Monday Musings From Behind the Writer’s Desk

Vintage letter

When I began this project I had no intentions of getting bogged down by the details of the First World War.  When I read the words ‘Anzac Cove’ on Great Grandfather’s war records, I believed that was the extent of his ‘serious’ war experiences.  All Australians know the Gallipoli story.  It is splashed across the TV for a week each April.  It was horrific and affected almost every family in every town across Australia.  Wasn’t that a big enough story in itself?

Even when I discovered a copy of “History of the Fifth Lighthorse Regiment”, by Colonel Wilson, I only read as far as the evacuation from Gallipoli in December 1915.  I engrossed myself in every gross detail:  snipers, makeshift bombs, the appalling living conditions, food shortages and disease.  For some unknown reason, I didn’t read on.

The story was to be a narrative, beginning with my earliest memories of visiting Grandma’s house and perhaps ending with Great Grandfather’s death.  However, once I began to learn the art of creative writing, I discovered that my structure was a recipe for a boring story.  How many times have we bought an historical non-fiction book and put it down after a couple of chapters?  Somehow I had to find ways to bring the man to life, put meat on his bones, so to speak.  Thus, his war experience became the focus of the story.  And, the more I researched, the more details of his experience came to light.

The story is currently in the year 1917.  He was promoted to Captain and became Commander of ‘C Squadron’ of the 2nd Light Horse Training Regiment.  According to my research, it was a cushy position that entailed administrative duties as well as delivering Instruction to new recruits.  I have read and reread his diary entries for that year and if taken at face value one could be forgiven for missing the significance of his words.  That was the case when he mentioned the visit to the regiment in August that year.

The only entry during that visit that extended to more than a line was written on August 3rd, 1917.   He wrote:

Brigade went out on a stunt – 5th to scupper Bedouin outpost within 5 miles of Beersheba.  Mafeesh bedouins.  Fired on by Turkish outpost.  

Then on 4th August, he continued:

Returned to camp without casualties.

Over time, I have learnt to read between the lines – with the help of Ion Idriess and, in this instant, the official 5th Light Horse War Diaries.  The following account was recorded about that exercise:

On the 3rd August, 1917, the Brigade (Ryrie) undertook an operation to Sufi, a place at which there was a well about two miles in front of the Turkish position at Beersheba. It had been reported by natives that there was a Bedouin battalion some 300 strong encamped at this place. It was intended that the Brigade should proceed to Sufi, capture or destroy this battalion, and get back out of range of the Turkish guns at Beersheba before dawn.

This last was imperative, as the Turks had a large number of guns mounted within 3,000 yards of Sufi. The Brigade accordingly left the east side of the Wadi Ghuzze at 7.30 p.m. on the 3rd August, ‘C’ Squadron forming the advance-guard. The Brigade arrived at Taweil-el-Haberi at midnight, where it halted. This Regiment then moved on eastward until we arrived at a small wadi on the main Beersheba Road, half a mile west of the road running north and south from Sufi to Yahia. The last part of the Brigade march and the rest of the Regimental march was done by compass. The maps showed various roads and tracks, but these were the ones which were in existence prior to the war, and owing to the numerous military operations in this neighbourhood, fresh sets of tracks and roads had been made across the country.

On approaching Sufi, ‘C’ Squadron and two troops of machine guns moved northward up the wadi on Sufi, while ‘A’ Squadron and one troop of machine guns moved half a mile on the right flank of ‘C’ Squadron to protect it from any attack which might come from Beersheba defences. The remainder of the Regiment moved 400 yards in rear of and in support of ‘C’ Squadron. ‘C’S Squadron arrived at Sufi Well at I a.m., but found no trace of the enemy although it was noticed that a large number of stock had watered there the previous day. When the Regiment left Brigade Headquarters, we dropped a telephone line, so that we were in touch with the Brigade. On reporting that we received instructions to send out patrols towards the railway and reconnoitre the enemy. Lieutenant Boyd and two troops of ‘C’ Squadron accordingly moved north-east towards the railway. After proceeding 1 * miles, they were fired on by Turkish outposts without suffering any casualties. The patrol returned to the Regiment. The Regiment rejoined the Brigade at 3.55 a.m. and the whole Brigade moved back to bivouac, where we arrived at 7.40 a.m. (1)

Great Grandfather’s lack of details gives the impression that the exercise was small and quite insignificant.  However, you will agree after reading the official account, the opposite was the case.  This is good example of why my writing has slowed down.  My research keeps uncovering important truths about Great Grandfather’s war, despite him playing down the events.  Perhaps that says a lot about his personality.  It reinforces what I have already learnt:  he was a modest man who was not known to boast his achievements.

