8th Light Horse Regiment (VIC) 3rd Light Horse Brigade, Australian Mounted Division, AIF

About This Unit

"The regiment that would eventually become the 8th Light Horse Regiment was formed at Broadmeadows camp in Victoria on 23 September 1914 as the 6th Light Horse Regiment. A reorganisation of the rapidly expanding AIF in early October resulted in the 6th being renumbered the 8th, and it became part of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade. It sailed from Melbourne on 26 September 1914 and arrived in Egypt on 2 April 1915."

Light Horse units were deployed to Gallipoli to fight as infantry.  The 3rd Light Horse Brigade formed the first wave of the ill-starred charge at the Nek in August 1915  The casualties were calamitous and the Brigade, understrength and its leadership weakened through loss, remained in largely a defensive role until the evacuation.

"And so perished the 8th Light Horse"

We had about one hundred 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 twenty five minutes past four 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 [Captain Lelsie Hore] heard such an awful sound and no wonder. We knew they had three machine guns trained on the Nek and quite possibly there more. Their trench must have had at least two hundred men. Judging from the number we had in ours more likely two hundred and fifty. Now a machine gun firs at top speed six hundred rounds per minute and a rifleman fifteen rounds per minute. So we had concentrated on a piece of land say two hundred yards long and one hundred yards deep no fewer than five thousand bullets per minute.

Out went the first line and we waited for our word, by the time they had gone the first forty yards they were down to a man. What could one hundred and seventy five 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 afterward 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 forty yards from the Turkish trenches. I was a bit ahead of my men having got a good start and traveling lighter. I looked round and saw them all down mostly hit.

I did not know what to do, the dirt was spurting up all around like rain from a pavement in a thunderstorm. Some bigger spurts near me were either bombs or pom poms. 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 supports had not started and if they had, they were only one hundred and seventy five 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 and managed to limp out into one of the back trenches and lay down wondering how on earth I got out of it. My three subalterns were killed and I should say about seventy percent 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 and ten subalterns killed and three wounded leaving two officers not hit, and about five percent of the men. And so perished the 8th Light Horse.

[Captain L F S Hore, 8th Light Horse, letter, quoted in Cameron Simpson, Maygar's boys: a biographical history of the 8th Light Horse Regiment AIF 1914-19, Moorooduc, 1998]


Battle/ Campaign/ Involvement 


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Seven Long Minutes - The Nek

