Anzac Day, 25th April 2016 – Lest We Forget
“At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man – they were an awe inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze – knee to knee and horse to horse – the dying sun glinting on bayonet points…” Trooper Ion Idriess, 5th Light Horse Regiment AIF
For the other chapters of Dowsetts War, click here.
As mentioned in Dowsett’s War – Part 3, discovering family service records from the First World War – beginning with the Gallipoli records – opened up not only a whole new area of family history but also offered a new perspective on the war itself, especially as the research that I was doing coincided with the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli. In fact, 2015 was celebrated as ‘100 Years of Anzac’ throughout Australia with many related events throughout the year. The knowledge of my grandfather’s service had already been a source of immense pride, but finding out about the World War I stories took me on an amazing journey of historical discovery.
While doing genealogical research last Christmas I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of Anzac Treasures – The Gallipoli Collection of the Australian War Memorial and as I was already looking into the service records of the family’s WWI veterans, it was a scintillating read. More of a photographic tome showcasing the War Memorial’s Gallipoli collection, it served to encapsulate the campaign as it was seen and experienced by the Australians that were there in a way that showed me exactly what was missing from my own understanding of the AIF in WW1.
In addition, the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s (ABC) website features a Gallipoli – The First Day 3D interactive experience which I viewed along with the Gallipoli miniseries aired on the Nine Network in April 2015 as the 100th anniversary of the ill-fated beach landings grew closer. Saturating myself in this high quality historical research and entertainment which has been on offer this year while simultaneously following my own family’s path through the Great War increased my interest and changed my perspective on the war and on that period of history in general.
So it was with renewed clarity and insight into the Great War period that I began to look at the story of Jack Arthur Dowsett, a Lieutenant with the 7th Light Horse Regiment.
Born to James Francis Dowsett and Eliza Hannah Dowsett of Oxford Street, Paddington, New South Wales (NSW) in Australia on the 15th of December 1895, Jack Arthur Dowsett was already a military man when war was declared. A carpenter by trade at age 19, he had already served 18 months with the NSW 11th (Australian Horse) Australian Light Horse Regiment and 3 months with the NSW Light Horse Militia. The Australian Light Horse brigades were mounted troops capable of fighting both as cavalry and mounted infantry, who served in the Second Boer War and World War I. During the inter-war years, a number of regiments such as the ones of which young Jack Dowsett was a member were raised as part of Australia’s reserve military forces.
The light horse troops were like mounted infantry in that they usually fought dismounted, using their horses as transport to the battlefield and as a means of swift disengagement when retreating or retiring. A famous exception to this rule though was the charge of the 4th and 12th Light Horse Regiments at Beersheba on 31 October 1917. In 1918, some light horse regiments were equipped with sabres, enabling them to fight in a conventional cavalry role in the advance on Damascus. However, unlike mounted infantry, the light horse also performed certain cavalry roles, such as scouting and screening, while mounted.
Jack was immediately assigned to the newly formed 7th Light Horse Regiment which was officially raised at Sydney in October 1914 with personnel drawn predominantly from the Light Horse Militia of the state of New South Wales. The 7th was made up of 25 officers and 497 other ranks serving in three squadrons, each of six troops. Each troop was divided into eight sections of four men each. During battle, a trooper from each section was nominated as horse handler, which ultimately reduced the regiments’ active rifle strength. Once established, the regiment was assigned to the 2nd Light Horse Brigade, serving alongside the 5th and 6th Light Horse Regiments.
HMAT A33 Ayrshire, in dazzle camouflage livery
On 21 December 1914 7th Light Horse Regiment departed Sydney on the HMAT Ayrshire, a 7,750 ton cargo steamship leased by the Commonwealth of Australia from the The Scottish Shire Line Ltd. The A and B Squadrons of the 7th sailed on the Ayrshire to Egypt and disembarked on 1 February 1915. Jack Dowsett was with the B Squadron.
Members of the 7th Light Horse Regiment on the front line at Anzac in August 1915. [AWM J06251]
The light horse were considered unsuitable for the initial operations at Gallipoli, but were subsequently deployed without their horses to reinforce the infantry. The 2nd Light Horse Brigade landed in late May 1915 and was attached to the 1st Australian Division. The 7th Light Horse became responsible for a sector on the far right of the ANZAC line, and played a defensive role (until it finally left the peninsula on 20 December 1915).
Disembarking from HMT Lutzow on May 15th 1915 Jack Dowsett became part of the Australian Middle Eastern Forces. According to his AIF records, he was severely reprimanded at Anzac Cove for disobeying an order from a senior non-commissioned officer on June 30th. However, his skills as a soldier must have outshone his belligerence and he was made made Sergeant in August 1915. Like many at Gallipoli, Jack would succumb to dysentry the following month.
Egypt and Sinai
After the return to Egypt, the 7th Light Horse Regiment reformed and re-equipped. The reorganisation of the Light Horse led to the formation of the ANZAC Mounted Division to which the 7th Light Horse Regiment became a founding contingent. On 28 February 1916, the 7th moved to join its parent brigade, the 2nd Light Horse Brigade, which was taking part in the defence of the Suez Canal. The work was extremely hot and monotonous. They remained here until later being transferred to the Romani region to bolster the defence of that area. According to Lieutenant-General Harry Chauvel, Commander of the ANZAC Mounted Division, “it was largely due to (the 7th Light Horse Regiment’s) stubborn defence and spirited counterattack, under the Leadership of Lieutenant-Colonel G. Macarthur Onslow, that the victory was so complete.”
