Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

writing

Yesterday morning I found myself wrapped in that cosy feeling when one feels at one with their surroundings.  West End Cemetery Park greeted me with a warm spirited hug as I, in turn, embraced Heritage Day.

Mingling with family and friends (some living and some not), I found myself walking along the wind damaged Strand after Cyclone Althea;  I revisited my dream of owning a Triumph Stag (the only car to ever stop me in my tracks); and my mind trailed off to the distant Scottish highlands on the haunting notes of bagpipes. Whilst on my time travels, I also stumbled upon a stall for aspiring writers, manned by a local Writers’ Group.

Of course, I couldn’t let the chance pass me by.  I had to stop and chat to like minded people whose souls, like my own, are immersed in the world of the written word; whose worlds slip in and out of reality at the touch of a pen, (or computer keyboard for the more tech-savvy among us). The advertising material mentioned access to critiques and publishing possibilities, all things that I will need in the future.  The works of group members were for sale and varied from fantasy to Historical fiction to family stories.  I felt sure that my chosen genre of family history would fit into the criteria somehow.  After-all, we are all writers, right?

I chatted with the three people manning the stall, trying to establish a connection.

“What style of writing are you interested in?” They asked.

“Family History,” I replied. “I’m writing about my Great Grandfather.”

“You might be better joining the Family History Association,” was their suggestion.

I have nothing against a Family History Association, and after visiting their stall, I do intend to join.  However, I love writing and thought that associating with like minded people would be inspiring. Don’t get me wrong, these people were really lovely and indeed tried to help and I think I will eventually join.  However, I came away mulling over the importance of writing about our family history.  Is family history writing considered by some to be a dry list of names, dates and facts?

Through the various courses I have attended on the subject of writing family history, I have learned the basics on how to write about the past in a fresh and interesting way.  I have found myself on some amazing journeys, following the works of other family historians, watching their stories bloom and flourish from mere seeds of dry facts into wonderful engaging tales.  First and foremost, we write to preserve our family stories for future generations.  Publication and success on the worldwide literary market would be great, however, for the most part our readers will be our families.  That makes our stories the most precious of all.

However, I still believe that writers of all kinds can learn so much from each other. A story still needs an underlying theme about a universal truth in order to capture the reader’s interest.  In hindsight, perhaps I should have described my current project to the Writer’s Group as “a story about a man who endeavoured, against all odds, to be true to himself.”  Then again, Great Grandfather’s spirit might not have been feeling sociable yesterday.

So for now, I will join the Family History Association to assist my research into my Great Grandfather’s story.  They have an amazing access to sites and materials. Then, when I eventually embark on an earth shattering Memoir or a smash hit novel, I might be ready to join a writers’ group, who will help pave my literary path with gold and put my name up on the Everest of Literary Greats.  There is no harm in dreaming is there?

 

 

23rd April 1916

 

 

Battle_of_Katia_map_(Gullett_p_83)

 

Before dawn on 23rd April 1916, as thick sea fog moved inland from the Bay of Tina, a 5000 strong army, under the command of German General Kress Von Kressenstein, was being mobilized.  Taking advantage of the fog, they launched simultaneous attacks on British posts east of the Suez Canal, including Oghratina, Bir Katia and Bir-El-Dueidar,  The latter, which was attacked by 700 camelmen, was the only survivor.  Out of a stronghold of 120 Royal Scots Fusiliers and 36 Bikanir Camel Corps, 23 men were lost.¹

William felt his aching head pumping against the swell of his rolled great coat.  His mind was dense and foggy, barely able to absorb the details of the day’s events as they were revealed around the campfire. His headaches had become more frequent of late.  Whether they were caused from the sun or lack of water, he didn’t know.  For now, he needed to wrap himself in a warm cocoon of darkness and quiet, although he knew that peace in his world was a luxury.  At any moment, the wall of safety could come crashing down, with a sudden outburst of rifle shots, as it did that morning.

