There always seems to be a sense of romance attached to the Australian Light Horse.  Last Tuesday, which marked the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba, was no different.  As we watched reenactments of that cavalry charge on our television sets, our hearts were pumping with the adrenalin of those 800 men who gallantly rode off into our history books as heroes. We were overcome by that warm feeling of nostalgia.  However, if we were afforded the opportunity to sit and talk with those men who were there on 31st October 1917, the word romance would not enter the conversation.  There was nothing romantic about losing 31 troopers and 70 horses to Turkish bullets.  In fact, desperation for that precious commodity of water was the driving force on that victorious day.

It has been cited as being the last great cavalry charge in history.  In trying to ascertain the exact details of the actions leading up to the charge and those of the charge itself, I was overwhelmed by the intricacy of the battle plan.  The briefest description I could find was the following account on the website

The charge of the 4th Australian Light Horse at Beersheba late in the afternoon of 31 October 1917, is remembered as the last great cavalry charge. The assault on Beersheba began at dawn with the infantry divisions of the British XX Corps attacking from the south and south-west. Despite artillery and air support, neither the infantry attacks from the south, or the Anzac Mounted Division’s attack from the east had succeeded in capturing Beersheba by mid-afternoon.

With time running out for the Australians to capture Beersheba and its wells before dark, Lieutenant General Harry Chauvel, the Australian commander of the Desert Mounted Corps, ordered Brigadier General William Grant, commanding the 4th Light Horse Brigade, to make a mounted attack directly towards the town. Chauvel knew, from aerial photographs, that the Turkish trenches in front of the town were not protected by barbed wire. However, German bombing had forced the 4th Brigade into a scattered formation and it was not until 4.50 pm that they were in position. The Brigade assembled behind rising ground 6 kilometres south-east of Beersheba with the 4th Light Horse Regiment on the right, the 12th Light Horse Regiment on the left and the 11th Light Horse Regiment in reserve.

The Australian Light Horse was to be used purely as cavalry for the first time. Although they were not equipped with cavalry sabres, the Turks who faced the long bayonets held by the Australians did not consider there was much difference between a charge by cavalry and a charge by mounted infantry. The Light Horse moved off at the trot, and almost at once quickened to a gallop. As they came over the top of the ridge and looked down the long, gentle open slope to Beersheba, they were seen by the Turkish gunners, who opened fire with shrapnel. But the pace was too fast for the gunners. After three kilometres Turkish machine-guns opened fire from the flank, but they were detected and silenced by British artillery. The rifle fire from the Turkish trenches was wild and high as the Light Horse approached. The front trench and the main trench were jumped and some men dismounted and then attacked the Turks with rifle and bayonet from the rear. Some galloped ahead to seize the rear trenches, while other squadrons galloped straight into Beersheba.

Nearly all the wells of Beersheba were intact and further water was available from a storm that had filled the pools. The 4th and 12th Light Horse casualties were thirty-one killed and thirty-six wounded; they captured over 700 men. The capture of Beersheba meant that the Gaza-Beersheba line was turned. Gaza fell a week later and on 9 December 1917, the British troops entered Jerusalem.


William Lyons did not take part in that charge as the 5th Light Horse Regiment were not involved.  However, he did mention Beersheba in his diary.

On August 3rd 1917 he wrote:

“Bde (brigade) went out on a stunt to scupper Bedouins outpost, within 5 miles of Beersheba. Mafeesh Bedouins.  Fired on by Turkish outpost.

On August 4th, he continued:

“Returned to camp without casualties”

Then on 4th November 1917, whilst hospitalized in Cairo due to illness, he wrote:

“The wounded are coming in from Beersheba fight.”

He would have been kept up to speed on what actually transpired at Beersheba on October 31st.  No doubt he would have spoken to the wounded, curious for details. According to his diary, Colonel Lachlan Wilson, who participated in the charge,  visited him several times during his stay in hospital. If only I could be privy to their conversations.  I am sure they were laced with both the excitement of the successful outcome and of course reflection of the losses.

The attack on Beersheba was a case of “do or die”.  Failure meant either perishing by the hand of the Turks or of thirst.  From what I have recently learnt about General Chauvel, he had studied the possible outcomes.  He only took calculated risks and his men knew that. They trusted his instincts. Yes, they might have been touched by a tinge of madness, but also words like “daring” and “gallant” come to mind.  They had nothing to lose as their luck was evaporating along with the contents of their water bottles. They gave it their all, galloping across the plains on the wings of hope and that glorious victory was the turning point of the war in the middle east.


Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk


Great Grandfather William Lyons spent much time at the Zeitoun Training camp, especially during 1917, his last year abroad. Until 1916, there was no official training for officers, they were expected to learn in the field.  When the fighting with the Turks eased along the Suez Canal by October that year, whilst many troops were sent on leave,  some were sent to Zeitoun to complete the newly devised Officer’s Course.

I used a little creative licence in last week’s post, assuming William Lyons was sent to Zeitoun  to complete the forementioned course.  However, he was promoted to Captain in November 1916, in Cairo according to his records. Zeitoun was situated outside of Cairo, and his work thereon had strong connections to the camp.  Therefore, I think my assumptions are reasonably safe.  In any case, during his frequent visits to the camp, (according to his diary) I wonder if he crossed paths with the Chambers family who ran the YMCA Canteen.

Oswald and Biddy Chambners Zeitoun

In all my internet searches, the Chambers family came up in connection with Zeitoun.  Oswald Chambers was a minister with the Pentacostal League of Prayer, and prior to the outbreak of war in 1915, he was the Principal of the Bible Training College in Clapham Common, Greater London.  Then, in 1915, he suspended operation of the school and was accepted as a YMCA Chaplain.  The family moved to Cairo and were assigned to operate the YMCA Canteen at Zeitoun, where he ministered to Australian and New Zealand troops.

The military and government heads welcomed the YMCA ministries as a way of keeping men out of the seedy clubs and brothels in Cairo.  The YMCA was seen as an  provider of alternative social services such as dances and concerts.  However, Oswald Chambers replaced those services with bible classes.  By day Biddy ran the canteen, providing free refreshments to the troops, whilst Oswald held his classes in the evenings.  The sceptics envisaged an exodus from the establishment, however, the opposite was to occur.  Men were seeking some sort of solace from the realities of war.  Hundreds filled the hut each evening, to listen to Oswald’s messages.

The hut was ‘a place to read, write, sing and relax away from the dust-filled, fly-infested, hot, sandy camp, where showers were irregular and the tents hot and crowded.’ [1] There was another attraction, in the form of the Chambers’ young daughter, Kathleen, who was only 2½ years old when the family arrived in Egypt.  This little blonde girl with a bow in her hair was a constant reminder of families at home.  Men showered her with gifts, including animals.  According to David McCasland in his book “Oswald Chambers: Abandoned for God”,

Occasionally, a man, lonely for his own little ones, sat outside her window at night just to listen to her bedtime prayers.  Some of her favourite soldier friends tiptoed in after family prayers to watch her sleeping and give her a good night kiss before sprinting back to camp before the sounding of the Last Post.

Oswald Chambers died on November 17,1917 from complications after an operation to remove his appendix.  He was granted a military funeral where ‘100 soldiers escorted the gun carriage bearing his coffin.  Only officers were bearers.  All of them walked the whole funeral route with arms reversed – a special tribute to a well-loved and respected man.[2]

I wonder whether Great Grandfather crossed paths with this family who provided such a valuable service at Zeitoun.  Did Kathleen Chambers tug at his heart strings, as she had to so many others?  He too had young children at home.  Young Billy was only three years Kathleen’s senior.  Did her pretty presence bring a spark to his blue sun weary eyes?  I would like to think so. More so, I would like to think that the YMCA Canteen provided him with a retreat from the everyday drudge of a soldier’s life and that Mr Chambers’ bible classes provided him with spiritual comfort.  After-all, he was a churchgoing man.

Of course, there is no way of knowing the answers to my questions.  What I do know for sure is that Oswald, Biddy and Kathleen Chambers were real people who lived in Egypt whilst William Lyons was stationed there.  By seeing the place through their eyes gives me a better understanding of what life was like for soldiers in Egypt at that time.  Therefore, I think Great Grandfather would forgive me for using his voice to tell their stories.

Finally, I would like to point out that there is no connection between myself and the Chambers family aforementioned.  None that I am aware of anyway.



[1]  Michelle

[2]  Women of Christianity


Zeitoun School of Instruction


Training Base at Zeitoun

Photo Source: Pinterest – Barracks at Zeitoun


In the shadows of the great pyramids, the Zeitoun School of Instruction bustled with a sense of military purpose. The drill field was a stirring sandy whir of men on horseback fighting an imaginary foe.  The rifle range was crack, crack, cracking as shooting skills honed to deadly perfection.  The Remount Station exploded with excitement as horses were subdued into submission.

In contrast, the streets were mapped out with neat rows of wooden barracks and  uniformed collections of circular white tents.  Paths were marked with rocks painted white and potted plants. Moreover, it was a picture of a perfectly ordered world; one which William Lyons embraced with open arms after months of uncertainty and chaos.

Zeitoun YMCA Exterior

Outside of the Zeitoun YMCA Canteen.  Biddy and Kathleen Chambers second from right.

