VICTORIAN 8th LIGHT HORSE
Deeds of Gallantry.
Officer's Graphic Story.
Captain -in a letter to his mother tells the story of how the 8th Light Horse met its doom. It is a simple unaffected recital that enables the reader completely to understand the movement and the reason of its failure. He says -
"I write on board the hospital ship with a bullet wound through the bone of my right foot and another through my right shoulder, the latter only an inconvenience and the former a clean hole which ought to heal in about six weeks. Truly, we have been through the Valley of the Shadow of Death as our regiment has been cut to pieces and all our officers killed or wounded except two. Out of 18 officers present, 12 were killed and four wounded.
Our orders were that at half past 4 on August 7 (?) we were to rush the neck which divides us from the Turks, and is about 200 yards lengthwise, and from 30 to 100 yards (varying) between trench and trench, and after that bayonet our way up the trenches as far as we could.
The navy was to bombard them heavily for half an hour and it was expected that this would hurt them so much that we could get across without much loss. All our preparations and thoughts were concentrated upon our action once we were in their trenches. We paraded in shirt sleeves, six biscuits, water bottles full and 200 rounds per man; magazines not to be charged till we were in their front line; the attack to be in four lines, to be followed by others if successful-8th Light Horse forward. At 4 am we stood to arms in our trenches; the bombardment started; in 25 minutes it stopped.
Immediately a fierce cackle of fire came out of the Turkish trenches. We knew we were doomed; the bombardment had failed and had simply advertised our attack. I was in charge of the right wing of the second line-under me three subalterns and about 175 men. We were to start our charge after the first line had gone about 50 yards. We had about 100 yards to go, the first line starting from saps which are trenches in front of the firing line leading in the enemy's direction. At 25 minutes past 4 we stood up on the banquettes of our trenches and in a few minutes the crackle of musketry turned into a roar. Never have I heard such an awful sound and no wonder. We knew they had three machine guns trained on the neck, and quite possibly there were more; their trench must have had at least 200 men. Judging from the number we had in ours, more likely 250. Now a machine gun fires at top speed 600 rounds a minute and a rifleman 15 rounds per minute. So we had concentrated on a piece of land, say 200 yards long and 100 yards deep, no fewer than 5,000 bullets per minute.
Out went the first line and we waited for our word. By the time they had covered the first 40 yards they were down to a man. What could 175 men do against that volume of fire? We saw our fate in front of us but we were pledged to go and to their eternal credit the word being given not a man in the second line stayed in his trench. As I jumped out I looked down the line and they were all rising over the parapet. We bent low and ran as hard as we could. Ahead we could see the trench aflame with rifle fire; all round were smoke and dust kicked up by the bullets. I felt a sting on my shoulder and remember thinking it could not be a hit or it would have hurt more. It bled a lot I found afterwards, but was only a flesh wound. I passed our first line, all dead or dying it seemed, and went on a bit further and flung myself down about 40 yards from the Turkish trenches. I was a bit ahead of my men having got a good start and travelling lighter. I looked round and saw them all down, mostly hit.
I did not know what to do-the dirt was spurting up all round like rain from a pavement in a thunderstorm. Some bigger spurts near me were either bombs or pompoms-I could notice they were much bigger. The trench ahead was a living flame, the roar of musketry not a bit diminished. I was protected by a little-a very little- fold in the ground and by a dead Turk- dead about six weeks. I had looked round again and reckoned I could get about six men to follow, and it would have been murder to take them on. Lastly, the sup ports had not started and if they had they were only 175 for the whole line, absolutely and totally inadequate .I made up my mind and started to shove myself backwards on the flat of my stomach. After going a few yards I felt a hard sting in my right foot; but so long as my arms and chest were right I didn’t mind. I passed through our dead and fell into one of the saps managed to limp out into one of the back trenches, and lay down wondering how on earth I had got out of it. My three subalterns were killed and I should say about 70 per cent of my men. There were no live men near me when I started back, except one who did the same as I did, and I hope got back.
Our colonel was killed; one major killed, the other wounded; the only captain (myself) wounded. 10 subalterns killed and three wounded leaving only two officers not hit, and about 75 per cent of the men killed or wounded. And so perished the 8th Light Horse.
Aug 12.-I had a trying time after being hit-lay out under a bank while the French 75 rocked them overhead-carried down to a dug-out, where a good chap looked after me like a brother; put in an open boat at sunset and took seven hours before we got on tile hospital ship.”
The Argus Tuesday 19 October 1915