The circle of faces, that joined William around the soft orange fire, all sagged from varying degrees of exhaustion.  Eyes stared blankly into the lethargic flames, barely reacting to the story of the day’s events as they unfolded.

“We can thank our Sentry’s poor wee terrier that any of us survived,” ² A young Scottish man recalled, shaking his head whilst staring into the fire.

Some men drew slowly from burning cigarettes, savouring the moment before illuminating the night sky with white streams of smoke.  One man stoked the dying flames with pieces of palm fronds.  But no one spoke or interrupted the young man who told the tale.

“The little chap barked furiously and jumped up onto the parapet, trying to shield his mate as the enemy loomed out of the thick fog.” He continued in his clipped Scottish accent.

“He saved his master.  That is for sure. The wee dog’s barking and growling awoke him from his sleep, then…..”

The storyteller paused and closed his eyes.

“Then, he was dead,” He finally said.

“What happened to the poor little begger?”  An Australian trooper asked.

“He was bashed with the butt of a rifle.”

The voice of the storyteller droned on as William laid back with his eyes shut, too tired to react.  His head was still thumping and his mind racing around and around with details of the day.  He wished he could shut it down. But the memories of those poor dead men that were buried that afternoon kept playing like a tragic newsreel.

Then, out of the fog, Cis and the boys appeared, smiling and waving as his train pulled away from Minehan Siding. That day feels like  a lifetime ago! Cis you are so strong.  You’re a survivor. But I do so worry about you. Was it fair of me to leave you for a war that seems to be going nowhere? 

The buzz of planes³ overhead seized the moment and all eyes looked skyward. They weren’t the enemy, but any disturbance at 8.30pm on a quiet desert night was unnerving.  What’s next?  As if the collective worries of those men were answered, the feint boom of guns echoed out of the darkness.

 

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Katia
  2. The Desert Column, by Ion Idriess – Page 76
  3. The Desert Column, by Ion Idriess – Page 75

 

 

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

Vintage letter

Becoming acquainted with our ancestors can be fraught with difficulties.  Without letters or diaries, where do we start?  Often, if you are researching a Grandparent or Great Grandparent, there are bound to be living relatives who knew your ancestor personally.  Of course, researching previous generations can be more difficult.

In the case of my Great Grandparents, I have managed to interview several living Grandchildren.  Interestingly, each of them began the conversation with, “I don’t think I can really help you.”  Regarding my Great Grandfather, they all assumed I wanted information about his military activities during the Great War.  In fact, I was hungry for any piece of information they could offer me, and it turned out they were more helpful than they imagined.

One of the aforementioned conversations was conducted over an hour and at the end of the phone call I had transcribed two A4 pages of notes. I noted titbits of conversations that took place 60 to 70 years ago; I discovered my Great Grandmother’s favourite jam; I was educated in family Christmas traditions; I listened intently as I was transported to the front room of my Great Grandparents’ house on the day my Great Grandfather died; and I learnt much about his character.  In another conversation, I discovered that Grandma was proud of her knitting abilities, as she only learnt the craft in her thirties.  Also, I discovered that she placed no importance on Christmas gifts, however, she always gave her Grandchildren money on their birthdays.

Over the years I have managed to place more pieces of the puzzle into place by grabbing fleeting comments.  One elderly friend of the family who grew up with my Grandfather remembered my Great Grandfather with fondness.  “Captain Lyons was always very polite, and thanked us kids when we opened the gate for him to drive his sulky through.” He recalled.

I have also grabbed from fleeting conversations with relatives that my Great Grandfather loved dancing, he played the tin whistle, he taught his nieces to ride their bicycles, and that he had problems with his eyes as a result of the Great War.  I questioned my Father regarding the latter comment and he confirmed that it could have been true as his Grandfather always wore sunglasses with wrap around sides.

Over the last 15 years, the collection of memories, stories and anecdotes I have gathered is quite substantial.  Each piece, however small and seemingly insignificant, have helped me create character portraits of my Great Grandparents.  Remember, our lives are the sum of fragments that have moulded our souls.  By gathering those pieces, we can gain a better understanding of our ancestors’ daily lives and the people they were.  The secret is to be patient.  It takes time to find those scattered pieces, but once a picture of your ancestor begins to form, the feelings of satisfaction are immense.