 

References

(1)   Chapter 27  – The History of the Fifth Light Horse Regiment  (Click Here)

 

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Returning to His Regiment

William struck a match to check his wristwatch. It was forty minutes past midnight.  Snuffing out the flame, he leaned over the side wall of the wagon and peered down the length of the train.

troop train Suez Canal

Photo:  Australian troop train, Suez Canal (Australian War Memorial)

‘What could be the hold up? Every man and his horse appear to be aboard.’   He had spent the last couple of hours loading supplies and organizing his men.  Now he was tired and wanted to leave.

His departure from Moascar seemed so long ago. Most of the day was spent travelling and waiting.  Upon his afternoon arrival in Cairo, he walked to the National for a quiet beer in the bar.  Then he retreated to  the dining room for an early supper.  He hoped that time alone would quell his niggling sense of uneasiness, but it had the opposite effect.  Patrons began to fill the room.  The buzz of voices grew.  So did his agitation .

Conceding defeat, he paid for his meal and returned to the street outside.  Soon he surrendered to the Cairo’s street life.  He squeezed every ounce of concentration to navigate the minefield of rattling tramcars, rumbling wagon wheels and shouting crossfire of vendors vying for business. By the time he reached the station, some of his men were already gathering, although their train, transporting more troops and horses from the Camp at Maadi, wasn’t due for another few hours.

A short, hard bleating of the whistle sounded.  Steam exhaled from the front engine, clouding the passengers with an eerie veil of mist.  The long night journey was about to begin.

 “At last,” he thought to himself, feeling his body being pulled back against the wall of the wagon as the train lurched forward.

Jerking and creaking, the line of open wagons carrying their live cargo, laboured  its way out of Cairo.  William had claimed a corner space against one of the end walls.  Crouched on the floor, he placed his outstretched arm on the rim of the side wall.  For the thirty men crammed aboard, there were no  luxuries on this twelve hour journey:  just a hard plank floor that served as a seat.

Despite the late hour, the mood in William’s wagon was merry.  His fellow travellers were part of the contingent of 47 reinforcements he was accompanying to his regiment. A sea of stories swirled around him, bouncing from man to man. Voices were animated, faces beamed with excitement.  They were all too familiar.  Faces just like them accompanied him aboard the Lutzow, enroute to The Dardanelles in May 1915.  “Oh, how deceiving the unknown can be.”

Without a fight, he closed his eyes, surrendering to the hypnotic rhythm of the train.

“Captain.”

William climbed out of his sleepy abyss, jerking his head upright.

“Sorry Captain,” the trooper beside him apologized. “I woke you.”

“No son, just resting my eyes,” William replied.  “Just resting my eyes.”

“I was wondering when you last visited the regiment,” the young trooper continued.

William had to think. “It must be eight months now. “

Being away from the regiment for so long, concerned William.  Moascar had provided a safety net that he had become accustomed to. He kept in touch with fellow officers who were stationed at Wadi Ghuzze.  He was concerned at what he had heard.

“Will you be staying?”

William felt a twinge of guilt.

“Just three or four days trooper. I have some business to attend to, personnel I need to see.”

He was tasked to sit in on a preliminary hearing for an upcoming court martial case. Of course, he wasn’t about to divulge that information.

The young trooper lit up a cigarette and William turned his attention to the night sky.  Before long, the lights of Cairo disappeared, leaving a pitch black canvas.  Even the stars that usually watched over the Egyptian nightscape were blinded by clouds. William repositioned his hat to cushion his head against the wall.  The train growled on like a predator in search of prey.  All he could see down the length of the wagon were shadowy forms.  Matches flashed here and there. Faces appeared, disappeared and reappeared.  Burning cigarettes glowed like eerie eyes peering out of the gloom.

William thought about his last conversation with Colonel Wilson.  The Colonel confirmed stories he had already heard.  Men came in from the front with varying tales of woe.  By all accounts, the old regiment was really doing it tough. The Colonel  offered an alarming insight.  “Will, I don’t like to say it, but I’m afraid that Gaza is turning into another Gallipoli.”

The upcoming court martial case was his opportunity to appraise the situation firsthand.  Even so, he was concerned about what awaited him.  Mid-thought, he felt a tug on his sleeve.

 “C’mon Captain,” one of his young trainees coaxed him. “Join us for a song.”

Thankful for the timely interruption, he couldn’t resist joining the fun.

“Okay, what the hell,” he announced, smiling and putting on his best singing voice.

“It’s a long way to Tipperary
it’s a long was to go
It’s a long way to Tipperary
to the sweetest gal I know
farewell to Piccadilly
so long Leister Square
It’s a long way to Tipperary
but my heart lies there”

His companions clapped at his efforts.  His fingers tap tap tapped to the clackety-clack of the train on the tracks.  He thought about the many dances that he and Cis had attended during the early years of their marriage.  His dance program was always full, with a ladies name pencilled beside each dance.  Dozing, he placed his hand on Cis’ tiny waist and guided her around the dance floor to the triple beat of a waltz.  Swaying to the mellow notes of a saxophone and stepping in time with tinkling piano keys, he finally fell into a deep sleep.

