Sunday, 17 November 2013

Gallant Australians - Charge of the Light Horse - part 1

Part of an article located in Trove about the battle at Gallipoli on 7 August published in The Argus 28 August 1915.

Gallant Australians - Charge of Light Horse
(From Captain C. E. BEAN, Official Reporter with the Australian Expeditionary Force)

GABA TEPE, Aug 15-It differed from the charge of the Light Brigade in that it was made by horsemen who had volunteered to fight on foot or in any other way provided they could only get to Gallipoli and help the other Australians there. There are the two scaling ladders which they carried with them lying out there in the scrub about halfway to the enemy's trench, and a number of tumbled little heaps of that pea soup coloured Australian khaki. There are no Victoria Crosses - there are no Birthday honours, but for sheer self sacrificing heroism there was never a deed in history that surpassed the charge which two Australian Light Horse brigades made in the first light of Saturday, August 7, in order to help their comrades in a critical moment of a great battle.

When the orders for the attack came along the men grasped at the fact that this might be the last they would see of the trenches. The next night they would bivouac in the scrub on the ridge out beyond the Turkish lines. During the afternoon of the day before when the battle began they had seen the wonderful rush of the First Australian Infantry Brigade against the Turkish trenches on Lonesome Pine. They bad seen crowd after crowd of small khaki fighters, each with the white patches on its arms and back racing across the interval of scrub half hidden in the dust of the bullets and a hell of bursting shrapnel, whilst the waning light of a glorious day spread its warm flush over the landscape. They had seen what looked like the strongest section in a tremendously formidable position captured by a series of determined rushes which went forward for two hours, wave after wave, and from which not one unbounded man turned back. What the infantry had done that evening they themselves would do the next morning.

It was all a part-a very small part-of a very big movement. After dark the infantry columns issued from the northern end of our lines and one after another turned to its right into the tangled and almost unknown foothills of the main ridge All through the night came out bursts of rifle firing. A little before day break there came over ever so faint the sound as of water bubbling and boiling. It was the first sign of the new British force landed that night four miles to the north at Suvla Bay.  

It was a matter of intense urgency to hold the Turks to their position around Anzac while the other columns had time to do their appointed work. It was possible that they might not be in position in which case the attack by the Light Horse would have to help them to get there. This is what actually happened. The attack was made by the 8th Light Horse with the 10th Light Horst, following. At 4 o'clock to the moment the bombardment by our guns began. Every gun on land and shore that could be brought to bear emptied itself as fast as the gun's crew could load into the maze of Turkish trenches on the backbone of the ridge in front of the apex of our position. The dust of the bombardment rolled across the ridge in clouds, shutting out any view of the place. For half an hour the slope in   front of our trenches was an inferno and then the uproar ceased as suddenly as it had begun--ceased as, if cut short by the stroke of a knife. At the same instant the Light Horse attack was launched.  

The men were standing there in the trench without the least sign of excitement hitching up their packs, getting a firm foot hold below the parapet. The colonel of the Eighth, Lieut-Colonel A H White, insisted on leading his regiment. He stood by the parapet with his watch in his hand watching the second hand fidget its way round. "Three minutes to go" said the colonel-then simply, " Go!" They were over the parapet like a flash, the colonel amongst them, the officers in line with the men. A tremendous fusillade broke out. It rose from a fierce crackle into a roar, in which you could distinguish neither rifle nor machine gun but just one continuous tempest. It was the greeting of the Turkish   rifles and machine-guns as the Light Horse cleared the Australian parapet.

Many fell back into the trench wounded before they had cleared the parapet. Others were wounded just outside and managed to crawl back and tumble in before they were hit a second and third time and killed, as they certainly would be if they remained lying out there. Colonel White managed to run eight or ten yards before he was killed. Exactly two minutes after the first   line had cleared the parapet the second line jumped out without the slightest hesitation and followed it.  

No one knows how it happened, probably no one will ever know, but some, either of that first line or of the second managed to get into the extreme right hand corner of the enemy's trench. They carried with them a small flag to put up in the enemy's trench if they captured it, and the appearance of this flag was, to be the signal for a party of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers to attack up the gully to the right. Two men were put in the head of one of our foremost saps with periscopes to watch for the first sign of   this flag in the enemy's trench. At this time a French seventy-five-a gun captured by the Turks from the Servians in the Balkan war-was pouring out her shell at the rate of about one in ten seconds. Machine guns, far too many to count were whipping up the dust, and it was next to impossible to distinguish anything in the haze. But in the extreme south-eastern corner of the Turkish trench there did appear just for ten minutes the small flag, which our party had taken. No one ever saw them get there. No one will ever know who they were or how they did it. Only for those ten minutes the flag fluttered up behind the   parapet and then someone unseen tore it   down. The fight in that corner of the trench, whatever it was, was over; and it can only have ended one way.    

In the meantime ten minutes after the second line, the third line had gone over the   parapet as straight and as quick as the other. The attack was then stopped, and   fortunately was stopped in time to prevent a small part of this third line from reaching the fire zone. There was one point where our trenches were under cover of the slope, and the men had to crawl out some ten   yards or so before they put up their heads into the torrent of lead. A dozen or two were stopped here before they made their rush.

It was all over within a quarter of an   hour. Except for the wild fire which burst   out again at intervals there was not a   movement in front of the trenches-only   the scrub and the tumbled khaki here and   there. All day long the brilliant sun of a perfect day poured down upon them from a cloudless sky. That night, after dark, one or two maimed figures appeared over our parapet and stumbled home into the trench.  They were men who had fallen wounded into some corner where there was a scrap of cover, and had waited for this chance to get back. One of them came from below the parapet of the Turkish trench on the right. He had lain there all day, too close to the parapet for the Turks to see him without exposing themselves. There was another wounded Australian near him. After dark they heard the Turks come out over the parapet, searching the bodies of the men there for papers and diaries so they arranged to make as fast as they could for our trenches. The man who arrived back was shot through the ankle. His mate never came back.

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