My final piece of advice is to act now, while there are living relatives who can assist you.  Once they are gone, so too are their valuable memories.

 

 

 

 

 

Returning to Bir-El-Dueidar

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Oasis of Bir-El-Dueidar.  Photo taken by William Lyons in June 1916

William tipped his hat low on his forehead to shade his stinging eyes from the stabbing mid-afternoon sun.  The glare flashing from the sandy floor of the desert was blinding, but he didn’t mind.  At least he was shielded somewhat from the bright yellow mounds marking the path that “C” Squadron followed to the Oasis of Bir-El-Dueidar.

“Poor Beggars,” a voice behind him commented.

 “At least they are no danger to us now.” Another weary voice trailed off down the line.

“Chaps, you can’t afford to relax.  Our job is not over yet.” William hoped no-one could detect the slight wavering of his voice.  He, too, was tired and looked forward to reaching the shade of the oasis, but he daren’t show it.

William rode on, trying to push aside the distraction of conversations.  Although they had chased the enemy out into the desert, his nerves were still alert. Lowering his gaze to shade his eyes, he found himself staring into the eyes of the enemy.  Years of training had moulded his body and mind with the discipline of the job, but at times he felt so human.  Is it wrong to pity the enemy?  Does the sight of death get any easier?  Drawing a deep breath, he guided his horse around the casualties that littered the desert floor, mentally screening out the staring eyes that blindly watched the procession of Light Horsemen.

The waving arms of date palms loomed only 100 yards ahead.  The pushing of horses’ hooves through the soft sand was amplified by the growing hush that spread down the line of horsemen as their horses stepped over and around more bodies that littered the sand.  Turks in yellow uniforms, Arabs in dirty hairy robes and camels, all caught in grotesque moments of death, guided them back into the place where the attack had blazed for five heated hours.

The argument of gunfire that had urged his regiment to gallop down to Dueidar had ceased.  William lifted his water bottle to his dry cracked lips, hoping to revive some of the energy he had spent that day.  With apprehension, he listened to the deathly quiet, wondering what awaited them beneath the covering of palms.  The enemy of more than 600 men had disappeared on their camels into the desert, but what had they left behind?

Entering the protective covering of date palms, William’s eyes took a few seconds to refocus in the softened light. Dismounting, he watered his horse from what remained in his water bottle, before taking in his surroundings.  A group of injured Scottish soldiers strapped with bloodied bandages leaned against a cluster of palm trunks, talking to several troopers he recognized from his own regiment.  Weaving in and out of gaps in the entanglement of men and horses, his eyes kept stumbling over the afternoon’s casualties.

Life and death co-inhabited the small space.  Turkish prisoners shared a patch of sand with the lifeless forms of their deceased.  Horses tensed and fidgeted as they managed to sidestep their own fallen comrades.   However, it was a small gathering in a clearing in the trees that caught William’s attention.

Tethering his horse, William slowly edged toward the group of Scottish Yeomanry, until he could see the row of 19 men laying on the ground, beside the body of a bay horse.   Each man, silenced by a single bullet to the head, was being formally identified by their comrades. 1.

Without thinking, William removed his hat and marked the sign of cross with his shaking hand.  Lowering his head, he tried to blot out the proceedings of the day, anything, to calm his racing mind.  Regaining his composure, he returned his hat on his head and slipped away unnoticed from the sad little group, curious as to what exactly happened that morning.

 ‘But that will have to wait,’ he reminded himself as he strode back to his men. ‘There are horses to be fed and men to be buried.’

 

References:

  1. The Desert Column, by Ion Idriess.  Page 75.

 

 

 

Monday Morning Musings From The Writer’s Desk

writing

 

The word “Gallipoli” is synonymous with Australian history.   It has been said that it was the birthplace of Australia as a nation.  Our ancestors arrived as sons of the British Empire and came home as Australians. They developed their identity as they fought another nation’s war.  They willingly spilled their blood for the British Empire, and yet they had no real grievances with their enemy.