-0-

The sun began to claw her way out of hibernation, waking William with a start.  The soft forms of date palms were familiar.  Gripping the side of the wagon, he felt his stomach tighten.

 “El Katia,” he said guardedly; his eyes moving furtively from shadow to shadow.

“What did you say, Sir?” The trooper beside him asked.

“This is the oasis of El Katia,” William replied, not wishing to elaborate.  Gazing out into the thick covering of palm trees, he thought of those who were left buried in hurried graves.  Closing his eyes, he tried to block the images that flashed into his mind.  Memories of the charge gripped his consciousness like a straight-jacket that crippled and strangled his torso.

William was grateful for the growing signs of life around him as men began to wake.  The hum of voices, along with the rising sun, lightened his mood.  Looking down the line of wagons, he watched the unsuspecting faces of men, and horses whose manes flew freely in the breeze.  Now, out of the cover of darkness, they were an open target for enemy taubes (planes).  Positioning his hat down on his brow to cut the sharpening glare, he straightened himself in preparation for what awaited them at the end of the line.

Monday’s Musings From The Writer’s Desk

Vintage letter

Writer’s Block is a curse that I have had to wrestle with of late.  It hasn’t helped that life has been hectic and busyness, in my mind, is not conducive to writing.  Now that the dust has settled, I can return to the task.

In case you were wondering, no peace treaty has been signed as yet.  The war in the middle east is still raging and William is about to see that for himself.  His diary entry on Saturday 28th August, 1917 reads:

Left Moascar 1356 en route to 2nd L.H. Bde at Wadi Ghuzze.’

William’s regiment, the Fifth Light Horse, was part of the 2nd L.H. Brigade.  Their camp was at Wadi Ghuzze, near Gaza. Without any further research, there appears to be nothing much to add.  However, upon reading Ion Idriess’ account in “The Desert Column”, I gained a better understanding of that journey.  He described the train trip from Wadi Ghuzze to Cairo:

We entrained at 6 p.m. yesterday, crowding into a long open truck, filled mostly with Tommies, en route to Cairo on a few days precious leave or special duty.  

I then found photos online which provided me with the physical details of those wagons.

Ion Idriess also gave me a good understanding of the psyche of those troopers who had been fighting at the front.

And yet no one would have taken us for men overjoyed.  This war has knocked much of the light-heartedness out of us. In the days gone by, that truckload of men would have sung right through the night.  Not now!  As darkness settled down and we sped back into the desert the men just crouched down on the hard boards.  I do not believe there were thirty words spoken throughout the trip.

William mentioned on 26th August 1917 that 47 reinforcements, drafted for the front, marched in from the Isolation Camp.  I think it is fair to assume that William actually accompanied them to the regiment’s camp at Wadi Ghuzze.  They were new recruits who had not been worn down by war.  They would have been full of excitement, singing songs to break the monotony of the long 12 hours journey.

Apart from the mental state of the new recruits, I wondered what went through William’s mind as he neared the front.  He had been away from action since the preceding November.  By all accounts, his job of Instructor was quite cushy allowing him to work in relative safety.  Surely, by placing himself in harm’s way again, he would have experienced some measure of anxiety.

The time factor in this story is another point I have questioned.  According to Ion Idriess, the journey from Wadi Ghuzze took 12 hours.  William left Moascar at 13.56 hours and arrived at the camp at 1300 hours the following day.  He did say ‘en route’ so I am assuming he entrained to Cairo and then left at 0100 hours.  Either way, it probably doesn’t matter, being such a minute detail in events that happened more than a century ago.

The scene I have created is much more than I intended.  That, however, is what happens when new details keep coming to light.  Without being able to interview the protagonist personally, I am left with only a few pieces of the puzzle.  In order to piece together the true picture, I have to dig below the surface.  In this case, I discovered a few specks of gold.

So, to all my family, friends and followers, watch this space for Captain Lyons’ upcoming visit to his Regiment.

 

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

Vintage letter

This morning I would like pay a tribute to a lady who was partly instrumental in igniting my interest in family history.  The news of her recent passing caused me to reflect.  Marion Tung Yep was my English teacher in grades 9 and 10.  She also earned the esteemed position of being my favourite teacher.

Mrs Tung Yep was more than just a teacher.  She held a masters’ degree in English and she made it her mission to hone our literary skills.  If my memory serves me correctly, for most of our schooling, we were thrown in at the deep end and told to swim – figuratively speaking of course.  We were told to learn, but did anyone teach us how to study, or retain information? No, they didn’t.  Mrs Tung Yep, however, was the exception to the norm.

