were given the task of covering the evacuation.
At 3.20am eight officers and 67 other ranks ran down to the beach with their socks pulled over their boots to muffle the noise and boarded the final lighter.
The question is ‘how could a military debacle such as this become the focus of national pride and remembrance? And why do we commemorate it with such reverence?’
The answer, in part, lies in the foundation of Australia as the new member of the, then, British Empire in 1901.
In earlier conflicts Australians had served in British units but in WW1 they served under their own flag. In the words of the Ode ‘they went with song to the battle’ and when the cruelty of war faced them they responded with enormous courage and resilience. The mateship developed by settlers in taming our land was the bond that supported our ANZACs and is continued today throughout our defence forces.
ANZAC Day does not glorify war but highlights the cost of freedom. We are reminded that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance and the commemoration of Australia’s contributions to campaigns from 1915 to the present will keep that vigilance sharp.
Lest we forget.
- Norm Cason, Nelson Bay RSL Sub-Branch vice president