There was a sense of respect for each side.  The Armistice Day in May 1915 proved that men on both sides could be friends.  For the duration of the day, whilst they buried the dead, many shared family photographs and swapped small token gifts.  Then at 5.30pm, each side returned to their respective trenches and the fighting recommenced.

That respect has continued well after the end of the war.  Turkey has maintained the war cemeteries where our dead are interred and each year they accommodate the thousands of pilgrims who visit Gallipoli each year. The words of the World War One Turkish General Ataturk are very telling of the ongoing friendship between Turkey and the countries of the British Empire.

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives….you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.  Therefore rest in peace.  There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours.

You, the Mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears.  Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.  After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

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Recent news reports have surfaced of  so-called “renovations” of the Gallipoli memorials in Turkey.  The above memorial has totally been defaced and it is up for debate as to the truth of what is taking place.  The photo below is what is looks like now:

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The Turkish Government is stating that the monuments are being renovated, however, it has been hinted that the current Government intends to emphasize an Islamic angle to the conflict, by casting Gallipoli as a crusader invasion which was resisted by Jihadi defenders.

I would love to sit down with my Great Grandfather and have a discussion on the subject.  When I first read the article that appeared in the paper I became quite incensed at my Great Grandfather’s memory being disrespected.  Then I realized that no words can change what transpired.  History is what it is and was witnessed by thousands of men whose accounts of the conflict have survived to this day.  Each Anzac Day, television screens are beaming actual footage into our living rooms;  spokespeople tell the sorry tales at services around the country and fortunately, no veterans are here to witness the rumoured  events that are transpiring in Turkey today.

I do hope that the defacing of the monuments are just part of a renovation project and not an act of vilification by an extremist Islamic government.  However, the spirits of our ancestors who fought and lost their lives in Turkey know the truth and with our help, that truth will certainly survive.  After-all, it has already survived for more than a century.

 

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

writing

Good Morning Family Friends and Followers

In case you were wondering whether I will be continuing my blog, the answer is Yes.  I have had a break due to my husband being ill, however, the life and times of William Lyons are ever present in my mind.  He is always looking over my shoulder, guiding me to follow the trail of clues he left behind; to unravel the tangled web of conflicts that consumed his life for more than three years.

The year is now 1916 and my eyes are burnt from the sun and intense heat of the Sinai Desert, as I follow the paths that he and his horse cut through the sand as the regiment endeavoured to push the Turks back from the Suez canal.  Directed by the signposts written by Ion Idriess in “The Desert Column” and the Commanding Officer of the Fifth Light Horse in the “War Diaries”, the war drums are beating at every twist and turn in the road as the Turks heat up their attacks on the Anzac and British outposts.

My original assumption that nothing much happened in William’s life in the year 1916 has proved to be so wrong.  As my eyes scan the war diaries, the words hit me like flying bullets, as the various attacks explode off the pages of text.  Nervously I wait with he and his men as they sit silently in the dark expecting the enemy to appear out of the shadows or thick desert fog.  The long and sleepless nights patrolling the desert most certainly affected their nerves, knowing that at any given moment an Arab could creep up from behind and cut one’s throat without any warning, as they often did.

War in the Sinai Desert was a war of many foes.  Along with the Turks, the sun, sand, flies and stench of death were formidable forces to deal with.  Food was often inadequate and water was scarce.  By mid year, men were issued with one bottle of water every 24 hours. Chlorinated tablets were also issued to kill any bacteria in the  brackish water. However, the same tablets were also used to rid stirrups of rust and it burnt leather, which makes you wonder how good it was for human consumption.   The combination of searing heat and lack of water saw, on occasion, both men and horses dying of sunstroke and thirst.  Some men resorted to drinking from the horses’ wells, although it was forbidden.