William and Lt. Atkinson stepped out from the Post Office onto Suez Road and briskly strode the short distance to the YMCA Canteen.  Compared to the splendid symmetry of the Officers’ Mess with its arched façade and path lined with potted flowers, the YMCA was basic.  Whilst lacking in class, it was warm and homely, thanks to Mrs Biddy Chambers.  Her ever-ready smile and home cooked food made her establishment feel like a home away from home.

Kathleen and Biddy Chambers
Photo Source: -Kathleen Chambers and her Mother Biddy

Entering the canteen, William welcomed the shelter from the burning sun, taking a few seconds to adjust his sight.  Light filtered gently through the rattan walls and beamed down from the open shutters that were suspended from the peaked ceiling.

Removing their feathered hats and placing them under their arms, the two men made their way towards a smiling Mrs Chambers who greeted them from across the counter.

“Good Afternoon, Chaps,” she beamed.  “Two  white teas today, is it?”

“Yes thanks Mrs Chambers,” William responded as they both looked out over the arrangements of tables dressed with clean white cloths and pretty vases of flowers.

Surveying the scattering of chatting patrons from various Anzac Regiments, the two men carried their hot teacups to a spare table in a quiet corner close to the counter.  They placed their hats on the two spare chairs, lowered themselves onto the chairs, sinking the timber legs down into the floor of sand.

YMCA Zeitoun

Inside the YMCA Canteen at Zeitoun


“Here’s to our promotions!” Lt. Atkinson raised his tea cup, encouraging Will to follow suit.

“We have to pass first,” William retorted as he chinked his teacup against that of his companion.

“Pass?  Of course we’ll pass.”  They both laughed in unison.

William had spent the last two weeks of September completing the Officers’ Training Course.  The days had been long and rigorous, but nothing compared to his experiences during the past months clashing with the Turks.  By mid-August, the enemy had been pushed away from the Suez.  Men were offered leave to Port Said and some, including William, were sent to Zeitoun for training.  He relished the opportunity for self-improvement as well as a change of scenery.

As the two men sat sipping their tea, little Kathleen Chambers, toddled over to their table holding a plate of biscuits.  Shyly smiling from beneath her mop of blond hair and large floppy bow, she waited for a response.  Three year old Kathleen was almost a fixture at the YMCA Canteen and a joy to weary soldiers’ eyes.  She was loved by all.

William took a biscuit and placed it beside the cup on his saucer.

“Why, thank you Miss Kathleen,” he said, with a slight bow to his head, before retrieving from his pocket a lolly he had saved from his Comforts Fund Parcel.

Kathleen’s eyes lit up as she took the lolly from William’s hand.

She paid him with a sweet “Thank you” before carrying the plate of remaining biscuits back to her Mother.

“You know, I haven’t seen my family for two years,” Will suddenly felt a pang of home sickness as he took a bite from the sweet biscuit.

“The boys are all getting older, growing up, and I am not there to enjoy it.”

“I know that feeling only too well,” his companion replied. “Has the sacrifice really been worth it?”

William pondered the question as he savoured another sip of tea,  a luxury that as evaded him for months.  His thoughts wandered to conversations he had with Colonel Wilson regarding a promotion that could mean the opportunity of utilizing his 20 years as a Drill Instructor.  The very possibility brought a smile to his face.  The    hardships of the past two years along with the long separation from his family, might prove to be worthwhile after all.


Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk


Vintage letter

If you are a collector, like me, you tend to keep boxes of stuff that are the sum of a lifetime of experiences and memories.  Recently, during my “decluttering” phase, I happened upon boxes and bags filled with memorabilia from my travels.  I have always had a penchant for beautiful cards and own enough to start a card shop.  Worst still, I collect postcards, leaflets, booklets, packets, pages from newspapers;  anything and everything that proves I have visited some place in the world.

In my early years of exploring the world I brought home rocks, leaves and half eaten cookies that all represented somewhere on the world map.  I have pieces of the Step Pyramid from Egypt and peanut shells that I retrieved from the White House Lawn during Jimmy Carter’s reign.  Aside from travel momentoes, my collection includes newspaper articles by columnists who share my point of view, interesting quotes and pictures of room renos that I wanted to replicate and never did.  And, like my Great Grandfather, I have a collection of scraps of paper scribbled with words for stories I never wrote.  So, what does all this stuff say about me?  Perhaps it says I’m disorganized, have a strong need to cling to my untapped potential?  Or, I possess a befuddled mind?  Who knows?

Recently I discovered a hand printed magazine that belonged to my Great Grandparents, titled “Health and Happiness” dated 19th May 1936.  I always sensed they were health conscious, perhaps ahead of their times.  Dad has told me that his Grandmother always refused to cook in aluminium saucepans and she bought “brown” bread.  Now that was progressive.

