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