As I think of William, I wonder how he was affected by the extreme elements.  He had experienced similar hardships in South Africa in 1899 and took it upon himself to prepare himself for the heat and lack of water prior to his departure in October 1914.  Whether the conditions of South Africa were on par with those of the Sinai Desert, I cannot say.  However, according to family he had problems with his eyes as a result of the war and always wore wrap-around sunglasses to cut the glare.

So, I continue my journey of discovery, sorting through the numerous “stunts”, trying to decide which to include in my story.  To the untrained civilian, they seem quite serious, resulting in numerous casualties, although the history books claim that the regiment were only involved in minor scuffles throughout that year.  I guess when you put things in perspective, compared to major campaigns such as Gallipoli and the Western Front, they are relatively minor.  That fact, however,  would have done little to alleviate the grief of families who lost loved ones in those “minor scuffles”.

 

Preserving Your Family History

Vintage letter

 

When it comes to preserving your family history, there is no time like now.

Imagine it is one hundred years in time and your living relatives are curious about their ancestors.  If they stumble upon your photograph, will they know who you were?  If there is nothing written on the back of the photograph, then the chances will be that you will be just another nameless face.  Is that what you want for future generations? Do you want to fade into oblivion, along with your entire life story?

When I file through the numerous photos, letters and keepsakes that lived behind my Great Grandparents’ cupboard doors, I feel blessed in that I am able to preserve an entire lifetime of memories.  Obviously, my Great Grandfather’s military life was of great importance as he had kept and preserved so much.  Those pieces of his life form a strong portrait of the man.  What do your things say about you? More importantly, what legacy do want to leave for your family?

Photographs are a good place to start, as family history archaeologists  are always excited by looking into the faces of ancestors.  Family resemblances are a coup.  I have a group photo of my ancestors taken back at the beginning of the 20th Century.  There are no names written on the photo to identify the faces, although I know one of the faces is that of my Great Great Grandmother.  I have identified her from the numerous photos of have of her.  Another face would have to be her sister and perhaps the central figure was her Mother.  I am always struck by the man standing at the back of the group as he has an uncanny resemblance to my Grandfather.  I know it cannot be him as he was probably not born at the time the photograph was taken.  So, my message to you is to write the “who”, the “where” and the “when” on the back of your photographs to save lots of guesswork by future generations.

Aside from what your ancestors look like, it is important to know how they lived and what they thought.  Photos are windows through which we can look into their lives, but we need family stories to bring them to life. I grew up listening to stories, told by my parents and grandparents. Now I wish I had written them down, but as a child it was enough to listen with eager ears as I was transported back into carefree times filled with adventure.  There is a line from that wonderful movie “Secondhand Lion”, that would describe some of my ancestors, whom I had the pleasure of knowing.  The two 90 year old brothers have just died trying to fly their bi-plane through a barn and their great nephew is asked, “Did they really live?” to which he replied, “Yes, they really lived.”

Those two elderly brothers, in the story, lived a remarkable life and passed it on to their nephew in the form of stories.  Not everyone has such a colourful history, however, everyone’s life is valuable and worth preserving for posterity.  Perhaps it is time to start writing down your family stories you heard as a child.  If you are still blessed to have your Grandparents, then start with them.  They all have a story to tell and it is too late once they take them to their graves.

When I first ventured out on the ancestral trail, I became curious about my Grandparents’ lives.  I was fortunate in that my Grandmother on my Father’s side, was always talking about her family.  She was one of 12 siblings and I knew the names of each of them, as well as the names of her parents.  However, after her death, I was curious about her parents’ stories; how they first came to Australia; how they met and married.  My Dad suggested that I talk to his Aunt, my Grandmother’s only surviving sibling.  His words were, “you had better hurry as she is not getting any younger!”  She was 87 at the time.

I am so glad that I contacted Aunty Dulcie as she was a wealth of information.  I wrote out a list of questions and forwarded it to her by mail as she lived 1000 miles away in Brisbane.  I then visited her in Brisbane a few weeks later and she had the answers written out for me.  That marked the beginning of a seven year friendship.  She was my last connection to my Grandmother; her voice, the sparkle in her eyes; the many conversations sprinkled with references to her siblings and parents.  Like me, you too might find a treasure trove of family history, if you reach out to long lost family.