The magazine describes itself as “A Periodical dealing with Facts and Features in relation to the Physical and Mental well-being of Civilization”.  It contains articles explaining how one can ensue individuality through the practice of mind control.  Mr F. Carswell writes about improving one’s mind by reading books of learning.

“We are all in a position to see and distinguish good from evil; ” he says.  “but we are blind.  Why?  Because books of learning are left upon the shelf, in their place we read sordid thrillers and books of questionable humour.  We ignore books which will develop and improve humanity.”  

There are philosophical quotes sprinkles through the pages about the benefits of reading and the acquisition of knowledge:

“Have you knowledge?” A Pagan Philoshopher asks. ” Apply it.  Have you not?  Confess it.  This is true wisdom.”

Andrew Lang wrote, “People who deserve to be able to read, did read, and now that every one can read, few people deserve to do so, for few go beyond a newspaper.”

And so, the pages are filled with quotes and intellectualizations about the positive effects of acquiring knowledge.  I already know that my Great Grandfather, William Lyons, possessed an insatiable thirst for knowledge.  According to his grandchildren, he always kept notebooks by his bed where he wrote out facts and figures that aroused his curiosity.  His cupboards were filled with snippets of facts, and letters he received answering his questions.

For William to keep this magazine is very telling indeed.  It was produced by a Doctor Kjellberg who was a Chiropractor and Practitioner of alternative living.  William acquired this publication whilst attending a Retreat at Millaa Millaa on the Atherton Tablelands.  He mentioned his attendance in a diary written in 1936.  For a man who had experienced the horrors of two wars, PTSD was possibly an issue.  Perhaps he was seeking mental relief by improving his mind, to feed it with the wonderments of knowledge.

By writing William’s story, I have had to climb into his psyche, to discover the man behind the army green facade.  Not only was he a soldier at heart, he was an intelligent and inquisitive man who enjoyed the ancient old cultures of the lands he travelled.  He took countless snapshots of local peoples, he collected hundreds of postcards and picture books, along with textiles and ornaments.  Through letters he wrote, I have gleened the depths of his interest in the ways of ancient architects, the farming of sugar cane in Egypt and even his opinion of tipping.

I am forever thankful for the items William chose to keep as they paint a picture of the person he was.  I wonder what my collection of memorabilia will tell my ancestors in 100 years?  How sad it would be, if there is nothing left of my life, of me.  Perhaps we all need to consider the mark we leave on this earth, the legacy we leave to be remembered by.





The Day after Katia

Opening his eyes on the morning of 6th August, William greeted an angry dawn sky with trepidation.   His mind was fuzzy.  He had wrestled with demons all night and they continued to blur in and out of reality. His body ached. It screamed out for rest, but he knew there was no time for idleness.  Lifting himself off the ground, he brushed off the sand that clung to his dirty, blood splattered clothes in preparation of another day of unknowns.


The order screeched out of the darkness as he finished feeding his horse.   No time to heat the bully beef that was to be his breakfast, he grabbed a dry biscuit from his pocket and began to chew as he landed in the saddle.  His horse heeded to the gentle nudge of his boot and obediently joined the sombre procession of 500 troopers that crept along the desolate track back to Katia, where they had fled the day before.

The line of dark shadows that moved against the orange-red sky lacked the buzz of yesterday’s charge.  Each man, including William, felt the absence of mates who were left buried in makeshift graves at Katia.  Peering back over his shoulder and then forward down the column, his tired eyes stumbled upon the unfamiliar faces of men who replaced them.  New facesMore sorry representatives of the dead.  When will it end?

The loss of life at Katia forced the Colonel’s sudden retreat.   Many men were bitterly disappointed, but William understood the Colonel’s reasons.  Hundreds of the British reinforcements had fallen out before even reaching the Oasis.  He had witnessed many poor beggars, mad from heat stroke and severe thirst.  The British High Command were demanding a swift victory.  “We must push the Turks away from the Suez!”  They spout. “The Anzacs are our answer!”  But how?  What would they know?  They, who sit behind desks in England!  Are we so expendable?

An unsettling quiet fell upon the column as the green Oases of Katia loomed below.  Although the forward scouts had scoured the area for the enemy, William knew not to put his total trust in the assessment of others.  Resting his hand on his rifle, he stared hard into the tangle of stringy fronds that protected the sandy dunes.  Was the enemy watching? Planning a surprise attack?