They fought at the battle of Romani on 4 August, at Katia the following day, and were also involved in the advance that followed the Turks’ retreat back across the desert.
The regiment spent late 1916 and early 1917 engaged on patrol work until the British advance into Palestine stalled before the Turkish bastion of Gaza. During this period Jack Dowsett was enlisted at Cavalry School of Instruction at Mazar in January and later with the 2nd Light Horse Training Regiment El Fukhari. In March 1917, the 7th Light Horse Regiment found itself taking the lead role during the First Battle of Gaza. It was the 7th that led the ANZAC Mounted Division through the night to its position in the rear of the city, and which captured the Commander of Gaza Defence. While involved in the encirclement of the city as a prelude to its capture, the 7th Light Horse Regiment received the order to withdraw and return to the starting line. Grudgingly they did so, realising that the order had given the Turks a chance to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat.
The 7th Light Horse took part in the Second Battle of Gaza on 19 April 1917 and consequently suffered its heaviest losses since leaving Australia. Although the 2nd Light Horse Brigade was to be prepared for such a mounted attack, the 5th and 7th Light Horse held a wide stretch of the front line south of the Wadi Imleih. Here they were attacked by a squadron of Ottoman cavalry, supported by another cavalry regiment and a force of Bedouin. With their rifles on their backs the light horsemen were defenceless in mounted attack and they were forced back under cover of their machine gun detachments before eventually halting the Ottoman advance. Near dark, a threatened counterattack by infantry from Beersheba on the extreme right of the line failed to develop. The Anzac Mounted Division retired to water in the Wadi Ghuzzee at Heseia where they were shelled, causing many casualties.
Group portrait of men of the 7th Australian Light Horse Regiment, resting in the sand near Asluj before the charge at Beersheba. [AWM P11464.047.003]
With the fall of Gaza on 7 November 1917, the Turkish position in southern Palestine collapsed. The 7th Light Horse Regiment also took part in the famous Battle of Beersheba, sustaining its “tradition for dash and gallantry” and then was involved in the follow up actions that lasted until early January 1918. After the fall of Jerusalem the 7th moved to the Jordan Valley and took parts in operations in this region. This included the taking of Jericho, the attack on Amman during 27 March – 2 April 1918 and the Es Salt Raid of 30 April – 4 May 1918.
It was during the Es Salt Raid of 30 April – 4 May 1918 that Jack Dowsett received his commendation for devotion to duty.
Jack Dowsett’s commendation record
2nd Light Horse – A. & N.Z. Mounted – Desert Mounted
6th May 1918
7th A.L.H. Regiment
2nd Lieutenant Jack DOWSETT
Operations 29th April to 4th May 1918.
Devotion to duty, in that he was in charge of one of the troops detailed to carry out the assault on KABR SAID on the night of 29/30th April 1918. Owing to his careful reconnaissance of the position he was able to get his troop to within 300 yards of the enemy’s position and at the appointed time rushed the position together with Lieut. C.E.tanley’s troop, driving out the enemy and occupying the ridge.
On the night of the 3/4tth May 1918 the Regiment was ordered to leave the firing line at 2000 and take up a position forming a road head to cover the withdrawal of troops by No. 7 road from ES SALT. The Regiment moved up a track from the ES SALT-SHUNET NIMRIN Road and encountered a very difficult and bad patch of road about 30 feet long, which looked almost impossible to get the horses up, especially as the night was very dark.
Realising the urgency of getting everyone through, Lieut. Dowsett stayed at this place and by his personal exertions and disregard to the great danger to himself led every horse which gave trouble over the dangerous portion of the road. Some 15 to 20 horses slipped in their first attempt to get over and fell down a cliff of rock some 12 to 15 feet to the bottom. These Lieut. Dowsett got up again and got them safely over the bad portion of the road. In one case a horse fell three times. He was so exhausted at the end of three and a quarter hours that he was unable to walk up the road to rejoin his unit.
The 7th also helped defeat a joint Turkish-German attack launched on the Jordan bridgehead around Musallabeh on 14 July.
The next major British offensive was launched along the coast in September 1918, and the 7th took part in a subsidiary effort east of the Jordan. It was part of the force that captured Amman on 25 September, which proved to be its last major engagement of the war; Turkey surrendered on 30 October 1918.
Return to Australia
After the conclusion of hostilities, the 7th Light Horse Regiment was selected for to return to Australia. However, before they were able to depart one of the saddest events took place for the Australian Lighthorsemen: they had to farewell their best trusted steeds, the Australian Waler warhorses. All the Regiment’s horses had to have their health checked carefully with only the fittest horses being transferred to the Indian Cavalry while those in poor condition were all destroyed by the AIF Veterinary units.
On 13 March 1919 the 7th Light Horse Regiment was deployed as infantry to assist in suppressing a revolt during the Egyptian Uprising. This was to be their final assignment. After the revolt collapsed, the Regiment left Egypt on 28th June 1919 for the long voyage back to Australia.
Jack Dowsett was one of those who came home.