If you do not have any living grandparents or great aunts and uncles, then start with your parents.  Everyone has a story and their stories are part of your life too.  It is important to record the lives of those who walked this earth before us, in order to make sense of our own lives.  I can honestly say that I have discovered myself whilst uncovering those who lived before me.

Apart from the stories of past generations, it is also important to preserve our own stories.  Remember that in the future, we will be a past generation.  Do you document your life?  Scrapbooks are a great way to start preserving your photos along with the accompanying stories.  Keeping a journal is a wonderful way of recording your life.  Not only are the everyday happenings important, but your thoughts are also vital as they paint a picture of who you really are.

When I began my enquiries into my family’s history, I had the basic genealogical information such as names, dates of birth etc., but that wasn’t enough.  I yearned to discover who my ancestors were as people, not just a position on a family tree.  I guess that is what I want of my own life.  It is not enough to be simply a face and name.  I want my future generations to know me as a living person with thoughts and needs, who created an interesting tangle of colourful leaves along the branches of the family tree.

 

Attack at Bir-el-Dueidar

At 0545 on 22nd April 1916, the Regiment moved out of Salhia towards Kantara, enroute to Katia. 

The following morning, orders were received from General Lawrence that the British camp at Bir-El- Dueidar was under attack.  At 0800 “C” Squadron was sent at once, followed by the balance of the regiment. 

At 0800, “C” Squadron, under Major Cameron, moved out.  They reported to Lieutenant Colonel Leggett and were instructed to proceed to Bir-El-Dueidar and to pursue the enemy.¹

oOo

The sharp clickety-clack of horses’ hooves echoed on the metalled surface of the road that led the squadron of troopers out of the large Kantara Camp.  Willing horses carried their eager masters through the maze of small redoubts and entanglements of barbed wire, and onward to the open desert.

“Load Rifles Men!”

Upon hearing Major Cameron’s order, William loaded his rifle with the deftness of a seasoned soldier.  His body tingled as his subconscious snapped into action, inhabiting his being like an old trusted friend who was vital for survival.  He was his eyes, ears and decision maker rolled into one.  He was that automatic finger on the trigger.

A mood of excitement rippled down the line of new reinforcements.  Eagerly they urged each other and their horses towards the faint distant gunshots.

“Can you hear that?”  Said one, his voice a little shaky.

“Guns at last!” Answered another.

 “The poor beggars,” William thought solemnly as he absorbed their conversations in silence.  “Their joy will soon turn to fear, even terror…”

Turning his head, William placed his forefinger to his lips to cut the chat, and then turned back to contemplate the imminent threat.

The bang bang bang of rifle fire was soon thundering across the sky.  Heads turned, eyes widened and horses’ manes swished in a mood of discord, as a blanket of deathly silence fell upon the squadron.

Gripped by that old cold familiar feeling, William felt the metal trigger against his finger.  His eyes scanned back and forth across the sandy desert floor, watching for movement behind the prickly shrubs; a flutter of birds; or a shaking branch.  His horse followed the path in and out of bushes and once they reached the top of a sandy rise, the tents of the Dueidar Camp gleamed against the desert below.

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Photo:  William Lyons’ Personal Collection.  This was the Light Horse Camp at Bir-El-Dueidar.

William listened to the fierce argument of life and death that fired, back and forth beneath the sparse covering of date palms.  His loaded bandolier tightly squeezed his chest as it expanded with each rapid breath.  One minute, then two, the waiting was tense.  What will it be?   A charge?  William knew that only one movement of a hand or a single spoken word would instantaneously seize the moment to spur his horse into galloping rage.

As the men of the “C” squadron waited nervously for orders, they were oblivious to the presence of a black vulture circling the sky above their target.  Once, twice and thrice it soared, a lone pilot biding time in the giant blue sky. Then in one swift decisive moment, it swooped downward, disappearing beneath the covering of date palms that shaded Bir-El-Dueidar.

