Mounted horsemen from the Gunnedah district served in the First Australian Light Horse raised from cavalry volunteers by Lieutenant JA Kenneth Mackay, of Pullaming Station – these were real bushmen who, within 24 hours of arriving in camp, were marching in their myrtle-green uniforms, with all the steadiness and assurance of trained troops.
Later promoted to Colonel, Mackay was formerly a member of the West Camden Light Horse and was given command of the new regiment, with Sergeant RR Thompson, of the Lancers, gazetted second Lieutenant and appointed adjutant.
According to a report from war correspondent for the Sydney Daily Telegraph, Frank Wilkinson, Colonel Mackay had promised two squadrons for the camp – but marched past with four squadrons and a band.
By 1900, the Australian Light Horse had 638 men and the four original squadrons had been increased to five. Wilkinson credited the success of the regiment to the untiring energy and enthusiasm of Colonel Mackay.
The first batch of 20 men who volunteered for service in the Transvaal were members of the Gunnedah Light Horse.
The men were addressed by Lieutenant Goodwin before a large crowd assembled at the Gunnedah Railway Station to bid them farewell, with patriotic singing and cheering.
Trooper Darcey rode 72 miles to be with them and the First Bushmen’s Contingent left for South Africa on February 28, 1900. It was made up of 520 men in four squadrons. Men of the Australian Light Horse mostly linked up with the Mounted Rifles.
Sergeant Major Griffin of the Australian Light Horse was the first Australian to fall “in the service of the Empire” and Corporal F. Fitzpatrick was found severely wounded and died the next day.
For the remainder of the campaign, The Australian Light Horse was attached to Scots Greys of Scotland.
Australia had answered the British Empire’s call to arms when the Boer Republic of Transvaal, South Africa, declared war on Britain in 1899.
All over the country, young Australians volunteered for service in a faraway land, Australia’s participation eventually totalling 848 officers and 15,327 other ranks, with 16,314 horses. The exploits of the Australian troops against the Boers’ guerrilla warfare created great patriotic fervour but the English style of combat, with foot soldiers trailing heavy field guns, was a failure.
They suffered heavy losses against the Boers, who were skilled marksmen, fighting on familiar territory.
The Australian Mounted Troops, however, were magnificently effective over great distances in this guerrilla-type warfare.
Quite a large number of Gunnedah and district men were among those who volunteered for service.
The list included Trooper AE Darcey (wounded at Kroonstadt, May 10, 1901), Sgt Major Arnold, Sgt Frank Hamilton, Sgt V. Newell and Captain W. Newton Fewkes, who was mentioned in dispatches by Lord Kitchener for conspicuous gallantry in the field and was a nephew of PR Pritchard, the first Town Clerk of Gunnedah.
Others were Captain WE Peard, Troopers Applebee, FF Bashford, A, Berriman, J. (Ike) Bewley (killed February 1, 1902 at Bloemfontein), J. Brosi (stayed in South Africa after the war and was killed in a mining accident on January 8, 1906), John Cobb (he managed Bando Station with his brother Ken for the White family before enlisting in Queensland – died of Enteric Fever in 1901), G. Courtney, A. Donnelly, C. Heine, C. Hunter (invalided in England and later presented to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria), Jackson, JA Jones, W. Kensell, J. McCormack, RH Peard, F. Pike and RC Pole.
Among the casualties was Lieutenant Keith K. Mackellar, who was killed in action. He was the brother of Dorothea, who became one of Australia’s best- known poets.
Keith Mackellar did not live in the Gunnedah district but the local link was established when his father Charles purchased Kurrumbede in 1905.
Others who served in the South African campaign and later lived at Gunnedah were CP Erratt (Dunadee Creek), Dave Martin, Ted Vinall and Frederick Charles Brown (known as Brownie).
Harbord (The Breaker) Morant was working on Pullaming Station prior to joining the Australian Bushmen’s Forces in South Australia.
Much of the credit for organising the bushmen into a highly effective continent was given to Breaker Morant’s employer and friend, Lieutenant JA Kenneth Mackay, of Pullaming Station .
In January 1900, a patriotic fund was formed in Gunnedah and TP Willsallen, of Gunnible, presented a team of six horses, for a gun team, to the government.
