THE LIGHT HORSE – PART 1
Upon hearing the word “lighthorseman”, or the sight of a Light Horseman in an Anzac Day parade, always filled me with pride. I have no idea why. Growing up, I had no knowledge of my family’s own Light Horseman, William Lyons. He was still hiding behind locked cupboard doors. Perhaps my sense of pride touched on what it meant to be an Australian. There was something so intrinsically Australian about those men who wore an emu feather in their hats. They have been romanticised into our history as legends.
The Light Horsemen have been the subject of many movies and television stories about war, my favourite being “The Light Horsemen” (starring Peter Phelps and Ingrid Thornton) which culminated in the 1917 Battle of Beersheba. In “The Desert Column” Trooper Ion Idriess brought that battle to life, allowing the reader to be part of that magnificent charge:
“At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man – they were an awe-inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze – knee to knee and horse to horse – the dying sun glinting on bayonet points.”
My childhood pride was finally justified upon becoming acquainted with my Great Grandfather. I was astonished that he was one of those gallant men and yet no one ever spoke of him. I really knew scant about who the light horsemen were. If I had the opportunity to ask my Great Grandfather if he considered himself a legend, I think he’d reply, “No my dear. None of us were legends. We were just soldiers doing our job. Just doing our job.”
So, who were the Light Horse? It has often been assumed that they were men of the land – stockman, drovers, farmers, station hands and the like. However the truth is that 50 percent were of rural origin and 50% were town folk, including professionals such as Doctors and Solicitors. One must remember that almost all men could ride a horse at the time of the First World War. The horse was a common mode of transport.
In William Lyons’ case, he spent his childhood and early teenage years on a cattle station called “Fairview” in the Dawson Valley, Central Queensland. Unlike many Light Horseman of the First World War, he had been a Light Horseman for 25 years. He joined the Queensland Mounted Infantry at the age of 17, whilst living in Mackay. He went on to fight in the Boer War, as did many of his counterparts, and he remained in the Light Horse until 1910 when he embarked on a new life as a farmer. However, during the years leading up to the war, he still remained involved with the Light Horse, in a part time capacity. Family have always maintained that “he was a soldier, not a farmer”.
To be continued.