 

References:

  1. Fifth Light Horse Regiment War Diaries

 

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

 

writing

The Australian Light Horse – Part 2

Viewed as ‘the national army of Australia’s defence’, young men flocked to the recruitment offices, wanting to join the Australian Light Horse.  Prior to taking up farming, William Lyons was a Light Horse Instructor, a position he had held for many years.  I imagine his expertise was invaluable when testing and training new recruits.

The Light Horse were an effective fighting force.  They were different to the British Cavalry in that their horses were predominantly their mode of transport.  ‘Each regiment lived and fought as a series of four-man “sections”. When they went into action, three men would dismount to fight as infantry while the fourth man led the four horses to cover until they were needed for a further advance or withdrawal.’¹

Those mounted infantrymen gained an appreciation by both the British and Australians for their fighting techniques used in the Boer War.   In turn, the Australians became very wary of the British who failed to adapt quickly enough to conditions.  When facing similar conditions in the middle east during the next war of 1914-1918, the ‘British demonstrated that they could not exercise the same initiative and flexibility as the Australians’.²  The old British tradition of “death or glory” fighting methods were still culturally ingrained into their mentality.

I am sure that in May 1915 when the Light Horse were dismounted, panic may have crept into the minds of those men who had spent weeks training for a specific type of war.  What thoughts went through my Great Grandfather’s mind upon the realization that he and his regiment were to be stuck on the ground in trench warfare?  To their credit, they adapted well and fought hard, but they were sent to a situation for which they were ill-trained.  What were they thinking went they went ashore, weighed down with knowledge that hundreds died on that shore one month before?

Now that I know  my family has its own Light Horseman, I have a special empathy for those men on horseback who have always filled me with pride.  They are no longer anonymous figures of the past.   Now, I see the spirit of William Lyons, sitting tall and straight, as his horse takes him down the street lined with outstretched hands waving Australian flags. He represents all those gallant men who galloped across the Egyptian Desert, across Palestine, and daringly captured Damascus in their fight against the Turks.  He is the face of a special chapter in our history books.

As I follow my Great Grandfather’s trail, I continue to make new discoveries. Along with my unexplainable curiosity for the Light Horse, I have always held an interest for all things Egyptian. If only I knew that I was following in the footsteps of my Great Grandfather when I visited Egypt in 1988?  How could I, when I hardly knew that he existed at all?  I’d like to think that he was setting me up for the future, giving me a true sense of the backdrop to his story.  Had he chosen me as his messenger all along?  Was he waiting for me to find the key to the old cupboard doors?  All I can say is that I am thankful that I did as it has been an unforgettable journey.

References:

  1. Joseph Lyddy website article: “The Australian Light Horse”.
  2. Essay : “The Australian Light Horse at War” by Lt Col Edwin L. Kennedy Jnr. US Army

 

 

 

 

 

On The Move

Following the evacuation of Gallipoli, the Turkish army was reorganized by German Commander, Field Marshall Von Der Golz.  They became a formidable force. ¹

In March 1916, the British made repeated failed attempts to defeat the Turks in Iraq.  They then recognized the need for increasing the mounted forces.¹

In April, the Light Horse Brigades began their move to defend the northern regions of the Suez Canal. 

At 9.30am on 4th April 1916 ², a train departed Serapeum loaded with 4 wagons of baggage, 16 horses³ and a small contingent of men.  The remainder of the 5th Light Horse Regiment began their march on horseback, following the railway line, and camped the night at Moascar.  They arrived at the town of Salhia the following day.

“What a sight for a soldier’s sore eyes,” William gasped as he looked out on the horizon.

The town of Salhia began to materialize like a mirage out of the desolate wasteland.  As shapes began to form, his hand relaxed on the reins that rested upon his horse’s neck.  Soon the minaret tower shimmered like a silver sword against the blue sky.  It was an awesome feeling, finding oneself in a place that existed in history books.  One could usually only dream of such places, and yet here he was, witnessing the realization of those dreams.