Many of her classes were spent learning how to answer examination questions.  I enjoyed her English classes and received better grades than I did in subsequent years under the command of  lesser teachers.  By the time I reached Grade 12, I was disillusioned with English due to a teacher who loved to embarrass the dunce of the class.  That was often me.  I wanted to write better essays, but don’t recall receiving any guidance.

Mrs Tung Yep was also a wonderful story teller.  Whether she was explaining the lines of a poem or analyzing a novel, she always veered off on a tangent, opening the door to her childhood, or a window to the war years. Those tales of the past struck a chord with me.  She sparked the need to keep our stories alive for future generations.

Now, there was another key player in this story.  My grandmother, who taught me the importance of our family history, was an ‘Anglican Institution’ in my hometown of Giru.  She befriended all the local Anglican priests and their families.  Mrs Tung Yep’s husband was the local Anglican priest and also my Grandfather’s occasional fishing friend.  There was nothing like a web of connections to encourage one to impress. After-all, I didn’t want tales of poor grades getting back to my Grandmother.

Over the 45 years since graduating from her class, I have often voiced my admiration for Mrs Tung Yep to fellow class mates.  Some do not share my fond memories.   She was a no-nonsense lady who didn’t tolerate bad behavior or slouches.  Her expectations were high which was not a problem for me.  Her classes were much more than ‘english’.  I came away with a very valuable life lesson – the need to preserve our family stories before they are forgotten.  For that, Mrs Tung Yep, I am eternally grateful.

Monday’s Musings From The Writer’s Desk

 

223999 HarveyNorman

Whilst my blog is about my Great Grandfather, William Lyons’ military life, I thought that I might shed some light on my Great Grandmother, Harriet Lyons.  In my story, Cis (as she was known) takes a back seat.  However, despite her small stature,  she was a very strong lady.  After-all, she hailed from a family of steely pioneering characters.

Harriet Jane was born on 13th February 1876 in Townsville, Queensland.  She was the second eldest of nine children born to George and Harriet Deane, who emigrated from County Cavan Ireland.  From my own personal dealings with my Great Grandmother, I could be forgiven for thinking she was genteel type of lady who, when not tending to her garden, sat indoors sewing, knitting and serving tea and scones.  She was eighty-three when I was born and I only knew her for eight years.  She died in 1968 at the age of 92.

Slowly over time, family have helped me paint a more accurate portrait of the person that Grandma really was.  In her younger years, she was a dainty, auburn haired beauty.  According to one source, “she was sharp of wit, wise from birth and the kind of person who grows old with the strength that belongs to women of small stature, who have faced life on the pioneering level”.

To try and understand Grandma, one must first look at her parents.  According to her niece, Doreen Deane, Cis’ mother was ‘a true and gracious pioneer.  Not very large of frame, but brave of spirit.’  Her obituary says  that ‘she was greatly esteemed by all who came in contact with her, a common saying being that no one had ever seen a frown on her face or known a hungry man to leave her door.’  Perhaps I can rightly assume that she possessed a placid nature.  How else would she tolerate her husband, who was known for his forcefulness.  Apparently, he set the fear of God into many.  His greatest moments came to him when he lived in turmoil and the tussle of a good argument.  My grandfather recalled a moment from a visit to his grandparents’ home at Burwood.  “Grandfather sat on the verandah  reading the paper whilst yelling out instructions to Grandmother as she cleaned the house.” 

IMG

This is believed to be Cis’ youngest sister Nelly on the left, with their mother Harriet on the right.

Cis was well-schooled in the pioneering life. In the early years, her father took the family throughout Queensland and the southern states buying and selling horses.  He had an eye for a good horse and supplied them to the British Government in India.  The family also traversed the west of Queensland with horse teams, transporting goods between Charters Towers and Winton.   During those years on the road, they lived in tents and Harriet Snr tended to her children’s education.

Cis’ father was a man of boundless energy and delighted in life’s challenges.  His inventive mind was always on the prowl for his next business venture. Nothing was too difficult, he was a man who got things done.  Although he didn’t possess any formal training, it was said that he was an engineering genius. He set up a sawmill and established a construction business.  He was responsible for some major works in Townsville.

He built ‘Queen’s Wharf and won the contract for filling-in and building Sturt Street.  He built his own hotel (The Family Hotel) and when he saw the need for a school in Townsville West, he became the driving force behind the opening of the Townsville West Primary School in March 1887.  His own children, Harriet (Cis), Maria, Charles and William, were among the first students.  Later, he won the contract to supply sleepers for the railway line between Stuart and Ayr.  He was the driving force behind establishing the sugar industry on the banks of the Haughton River and the building of a sugar mill on the banks of the same river.

Growing up in such an environment, Cis was never destined to be a passive little lady.  She was moulded by years on the pioneer trail. Her father’s actions and accomplishments taught her that anything was possible.   Even her mother, who bred horses and cattle, was a living example of what a woman in those times could achieve.

