Friday, 22 November 2013

Australian Infantry Force - part 1

Looking at the military experience of the three Anderson brothers from Vermont - Arthur Andreas Anderson (Service No. 801), David Christopher Anderson (Service No. 5030) and Frederick Martin Anderson (Service No. 2572) - also provides an overview of various sections of the AIF during World War I.

Light Horse
Arthur Anderson was a member of the 8th Light Horse Regiment. A brief history of the regiment is provided on the Australian War Memorial website. The Australian Light Horse Study Centre website provides detailed information about the Light Horse Regiments in general as well as the 8th Light Horse Regiment. The Australian Light Horse Association also has a useful website.

During the Boer War Australian mounted troops from Colonial forces became a respected fighting force. In the years after the Boer War many men belonged to the 23 Light Horse regiments created throughout Australia by 1914. When war was declared in 1914 the 20,000 troops pledged  by the Australian Prime Minister included 2,226  from the Light Horse. Many of the initial volunteers, including Arthur Anderson, nominated joining the Light Horse.

Arthur's initial training was at the Broadmeadows Depot. Ian Jones in his book, A Thousand Miles of Battles: the Saga of the Australian Light Horse in WWI, describes the training undertaken by the new volunteers.

Light Horse volunteers had to pass a riding test which varied from place to place. In Broadmeadows Camp, Melbourne, they had to ride an army horse bareback and take it over a chock-and-log-fence. ... After they had negotiated the riding test, successful recruits were given a strict medical. ... Men who passed the medical were sworn in, kissing the Bible and swearing to serve their Sovereign Lord the King "until the end of the war and a further period of four months." (pages 8 and 9)

Some of the men brought their own horses which needed to pass inspection before being accepted and purchased by the Commonwealth. Most of the men were "issued with remounts - army horses, popularly called "Walers" - which could range from near outlaws to well trained stock-horses and thoroughbreds." (page 9)

As well as training the men had to look after the horses. The horses also required saddles and associated leather work which was made at the Government Harness Factory at Clifton Hill. The factory had been opened in September 1911 to counter difficulties in obtaining equipment from contractors.

8th Light Horsemen marching along Collins Street, January 1915
Fifty-three  members of the 8th Light Horse 4th reinforcement embarked from Melbourne aboard the HMAT Wiltshire A18 on 13 March 1915 for Egypt. Aboard the ship the members of the Light Horse spent time looking after their horses, "muck out the stalls, rub down their Walers and, where possible, exercise them on deck". (page 17)

After their time at sea, the horses couldn't be ridden immediately. They were exercised daily, then after about 12 days, reaccustomed  to mounting and dismounting before being ridden at the walk for only15 minutes, for half an hour the next day etc.  (page 21)

The original plan had been for the Light Horse to be deployed fighting the Germans in Europe but when Turkey entered the war the plans were altered resulting in the fighting at Gallipoli. As the terrain was not suitable for horses the men of the Light Horse remained in their intact units but fought as infantry leaving the horses in Egypt.

Towards the end of July the men were taken by ship to Gallipoli. On 7 August 1915 the men of the 8th Light Horse formed the first and second wave attempting to take the Turkish trenches at The Nek. The men had no hope of success and most of the men from the 8th Light Horse who took part in the attack were killed or wounded. The 8th Light Horse Regiment AIF Roll of Honour for the Gallipoli Campaign lists the names of 201 men killed at Gallipoli. Of these 157 died during the battle on the 7 August and another 11 died from battle wounds in the following few days.

The website of the Australian Light Horse Studies Centre includes a detailed section on the 8th Light Horse Regiment

Members of Australian Light Horse Regiments fought in many battles in the Middle East with the aim of protecting Egypt from the Turks including the Battle of Beersheba in October 1917. Some regiments also served on the Western Front. By the end of the war, however, it was reconised that in modern warfare with machine guns and other artillery the time for horses in  military campaigns had come to an end.

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