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Photo: William Lyons’ Personal Collection

The lush green fields of cultivation seemed to enliven the rest of the regiment as the waving grove of date palms ushered them into the village.  Following the weeks spent in the heat and sand at Serapeum, the change of scenery was a welcomed change.  The new reinforcements who had grown tired and frustrated from the continuous round of training, patrols and outpost work, were now gripped by excitement.  Leaving behind the tiredness of their daily struggle against the sun and sand, they found themselves being drawn into this Garden of Eden with a renewed vigour.  They were ready to fight the war they enlisted for.

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Photo: William Lyons’ personal collection. Column of Light Horsemen on horizon.

William listened to the distinct Australian drawl as the banter bounced along the column.  The slow laconic snippets of conversation sounded distinctly out of place against the background of quick indecipherable gibberish spoken by the locals.  A colourful collection of Arabs and Egyptians populated the narrow street that wound its way through a market place.  Shaded by structures made from tree branches and palm fronds, many family groups peddled fresh produce, some sat cross-legged on the ground tapping away at tin objects with large hammers, whilst others stood watching the procession of foreigners enter their town with guarded curiosity.

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Photo: William Lyons’ personal collection.

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Photo:  William Lyons’ personal collection

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Photo: William Lyons’ personal collection

William inhaled the sights and sounds with his senses on alert.  He savoured the smell of lamb roasting on a hearth.  He marvelled at the symmetrical displays of woven baskets holding an aromatic collection of spices.  His eyes scanned an anonymous Arab woman  slowly walking by, balancing a large clay urn on her shoulder.

“What secrets are you hiding?”  He wondered with a smirk.

He could never imagine Cis hiding behind a veil.  The thought made him laugh with pride.  He could hear her defiantly snapping, “I’ll do no such thing Will Lyons!”  if he so requested.

Continuing to absorb the elements of history that paved the streets, William listened for echoes of the past that were embedded in the ancient mudbrick walls.  He straightened in the saddle and repositioned his hat as he thought how he and his fellow troopers were following in the footsteps of the great Napoleon.  He prided himself in being able to remember and recite significant dates and places.  February 1799 was when Napoleon set out from this very town to invade Syria.  William made a mental note to add 5th April 1916 to his list of facts.  He hoped to tell his sons that on that day, their father rode in the shadow of the Great French General, with the objective of pushing the Turks from the Suez Canal.

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Photo: William Lyons’ personal collection

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Photo: William Lyons’ Personal Collection

The column pushed on past the railway station as they neared their camp.  A group of Bedouins and their camels stood by the roadside.  Wearing rough robes of goat’s hair, the big wiry desert men stared up at the passing column of Light Horsemen.  William felt his neck muscles tighten as his eyes locked with one of them.  The man’s jet-black eyes, shadowed by the black cowl of his head dress, stared out of a face that was almost totally void of expression.  However, William sensed something about the slight upward curve of the man’s pursed lips, an uneasiness he could not readily explain.  He slowly felt for the presence of the tiny revolver he kept hidden up his shirt sleeve and then tightened his grip on the reins as he urged his horse on.

Post Note:          

According to family, William did own a tiny revolver that he kept up his coat/shirt sleeve in case he was taken off guard and could not access his rifle.  He brought it home at the end of the war.

William also had a penchant for facts and figures.  He had a very curious mind and kept lists of facts on notes throughout his belongings. The fact that they were riding in Napoleon’s footsteps would have impressed him, I’m sure.  When my father was young, he and his cousin were often sent by their Grandfather to find the answers to his many obscure questions.  More times than not, they couldn’t find the answers. 

I found the photos in this post in a bundle of photos wrapped in a receipt from “Thos. Cook and Son (Egypt) Limited.  I’m assuming that was where he had his film developed for the cost of 13 shillings.  Nothing is written on the photo backs, so I have no idea exactly where they were taken although receipt is dated 24/9/1917.

References:

  1. The Light Horsemen by Roland Perry
  2. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess
  3. Fifth Light Horse Regiment War Diaries