Finishing her secondary schooling at the Townsville Grammar School, Cis became a school teacher.  Then she gave up her career in 1902 to marry a soldier.  Life as a soldier’s wife, especially during the war years, was not easy for Cis.  However, I believe her schooling in life lesson’s would have equipped her for the adversities that were thrown her way.  After-all, she hailed from mighty tough stuff.

 

 

Anzac Day 1917

Zeitoun Camp

Zeitoun School of Instruction

William relished the challenges offered by the Zeitoun School of Instruction.  From 6.00am on Monday 16th, he embarked on an intense schedule of training.  Each day’s lessons alternated between classroom lectures and practical demonstrations.  He was drilled in everything from the use of stars for navigation to actual skirmishing.  Although he was accomplished in most areas covered by the course, there were extra subjects and new techniques he looked forward to adding to his squadron’s regime.  By the time he completed his first written exam on the morning of Saturday April 21, he was relieved when Sunday, his first day of rest, finally dawned.

On the morning of April 25 the course participants swapped the classroom for the parade ground.  William joined the huge gathering of men who stood to attention for the commencement of the Anzac Day Service.    Many had fought in the Dardanelles.  This was their time to mourn fallen friends and in many cases the loss of their own youth.  Heads high, they stood in silence, refraining from even a whisper or the shuffle of sand with their boots.

The previous year marked the first anniversary of the landing of troops at Gallipoli.  The Queensland government began a movement to celebrate the occasion.  Thus Anzac Day was born.  Cis wrote to William,

“There were parades down the main streets of most towns in the country.  I heard that wounded veterans were wheeled along in wheelchairs.  Some were attended by nurses.  Apparently, there was also a prominent presence of widows wearing black.  Some say the day was used as a recruitment campaign.”(1)

William had read her words with a heavy heart, detecting a trace of cynicism.  He tried to put himself in her shoes of worry.  What could he say to really appease her fears?  Nothing.  He also read in an English newspaper about the grand parade of 2000 Australian and New Zealand veterans who marched through the city of London to Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square.  A service was held at Westminster Abbey where they were dubbed in glorified terms as the “Knights of Gallipoli”.(2) He found the title to be unsettling.   One did what one had to do in the name of survival. Surely the high number of casualties would explain that fact?  Most of us were driven by fear, not heroics. He sensed that those responsible for the ‘crown’ had never set foot in the shell-infested shores.

Listening to the Padre, William only caught words here and there:  Courage.  Sacrifice.  Fallen.  His thoughts kept wandering.  Gallipoli had been a very trying time for everyone.  God knows he was thankful for his own survival, while many good friends were less fortunate.  To his relief, the Padre finished his sermon.  While men were still losing their lives, he couldn’t dwell on the subject of death for too long.  That sort of thinking was of no use when the war was far from over.

With the ceremony finished, the rest of the day was declared a holiday and everyone was encouraged to participate in an afternoon of sports.  William took the opportunity to catch up with Colonel Wilson, the former commander of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade.  They had both fought in South Africa during the Boer War.  The Colonel had lived in Townsville for a few years, practising law, prior to enlisting in 1914.  William liked his superior; he was a quiet, unassuming man who exercised common sense.  When men and horses were dying of thirst in the desert, he introduced portable spear-point pumps. Water could be drawn quickly and stored it in canvas troughs.  The Colonel had seen them in use on cane farms in the Burdekin.  William used them on his own farm.

wilson_246x550

Colonel Lachlan Wilson

 “Colonel.”  He extended his hand which was firmly accepted by Colonel Wilson.

“Will, it’s good to see you, old boy?  What brings you to Zeitoun?”

“The Officers’ Course,”  William replied. “My final exam is on Friday.”

“This should be old hat for you, Will,”  The Colonel laughed.  “You’ll come through with flying colours.  I believe you’ve been doing well with your training squadron.”

William grinned, then changed the subject.  He felt uncomfortable talking about his own achievements.  Besides, he was more interested in hearing news of his regiment.

“I believe things have been rather heated at the front, Colonel.”

 “Yes, the regiment is doing it tough, Will,” Colonel Wilson replied, slowly shaking his head.

William sat for his final examination on the morning of Friday 27th and was confident he had passed.  During the train journey back to Moascar the following morning, he felt buoyed by his newfound knowledge. Thoughts of how he could implement new training ideas helped him pass the time.  An entire week without a headache allowed him to focus and throw his all into the tasks required.  Although he was thankful for the reprieve, he knew that an attack was always imminent.