He edged his horse forward through the labyrinth of palms. His eyes darting, scanning.  Piles of spent cartridges.  Splatters of blood.  A broken rifle.  Three Turks huddled together.  All dead.  He passes a grave he remembered hurriedly scratching out of the sand for a comrade.  He could still hear the echoes of desperate crazed men.  The endless frenzied fury of shooting, stabbing, clubbing still thumped like the heartbeat of death in his head.  His ears rang with the hissing of bullets, storming the oasis like rain from hell.  He felt compelled to yell “stop!” But, No time to stop.  Must keeping moving. 

A palm frond crunched beneath a horse’s hooves. Heads jerked.  Horses fidgeted. Eyes, wide and expectant, bouncing from frond to sand and back again.  Silence.  Nothing. The column kept moving.

At the very moment that William’s eyes locked with those of a naked body lying face up in the sand, the silence of the column was broken by a voice behind him.

“Those thieving bastards!” A young trooper exclaimed.

“No respect.” Agreed another.

“That’s the way of the Bedouins, son.” William responded, without looking back over his shoulder in case his face betrayed his own disgust. He too held little respect for the desert nomads.

“When one of their own dies,” He informed the troopers behind him. “they place the deceased person’s clothes on the grave to be taken by passing nomads.”

William knew that the Bedouins habitually stripped the bodies of the dead and dug up graves to scavenge clothing and jewelry.  When circumstances allow it, they now tried to dig deeper graves.

“That doesn’t change anything Sir!” the young trooper shook his head.

“Survival, Son, it is all about survival.” William sighed.  “We’re all trying to survive.  In our own way.”

The quiet open desert  welcomed William with an overwhelming sense of relief, knowing the enemy had moved on.  Swaying gently to the movement of his horse, he felt the gaze of his fallen comrades watching from their ghostly posts.  Refusing to look back, he straightened up, held his head hight and looked toward the shimmering sand hills that rolled out across the horizon.  Before long, the silence was broken by  The crack, Crack, Crack, Crack of gunfire thundering ahead.

William closed his eyes and drew a deep breath before mumbling, “Here we go again.”

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk


Researching our family history can be a long and tedious process.  We read through documents and texts in search of clues.  Our search can be likened to panning for gold.  Often our work is rewarded with nothing more than a pan of sand, however, when we  happen upon the most minute detail about an ancestor’s life, it shines brightly like a speck of gold. That small golden speck makes the search worthwhile.

I am fortunate that my research has uncovered many specks and the odd nugget of gold.  Armed with few details of my Great Grandfather’s military life at the beginning of this journey, I have stumbled across a few treasures along the way.  Today, I would like to pay tribute to one such treasure; a man who lived and breathed more than a century ago.  He laboured alongside William Lyons in the trenches of Gallipoli and he endured the hardships of the battlefields of the Middle East.  His words survived those hard times and are still as vivid today as they were on the day he penned them.

Ion Idriess wrote diaries throughout his wartime service.  Putting pen to paper became a manic means of coping with the action transpiring around him.  One notebook led to another and eventually they filled a rucksack.  His colourful and lively descriptions place the reader right in the centre of chaos, dodging whizzing bullets and ducking beneath flying pieces of shrapnel.  He forces the reader to see through his battle weary eyes, to face the reality of that horrific world that imprisoned our men.


Ion Idriess – Photo: Wikpedia

“The Desert Column” is the sum of those diaries.  According to General Sir Harry Chauvel, who wrote the forward, “Several books have been written in by officers and war correspondents but in this the campaign is viewed entirely from the private soldier’s point of view”.   He also said, “there is an accuracy in the descriptions of operations which could only be provided by a singularly observant man.  Idriess was, I think, above the average in this respect though I must say that the Australian Light Horseman was generally very quick in summing up a situation for himself”.

For me, those qualities of self-reliance, individuality and power of observation that Ion Idriess demonstrated in his writings, personified William Lyons.  Reading from line to line, I was seeing the battlefield demise through his eyes and hearing the whooshing bullets and whizzing shrapnel with his ears. I was standing in the muddy trenches of Gallipoli or galloping across the desert with my Great Grandfather.  I was listening to the inner workings of his mind and could feel the rumbling of his inner fears.  In my mind, Ion Idriess’ experiences became his.  The war became so real that I felt I was there as well.

In my attempts to write a realistic account of William Lyons’ experiences, I have relied on Mr Idriess to fill in the gaps.  I know I cannot write about what happened with absolute accuracy, however, I do know that the two men fought side by side on many occasions.   Although they were in different squadrons,  I can piece together from both Mr Idriess’ writings and the “Diaries of The Fifth Light Horse Regiment”, a reasonably accurate account of real events.  As for William Lyons’ actual thoughts, fears and actions, I have had to exercise some creative license, for which I hope he can forgive me.