On Anniversary Day, 1900, the Gunnedah Light Horse held military sports and 40 pounds was raised for patriotic funds with a patriotic service the following Sunday in the School of Arts.
The war raged until 1902 when more forces were sent from England, and the Boers were finally obliged to sue for peace. Harry Harbord “Breaker” Morant was also executed that year, with the tragic event having political consequences for all Australians – all future Australian military personnel were to remain under the control of their own Australian officers.
In defeat, the Boers were treated generously by Great Britain, given back their rights as citizens and promised self-government.
A function to welcome returned soldiers from the Boer War was held at the Gunnedah School of Arts in October 1901, in front of a large crowd.
The soldiers were presented with a medal by Colonel Mackay, who had been made a Commander of the Order of the Bath, in recognition of the success of the regiment.
In 1938 a squadron of the Australian Light Horse (ALH) was reformed in Gunnedah under the leadership of Major (Dr) Colin Anderson MC, a World War I veteran, and his deputy Captain Alston Gregg, who was to lose his life in action at the front on January 14, 1942.
A full ALH regiment was established about six months later, with most towns in the North West brought together to form the 24th Gwydir Regiment.
Dr Colin Anderson, who had by then been promoted to Colonel, was placed in charge of the regiment with Major G. Hole Hardie MC as second-in-command.
The regiment went into camp at Inverell Showground in January 1939 and again in November that year, two months after war was declared.
The 24th Gwydir also joined with the 12th New England Regiment in Camp Gostwyck, Uralla.
In 1940 Australia placed two infantry divisions overseas (the 6th and 7th) and as the situation deteriorated for the Allies, particularly
in 1941, many Australian Light Horse troopers joined the AIF, including the ill-fated 8th Division, which fell into the hands of the Japanese at Singapore on February 15, 1942.
The troops suffered terrible atrocities as prisoners-of-war and a large number died in captivity.
A brigade from the 9th Division was sent to the Middle East and two AIF brigades, based in England, were also dispatched to the Middle East to complete the 9th Division.
As the armoured fighting vehicles began replacing the horse regiments, the First Armoured Division formed in mid-1942, trained at Narrabri with Gunnedah the ordinance depot.
Many Australian Light Horse troopers went into the AFV and other units stationed elsewhere in Australia. The ALH terminology remained, however, through mechanisation.
ALH troopers were also associated with the running of essential services such as farming, and mining.
Everyone 16 years and over was subject to Manpower regulations under the National Security Act. These personnel were scheduled for intermittent training with the 6th Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC) with headquarters at Tamworth.
The 6th VDC battalion was stationed at centres in the Upper Hunter and on the Liverpool Plains.
The VDC had to carry out a “scorched earth” policy if an invasion occurred. These units remained active until the end of 1943 when the tide was turning in favour of the Allies and Australia was no longer under threat.
After the war, on May 1, 1948, the regiment was reformed, adopting the title of Hunter River Lancers Armoured Regiment, the 12th representing the old New England Australian Light
Horse unit in association with 24 ALH. The 16th represented the original Hunter River ALH.
Members of the Gunnedah ALH squadron were: Lieut. Neil Carter, Sgt Jack Bicket, Sgt Jack McCann, Troopers Charlie Bush, Alan Andrews, Hector Andrews, Sam Bush, Doug Campbell, Noel Collier, Keith Erratt, Laurie Heath, Ted Handerson, Reg Hobson, Colin Leys, Wilbur Morris, Doug Ramsay, Geoff Robson, Ross Rootes, Steve Staughton, Francis Stone, Bert Tudgey, Harold Williamson (bugler).
Officer commanding: Captain Alston Gregg.
Members of the Gunnedah ALH Squadron and A Squadron 24th Gwydir Regiment who lost their lives: Captain Alston Gregg (killed in action, January 14, 1942), Gunner George Sefton (POW Sandakan, April 14, 1945), Private John Gar- rard (POW Sandakan, June 7, 1945), Sgt Ted Henderson (RAAF killed in action, September 16, 1942), Pte James Power (AIF, killed in action. September 16, 1942), PO Laurence Heath (RAAF, killed in action, August 10, 1944).To order photos from this page click here