 

References:

(1)  http://museum.rba.gov.au/exhibitions/from-bank-to-battlefield/the-year-of-anzac/index.html

(2)  http://museum.rba.gov.au/exhibitions/from-bank-to-battlefield/the-year-of-anzac/index.html

 

 

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

 

Vintage letter

It would be fair to say that the majority of my readers know what the letters of the word ‘Anzac’ stand for.  For those of you who are not Australians or New Zealanders, the word is an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.   We all know that the term was coined during the first world war.  It was originally used in reference to those who fought at Gallipoli.  The place of the original landing was subsequently called Anzac Cove.  However, who was responsible for a word that has become synonymous with the Australian spirit?  If only Great Grandfather was here to clarify the matter.  I’m sure he’d have an opinion.  When I googled the subject, I discovered that there are varying accounts of its origin.  Below is a copy of an article I found on the Australian War Memorial website.

 

Origins of the acronym ANZAC

It is difficult to say who originally thought of the acronym. A number of accounts have been written.

General Sir William R. Birdwood’s version

The Anzac book was a collection of drawings, poems, and stories written and created by the men on Gallipoli in 1915. The book appeared early in 1916 and was edited by Charles Bean. General Sir William R. Birdwood wrote the introduction (dated 19 December 1915) in which he stated:

When I took command of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in Egypt a year ago, I was asked to select a telegraphic code address for my Army Corps, and then adopted the word “Anzac”. Later on, when we had effected our landing here in April last, I was asked by General Headquarters to suggest a name for the beach where we had made good our first precarious footing, and then asked that this might be recorded as “Anzac Cove­”—a name which the bravery of our men has now made historical, while it remains a geographical landmark for all time.

General Sir Ian Hamilton’s version

Ellis Silas’ book Crusading at Anzac anno domini 1915 arrived in Australia from London later that year. Ellis was an artist and signaller who served with the Australian Imperial Force at Anzac Cove. He dedicated his book “to the honour and glory of my comrades with whom I spent those first terrible weeks at Anzac”. In the foreword dated 29 April 1916 General Sir Ian Hamilton credited himself with the use of “Anzac” for convenience. He wrote:

As the man who, first seeking to save himself the trouble, omitted the five full stops and brazenly coined the word “Anzac”, I am glad to write a line or two in preface to sketches which may help to give currency to that token throughout the realms of glory.

C.E.W. Bean’s version

In his book The story of Anzac Australian war historian C.E.W. Bean attributed the acronym to Lieutenant A.T. White, RASC, of the British Army:

One day early in 1915 Major C.M. Wagstaff, then junior member of the “operations” section of Birdwood’s staff, walked into the General Staff office and mentioned to the clerks that a convenient word was wanted as a code name for the Corps. The clerks had noticed the big initials on the cases outside their room—A. & N. Z. A. C.; and a rubber stamp for registering correspondence had also been cut with the same initials. When Wagstaff mentioned the need of a code word, one of the clerks (according to most accounts Lieutenant A.T. White …) suggested: “How about ANZAC?” Major Wagstaff proposed the word to the general, who approved of it, and “Anzac” thereupon became the code name of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. It was, however, some time before the code word came into general use, and at the Landing many men in the divisions had not yet heard of it.

In a footnote, Bean added that “the word had already been used amongst the clerks. Possibly the first occasion was when Sgt G.C. Little asked Sgt H.V. Milligan to throw him the ANZAC stamp.”

Robert Rhodes James’ version

In his book Gallipoli Robert Rhodes James told a similar story to Bean:

Two Australian sergeants, Little and Millington, had cut a rubber stamp, with the initials A. & N. Z. A. C. at Corps headquarters, situated in Shepheard’s Hotel, Cairo … When a code name was required for the Corps, a British officer, a Lt. White, suggested “Anzac”. Little later claimed that he made the original suggestion to White. It was in general use by January 1915.

Sources:

C.E.W. Bean (editor), The Anzac book, Cassell, Sydney, 1916, p. ix

C.E.W. Bean, The story of Anzac: the official history of Australia in the war of 1914—1918, vol. I, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1936, pp. 124–25

Robert Rhodes James, Gallipoli, Pimlico, London, 1999, p. 40

Ellis Silas, Crusading at Anzac anno domini 1915, British Australian, London, 1916

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

Vintage letter

Reading William’s 1917 diary, he mentions Anzac Day.  Whilst we all know what it stands for, some of you might not know the history of our biggest day of remembrance.

According to the Reserve Bank of Australia Museum: (1)

The landing of the Australian and New Zealand soldiers at Gallipoli on the morning of 25 April 1915 was their first military action of World War 1.  It was a display of strength fortitude and courage in the face of great adversity.  For a nation that had been a federal commonwealth for only 14 years this moment was a coming of age, cementing in the minds of Australia and the world the indelible image of the unfaltering Anzac Spirit.  The Gallipoli campaign lasted eight months and although it failed in its military objectives, it created a legacy which helped to shape the identity of the nation. 

Anzac Day was officially named in 1916 when the Queensland Government started a movement to celebrate the landing of the troops at Gallipoli.  The movement spread to many towns and cities across Australia who held services in churches or town halls, raised funds for discharged soldiers and organised marches for the returned soldiers which often included wounded soldiers who were transported in convoys of cars attended by nurses.  Services were also held by soldiers fighting in France and the Australian camps in Egypt organized a sports day to mark the occasion. 