Charging Katia – 5th August 1916


William had reached for his bayonet before the Colonel could utter a word.  Determination furrowed his brow, as he observed puffs of white smoke rising out of the dark green oasis palms below.  Sounds of exploding shrapnel and any hindering doubts about the outcome of the Regiment’s imminent charge were now in the back regions of his mind.  His total focus remained fixed on the target.

“REGIMENT – FIX – BAY’NETS,” Colonel Wilson’s voice boomed through the air, followed by the click-click-clicking of 500 bayonets. [1]

The gleam of shiny steel flashed in the sunlight as the mass of mounted men began to form up in readiness to charge.


Excitement rippled down the line of men and horses, urging them into a brisk trot that soon fanned into an enthusiastic canter.  The momentum of the long sandy slope soon spurred five hundred horsemen into screaming fearless animals galloping into the unknown of Katia.

William was jammed into the mass of hot moving men and beasts, riding knee to knee, horse to horse.  He was a cog in a raging machine of galloping legs pumping like pistons into the sand. There was no turning back.  There was no time for fear.  He leaned forward along his horse’s neck, oblivious to his face being lashed by strands of mane that danced erratically on the winds of speed.  He willed the Oasis that rushed at him like a tsunami of sand and palms, silently shouting, Bring it on! I’m ready for you!  His thoughts kept a racing pace as he galloped forth on a blurry rush of adrenalin.

To his right, a sandbag trench stood unattended.  “Where are the guns? The parapet was empty. Without incident, he thundered on until his eyes widened at the sight of a line of men standing along the top of the Oasis Ridge.[2]  Will they shoot?  The thought passed as he was driven  forward by the wild hurricane of wide-eyed men and beasts that stormed its way through the line of bewildered Turks.   Palms crushed and crackled in their wake as they galloped through the Oasis into an open plain that was surrounded by miles of palms.

“HALT!”  The Colonel who had pulled his horse back on its haunches, held his hand high in the air. [3]

Suddenly, as he pulled on his reins, William found himself compressed by a mass of hot and sweaty screaming horses, thrashing about as they pulled up around the Colonel in a confusion of quelled fury.

“There are no signs of guns!”  Announced the Colonel. “They are not here.”

William heard the Colonel’s words, but the momentum of the charge still pumped wildly through his veins.  His heart still thumped loud and fast, awaiting that decisive moment.  He couldn’t turn it off. Questions flooded his being.  “Was intelligence incorrect?”  “Is this a trap?”

Then it came – that sickening thud of bullets hitting horse flesh cut through William’s thoughts. [4] Amidst the chaos of spraying bullets, the cries of pain and horror filled the air as men and horses with crimson chests fell to the ground.



  1. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 134)
  2. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 135)
  3. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 136)
  4. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 136)


Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk


I am guessing I am in the same boat as lots of family historians who over time have accumulated boxes and boxes of old photographs and documents.  When you start collecting, it becomes known along the branches of the family tree that you interested in family history and thus you become a memorabilia magnet.  In my case, storage and preservation, have become a problem.  What began as small envelopes of photos and newspaper cuttings has developed into box loads.  The question is how does one store these items correctly in order to stop the ravages of time?

Many of the items I inherited, came into my possession in the old boxes that had been home for decades.  Despite the fact that the old boxes were not acid free, the contents have mostly weathered the years surprisingly well. Old photos and postcards have not discoloured too much, although newspaper cuttings have turned rusty brown.  Letters, on the other hand, have become brittle and break upon touch.  The spines of old books also tend to crack and split when opened.  With many of these items, the less they are handled the better.  So, I will share with you some of my solutions to this growing problem.

Old Letters and documents

If the letters have been folded and stored in the original envelopes for decades, they often become brittle, especially along the fold lines.  I have removed letters from envelopes and flattened out the folds (if possible without damage).  Archival storage boxes and envelopes/sleeves are available from various sources for the ongoing storage of items such as letters.  An alternative method, which I use, is to place the letters in the acid free sleeves of a scrapbook album.  The sleeves usually contain a sheet of acid free card that is great for providing support for letters.  Always place the original envelope in the sleeve with the letter, along with any other enclosures. To avoid handling, separate the pages of the letter.


Old Photographs

I have been storing my larger photographs in large boxes, however, recently have scoured the internet for archival solutions.  Although you can purchase archival plastic bags or sleeves, an easy solution is to use zip lock food storage bags which are just as effective.  Store one large photograph per bag.  In my endeavours to bring some order to my collection,  I have just ordered some archival boxes for storing my larger photos.  Checkout this site.

Meanwhile, I have gone through my collection of smaller photos and grouped them according to family names and placed bundles in small zip lock lunch bags.  For the moment, I have stored them in general photo boxes which are not acid or lignin free.  I have marked each bag with the contents and listed each on an index card.  This is a temporary measure as my current aim is to get organized. In time, I will purchase archival boxes.