In England, over 2000 Australian and New Zealand troops were taken by train to London where they marched through large crowds to Westminster Abbey for a commemoration service before continuing on to Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square.  The newspapers dubbed them the “Knights of Gallipoli”. 

War diaries written by Anzac troops at the front, including Egypt, describe the format of ceremonies held at the time:   A dawn requiem mass, followed by a mid-morning commemorative service, and after lunch organised sports activities with the proceeds of any gambling going to Regiment funds.  The one or two minute’s silence was introduced in 1917 and usually occurred at 9.00pm in the evening. (2)

The two simple words of ‘Anzac Day’ scribbled in William’s diary are hugely significant.  They were written by the hand of an original Anzac.  Although he wasn’t part of the first fateful landing on 25th April 1915, he landed in equally dangerous circumstances a month later.  According to the ‘History of the Fifth Light Horse Regiment’ written by Colonel Wilson, William’s landing was staged amidst a shower of raining bullets.  It is fitting that on Anzac Day 1917 at Zeitoun, he met up with Colonel Wilson.  I wish I could go back in time and listen to their conversations.

Lest We Forget.

 

References:

(1)  http://museum.rba.gov.au/exhibitions/from-bank-to-battlefield/the-year-of-anzac/index.html

(2)  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anzac_Day

 

 

Back at Moascar

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Photo from William Lyons’ collection.  He is seated.

Returning from leave,  William embraced his work with renewed vigour.  His squadron was a constant source of pride.  Men with basic horse riding experience were now handling their charges with the skill and confidence.  New reinforcements were continually improving their shooting skills.  On the target range, they were hitting both stationery and moving targets with a high degree of accuracy.  He knew there were complaints about the rigorous rounds of drilling in the unforgiving climate.  However, William could see the results of the hard work.  His squadron was rapidly transforming into an effective light horse fighting force. He wasn’t a man to boast, but he felt he was finally achieving what he set out to do in 1914.

Aside from his regimented rounds of training schedules and administrative duties, William enjoyed a full social life.  In the afternoons, after a tough day’s work in the searing heat,  he and his fellow officers often rode out to the nearby lake for a swim.  Unfortunately, the canal that ran along the bottom of the camp was out of bounds for swimming or drinking.  It was home to a microscopic insect that entered through the human skin and effected the liver and internal organs.

In the evenings, he often strolled into Ismailia, to break the monotony of camp life.  The town offered the illusion of European grandeur.  At the end of March he wrote to Cis:

“Ismailia is only one mile from camp and is an elixir that relieves stress and fatigue.  Often, I stroll into town in the evenings – usually with Capt. Atkinson or Capt. Farquhar.  The town owes its origins to the French Engineers and employees of the Suez Canal Company.  It sits at the junction of the Port Said, Suez and Cairo Railway Lines. 

In some ways, the streets of the town remind me of home.  The roads are lined on either side by lush, tropical trees that form an archway overhead, beaming with a glorious display of red, purple and yellow blooms.  Along one side of the canal are beautiful shady parks with green lawns and colourful flower beds.  The greenery of treetops are often afire with flaming bougainvillea that climbs unimpeded up the walls of many houses. So, you can understand why I enjoy my strolls into town. I must say though, the native parts of town are not so inviting.  Instead of fine French styled buildings, dressed in iron lace, sweeping verandas and pretty shutters, the native areas are tumble down and smell appalling.

The New Zealanders have opened a new Soldier’s Club in town.  Captain Atkinson and I enjoyed tea and cake there on opening night.  Also, a stadium opened at our camp a week ago.  It has already staged a boxing tournament.  Our Picture Show is housed there as well. The picture I saw was a little fuzzy, but one can’t complain.  So you see, life is never boring. Mind you, I don’t want you to think that life here is a jolly big round of social events.  We do indeed spend long, tedious days in the heat and any down time is a treat.”

William knew Cis would never see Ismailia with her own eyes. “If only?” He often wished his wife could share some of the more pleasing aspects of his life.  He tried to keep his letters on a positive note, avoiding subjects that he knew the censors would not approve.  He never divulged stories that regularly filtered back from his regiment at the Palestinian front, or horrific details of the war in France.  Instead, he wrote about moments that he wished he could share with Cis in person.

On April 9th, he completed the final preparations to send a draft of twenty men to the Regiment.  Perhaps it was the worry and responsibility he felt toward his charges that brought on a crippling headache.  He had suffered from headaches for years, but following his stint at Gallipoli, they had become more frequent.  By the end of March, they were occurring every few days and sometimes lasted for more than a day.

He missed the morning Reveille on April 14.  As much as he willed himself to get out of bed, he couldn’t lift his head off the pillow.  Instead, he burrowed his head face down into the kapok mound, hoping to cushion the pain.

Later that morning, he opened the tent flap and felt the sharp blades of light stab his eyes with blinding pain.  A thumping sensation still beat angrily inside his head.  He had felt off colour now for three days.  Managing to dress himself, he found his Batman in his ‘office tent’.

“Good morning Captain.” The young trooper stood and saluted his superior.  His face soon crumpled from concern and he enquired,  “Are you alright sir?”

“I still have a beastly head,” William replied.  “If you need me urgently,  I’ll be in my tent.  I need to ride it out, I’m afraid.” He then turned to leave.

“Sir, before you go, this came for you.”  William’s Batman handed him an envelope.

Trying to focus through the blur, he retrieved a folded single sheet of paper from the envelope.  It read:

“Captain Lyons,

You are requested to attended the current “Officers’ Course” at Zeitoun School of Instruction, commencing 0630, 16 April….“

A crooked smile broke the pain on his face briefly as William continued to read down the list of lectures he was required to attend.

  1. Squad Drill
  2. Lecture – “Description of Target”
  3. Fire orders, Bayonet Practise
  4. Field Sketching
  5. Lectures on Stars……

“I’ll deal with this tomorrow,” he handed the sheet to the young trooper.  Suddenly feeling dizzy, he grabbed the table edge to steady himself.

“Here Captain.” His Batman pulled out a chair.

 “No trooper, I really need to lay down.”

Finding his balance, William quietly retreated to his tent.  He prayed that his bad headaches would not interfere with the course.

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

writing

My interest in family history was planted when I was very young.  However, it was my discovery of scrapbooking, sixteen years ago, that taught me how to preserve the important details of our lives. The ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ are the basic details that are often missing from old photographs.  I’m sure all of us have discovered or inherited a shoe box full and we are left guessing the identity of those staring faces.

The wonderful aspect of family is that there are often common threads that bind us together.  We can see a familiarity, a resemblance that tells us with some certainty where on the family tree the person belongs.  It might be the eyes,  a straight stance, or a long thin neck.  It was only after discovering a photo of my great grandfather that I knew from whom I inherited my long neck.  Sometimes, however, we are left guessing and often my guesses have proved to be incorrect.

In a bundle of photos that came from the shelves of those old cupboards, I found a formal studio photograph of a couple who I could not place.  Judging by the dress, it was taken in the 1800’s, however it was badly marked and the woman’s face was almost totally faded away.  Because both appeared larger people than the small, thin descendants of the Lyons and Deane families that I knew, I dismissed them as family.  That was until I was given a copy of George Deane’s obituary that featured a photograph of the man.  It was the same photo I couldn’t identify.  Only after I had the photo restored, could I see some family resemblance, particularly in Harriet Deane’s face.

George & Harriet Deane

George and Harriet Deane

Recently I was given an old photograph of the Lyons family.  Once again, it came with no details, leaving me guessing.  I recognized one face as that of Mary Lyons, William Lyons’ mother.  The lady seated next to her would have to be her mother and the next, her sister, as they look so much alike.  The two girls, (fourth and fifth in back row) could be William’s sisters. As for the others, I have no clues.  One face, however, stands out from the group.  If I didn’t know it was taken around the turn of the century, I would assume he was my Grandfather, John Austin Lyons.  The man’s face and stance had me entranced.  I’m sure that family would have told Pop how much he looked like his cousin or uncle.  Now, a century later, I’m left wondering who that man was.

IMG_0005

Mary Lyons:  front row, second from left.  The man at back left hand side looks like my Grandfather.

In 1982 I visited England and Wales, loaded up with contact details of several Welsh relatives.  My Grandmother, Phoebe Lyons, was half Welsh. Her father Owen Hughes left Wales at the age of 18, seeking a better life in Australia.  I remember thinking that perhaps my Welsh relations would not be interested in meeting long lost family from the other side of the world.  When I made the call I could not have been more wrong.  Not only did they welcome me with open arms, they were well educated in their Australian family.  Two of my grandmother’s sisters had visited previously and kept in touch.

When I walked into the living room, my eyes were drawn to a little elderly lady smoking a pipe.  Miriam Williams was my Grandmother’s first cousin and a character.  She wore her tight wavy ‘Hughes’ trademark hair back off her face, in the same manner that my Grandmother wore hers.  Her face was so familiar that I couldn’t shift my gaze.  I couldn’t say exactly who she looked like, but the family resemblance was strong.  She spoke in a mixture of English and Welsh, making it hard for me to communicate.  Not that it mattered; she was family.

The important message that I am trying to convey is that it is imperative that we write details on the backs of our photographs.  Otherwise, the identities of ourselves and our families go to the grave with us.  Despite that wonderful feeling of staring into a face that bears a strong family resemblance, the task of future family historians will be make so much easier, if we record the ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘when’.