Some of the old books that I inherited were in good condition, until I began to read them.  Handling causes the spines to crack and pages to come apart.  One particular book in my possession is an historical volume and fortunately I found it available for reading online.  As with photographs, I have placed books and diaries in zip lock food storage bags for safekeeping and refrain from touching them as much as possible.

These items are the tip of my iceberg.  At least I have made a start.  I now intend to go through each box of my Lyons Family collection and group items together – postcards with postcards, letters with letters, etc.  The overall task seems overwhelming, however, I figure that if I do one box at a time, the task seems more doable.  Hopefully, my suggestions might be helpful to anyone out there faced with the same dilemma.






Leaving for Katia – 5th August 1916


William felt the cool air bristle his face and neck as he stood to attention in front of his horse. The camp at Dueidar was a stream of moving shadows in the 3 a.m. moonlight.  Since the attacks on 23rd April, he had become an old hand at early morning starts.   Days and nights had blended into one.  Dates were unimportant, just insignificant numbers in a world where numbers stood for casualties or reinforcements.  For weeks, William’s world has consisted of night patrols in preparation for an enemy that outnumbered them.   Since the annihilation of Katia, he had heard the old Colonel saying over and over, “I will never let this regiment be taken by surprise!”


Colonel Wilson – Photo: Australian War Memorial

The morning’s early start was of no surprise to William. The booming of gunfire and artillery thundered across the sky for most of the preceding day, along with enemy planes droning back and forth over their camp.  Word came through last night of the Turkish attack on Romani.  He heard stories of fierce fighting resulting in many casualties and the capture of Mt Meredith, Wellington Ridge and other positions from the Turks.  Awake for most of the night, he was waiting, fully dressed, for that shove, that whisper telling him it was time.  He knew the time was nearing for the regiment to finally face the enemy’s angry agenda.

“Mount!”  The order echoed down the lines of men and horses.

William, holding the reins against the neck of his horse, used his foot in the stirrup to help propel himself into the saddle.   He needed no prompting, he was a machine who could switch into gear upon hearing a single word or signal.  Colonel Wilson had ensured that every man could react without thought at a moment’s notice.  William had great faith in the Colonel’s judgement.  He had seen the man in action at Gallipoli.  He also witnessed what his regiment was capable of during the last three months of training, in anticipation for this moment.


Nudging his horse with his boot, William moved into line with the troopers in front of him.  As they slowly navigated the rocky trail to the top of Ridge 383, dawn lured them with a fiery crimson sky. ¹ Peering back from the elevation of the ridge, he thought how the column of New Zealand and Australian Mounted troops looked like a deadly giant khaki serpent glistening in the golden pink light as it slithered in and out of the rocky outcrops that marked the eastern route to Katia.

By the time the column reached the oasis of Bir-el-Nuss, the sun’s early morning softness had given way to stabbings of fiery heat that William felt through his shirt.  He was grateful for the chance to water his horse and retreated to a patch of speckled shade between the palms.  Removing his hat, he wiped the sweat off his brow and took a swig from his water bottle.  Laughter, chatter and snorting of eager horses sang a song of immunity against the ominous war cry of guns booming violently in the background.  All were oblivious to the long lines of ambulances rolling by.

What a strange world this is!” He thought to himself. “How is it, that we can appear so blasé?”  He knew that they all had their own coping mechanisms.  For now, the regiment was a collective arm of protection that gave a sense of security.  Sadly, the time was drawing near when each man would be fighting for himself.

Turning his back on the background banter, William wasted no time in checking and double checking the equipment strapped to his horse.  Making a mental checklist, he pored over the saddle and his various pouches and saddlebags.  Tightening the girth and stirrup straps, he was finally satisfied that he was done.  Straightening up, he preened his hat and feathers before placing it on his head.  Despite his small stature, he emanated an inner strength, borne out of experience.

During the two hours of wait, reinforcements began to arrive.  Brigade after brigade filed into the Oasis until it was a crowded entanglement of men and horses.  The light-hearted chatter and joking died as men noticed the faces of the new arrivals.  Horse after horse, with large brown staring eyes carried men, haggard in appearance, faces grimy and clothes splattered with dirt and blood.  No explanations were needed.  William had seen those staring eyed faces before.  They were the living dead, the survivors of the previous night’s fight.


Once more, the column of men filed out into the fierce heat in the direction of a thunderous argument which had increased in intensity.  To the rut-tut-tut beat of machine guns, thousands of horses’ hooves pushed through the burning sand.  William scanned the rocky outcrops that protruded from the sand, looking for a glint of a rifle or field glasses.  Nothing.

Passing a small oasis, he looked down at a collection of bloody ambulance stretchers abandoned in the sand, some occupied by dead men.²  His grim thoughts of what had transpired were broken by the clattering roar of rifle fire cracking the air.  Holding the reins in one hand, he automatically felt the presence of his rifle with the other.

“Halt!”  “Taube!”  Taube!”  shouted down the line.³

William tugged the reins to stop moving.   His horse complied as he had practised the drill hundreds of times over the last three months.  The plane droned overhead, unable to see the thousands of horses and men who dotted the sandy floor.  It never ceased to amaze William how the enemy could not see so many horses and men, so long as they were still.  He found the experience unnerving nonetheless.

Machine guns began to rattle again, clashing with the cracking of rifle fire.  Then came the drone of more planes.  William looked up to see their own planes circling and Turkish shrapnel exploding around them.  His stomach tightened with that old familiar feeling.

Reaching the top of a ridge, the men dismounted whilst the Colonel and a group of officers discussed their plan.  William, standing nearby, watched the Colonel point to the Oasis in front and say:

“A battery of Austrian guns has been found in that Oasis. We will have to charge and take them.” (4)



  1. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 131)
  2. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 134)
  3. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 134)
  4. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk


In case you are all wondering, the story of William Lyons has not ended.  On the contrary, I have been searching through a minefield of history appertaining to his regiment’s activities in the Sinai Desert in the year 1916.  For a year that I assumed was lacking in significance, it is proving to be so action packed that I am a little overwhelmed. What do I include and what do I leave out?  That is my current dilemma.

In the meantime, I thought I would share some family history with my followers who are descendants of William Lyons.  His Granddaughter, Kay Lyons, recently travelled to Ireland in search of our roots.  Prior to departing she asked me for details of the family tree.  Thanks to Terry Drapes, Grandson of William’s brother Edwin, I have extensive details of the family tree.  If any of you are interested in a copy, I am happy to share as Terry has done a wonderful job of recording the Lyons family history.

Before I tell you about Kay’s discoveries, I’ll share some details of the family members who left Ireland for Australia.  William’s Grandparents, were Elizabeth (nee Sullivan – born approx. 1804 in County Cork) and Daniel Lyons (born somewhere between 1796 and 1814 at Kiltankin, Tipperary, County Cork).  They had ten children:  William, Alice, Patrick, Daniel, Honora, Johanna, John (Father of William), Thomas, James and Ann, all born in Tipperary.

The eldest two children of Elizabeth and Daniel, (William and Alice) left Ireland for Australia on the ship “Duchess of Northumberland”, arriving in Moreton Bay in February 1851.  The remainder of the family emigrated the following year aboard the ship “Meridian”, arriving at Brisbane in September 1852.

Now, back to Kay’s adventures.  Whilst in County Cork, she typed Kiltankin (the birth place of Daniel Lyons) into the hire car’s GPS, thinking it was the name of a village or town.  The instructions led them down a labyrinth of narrow country roads until a dead end, upon which the GPS announced “you have arrived”.   A farmhouse peered through the trees, so Kay set out on foot to find out at least where they were.


Her knocks on the door were answered by a nice young man in his thirties.

“Hello,” Kay announced. “my name is Kay Lyons, I’m from Australia and I am trying to trace my family history.”

“Well, you are in the right place.” She was told.

Now, in case you are wondering, John Condon, the man who answered the door is of no relation to the family.  He lives on the neighbouring farm. However, he was able to furnish Kay with the details of the last living descendants to live on the Lyons Farm prior to it being sold about ten years ago.

Kiltankin is the name of the area and the farm amounts to about 100 acres.  Mr and Mrs Lyons (names yet to be ascertained) were in their seventies when they sold the farm and have since died.  They had no children.  Mr Lyons was involved in an accident which caused the death of a man who worked for him.  Riddled by guilt, he sold up.  They walked out, leaving a lovely old house full of furniture and a beautiful rose garden.  Local villagers looted the contents and the new owner lives in the city and allows sheep to live in the house and stores hay in the rooms.  From 10 years of neglect it looks as though it has sat in ruins for 100 years.  The house as you can see from the photos is very old, possibly between 100 and 200 years old.


No doubt this old farm house will eventually be bulldozed, including the last remnants of our Irish roots in that area, although there are bound to be living descendants still residing elsewhere in Ireland. It is a matter of finding them.  If you google “Lyons family of County Cork”, you will find that the family name was prominent in the county and that they were landed gentry.  On the Kiltankin property, there are also stables and the remains of cottages that were once home to the peasant families who worked on the property.

I hope you enjoyed this little journey into our past and I must thank Kay for sharing her journey with me.  I only wish I was standing beside her as she explored this little treasure.