Seven Long Minutes

As part of the August offensive, the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade was to attack a network of trenches across a strategically important narrow bridge of land (the Nek) between Malone's Gully and Monash Valley connecting Russell's Top to the lower part of the feature known as Baby 700. The Turks defending Baby 700, the southernmost summit of Second Ridge, had fortified their position with more than half a dozen tiers of trenches and it was reckoned by certain senior Anzac officers to be the key to the Anzac breakout.
Shortly after the initial landing, this hade been the scene of heavy attacks and counter attacks and in preparation for future attacks here, the Turks had sited their machine guns very well and packed their trenches with men in order to make it impossible to attack across the Nek without massive artillery support.
On the morning of 7 August, a bombardment using all available artillery as well as the guns from a number of ships was to commence a half hour before Zero and culminate in intense fire from 4.27 until 4.30 a.m.
The regiments of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade were to cross the Nek by making four successive charges, each with a line of 150 men. Two lines of 150 men from the 8th Light Horse Regiment following each other at two minute intervals were to conduct the initial charges followed shortly thereafter by two lines from the 10th Light Horse Regiment also at two minute intervals; the 9th Light Horse Regiment in reserve was to provide supporting fire.
From 11 p.m., until 4 a.m., two Australian field batteries, a New Zealand howitzer battery and a British howitzer battery fired a single round each every five minutes on the Turkish trenches at the Nek and the Chessboard; B Battery, 69th Howitzer Brigade concentrated only on the trenches at the Nek.
At 4 a.m., the batteries increased the rate of fire to four shells a minute, and at that time, two mountain guns as well as those of the supporting ships joined in.
When writing about this incident in 1924 Charles Bean wrote... at 4.27 for three minutes, the batteries increased their fire to an ‘intensive’ rate. Since the night of May 2nd no such bombardment had been seen at Anzac.
Bean described how he thought the enemy’s forward trenches probably escaped much of the shelling since they were dangerously close to the Anzac line, and then further down the page wrote the following interesting paragraph.
For some reason, which will probably never be explained, the bombardment which was then thundering upon the enemy ended—according to one account, ‘cut short as if by a knife’— seven minutes before the watches on Russell’s Top pointed to 4.30.
In 1946 when writing about this costly error in timing again, Bean wrote, the shelling suddenly ceased when the watches of the Light Horse officers showed only 4.23 - that is seven minutes before the time of the attack.
The 10th Light Horse Regiment records state the enemy machine guns and trenches were not smashed as planned but there is no mention of the seven minutes of silence from the guns, nor is it recorded in any of the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade War Diaries.
If Bean’s comment, ‘cut short as if by a knife’ is accurate, then the Australian, New Zealand and British artillery batteries along with Naval gunners had to be all working off the same time. For all of them to cease firing at precisely the same time their watches had to have been synchronised.
The only way this error in timing could have occurred is if the ‘watches of the Light Horse officers’ on Russel’s Top had been synchronised only with the inaccurate watch of a senior officer in the 3rd Light Horse Brigade HQ.
The Light Horse officers, confused by the sudden cessation of shelling, held their men back until their watches showed 4.30 a.m. During the seven silent minutes that passed between the end of the bombardment and the first men stepping up and over the parapet, the Turks had emerged from their shelter, prepared their weapons and waited for the Australians to charge. The first line of the 8th Light Horse Regiment led by their CO, Lieutenant Colonel White were shredded by machine-gun and rifle fire with a number of men being killed even before they got over the parapet. When the second line leapt up they also met with a hail of fire and in addition to this had to contend with shrapnel fired from two field guns bursting low over the ground.
Some years after the war an officer, who was with the 9th Light Horse Regiment at the time, wrote that he thought it was doubtful if any man, either before or since, has known such a dense volume of fire.
In a desperate effort to continue the momentum, brave men clambered across their dead and wounded comrades only to be killed or fall wounded on top of those dead and dying beneath them.
Lieutenant Colonel Brazier, CO 10th Light Horse Regiment suggested halting the madness but the Brigade Major, Colonel Antill claimed he had received reports of a red and yellow flag fluttering in the enemy’s trench, indicating some of the 8th Light Horse Regiment had made it into the enemy’s line and were in need of support.
When Antill ordered the 10th to provide that support, Brazier moved back to his regiment, apologised to his men and ordered them to charge into the same curtain of fire that had already destroyed their sister regiment.
In a second attempt to stop this insane waste of life, Brazier spoke to Brigadier Hughes who suggested attacking from a new direction. While the officers were debating their next course of action, the men in the fourth line, then assembled on the fire-step awaiting the signal to charge, somehow became confused, and without orders suddenly leapt over the top.
Two of the regiments had suffered horrendous casualties and of the three hundred men who started out with the 8th Regiment 151 were killed outright; almost all of the remainder were wounded and 11 died of wounds within days. The 10th Regiment suffered 138 casualties of whom 78 were killed that morning with another five dying of wounds soon after.
The 9th Regiment who were in support did not entirely escape and suffered a number of casualties including their commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Albert Miell and three others killed.
When Charles Bean and others returned to Gallipoli in 1919, they found the Nek strewn with the bones of the light horsemen as well as those of the enemy killed during the earlier Turkish attacks on the same ground.
When shortly after our visit Hughes (Imperial War Museum) came to bury the missing in this area, he found and buried more than three hundred Australians in that strip the size of three tennis courts. Their graves today mark the site of one of the bravest actions in the history of war.
Among the members of the 10th Light Horse Regiment killed at the Nek were 31-year-old Gresley Harper (OS) and his 25-year-old brother Wilfred.
Gresley Tatlock Harper was born at Guildford, Western Australia in 1884 and gained his early education at the Guildford Grammar School, before then coming to South Australia to attend the Collegiate School of St Peter.
Gresley later studied law at Melbourne University and in 1910 served his articles in Melbourne with Messrs Wiegall and Crowther, and read in the chambers of Mr. H Bryant, of Melbourne.
He enlisted at Guildford, Western Australia in early October 1914 and with his brother Wilfred, was posted to A Squadron 10th Light Horse Regiment and sailed from Fremantle with the 10th Light Horse Regiment aboard HMAT Mashobra on 8 February 1915.
The 10th Light Horse Regiment was the only light horse regiment raised in Western Australia for service during the Great War and after joining, the remainder of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade in Egypt sailed for Gallipoli in May 1915.
In 1924 when writing about the bloody slaughter at the Nek, Charles Bean specifically mentioned Gresley and Wilfred Harper and wrote that Wilfred ‘was last seen running forward like a schoolboy in a footrace, with all the speed he could compass.’
In order to report on the fate of the 37 officers, NCOs and men reported missing from his Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Brazier assembled a Board of Inquiry at Russell’s Top two days after the events. During the Inquiry Brazier reported how after referring the matter to the 3rd Light Horse Brigade Headquarters, he ordered his regiment to assault the enemy trenches in two lines. He told the board how they had attacked in an easterly direction into a murderous hail of shrapnel, machine gun and rifle fire, and said he felt certain ‘few if any would return.’ He said after sighting through a periscope ‘a great number of dead’ outside the regiment’s trenches, he ordered the recovery of all bodies to cease for he considered it unwise at the time ‘to risk further loss of life’ as in his opinion that all the missing were dead.
The two senior members of the board, both of whom who took part in the assault, stated there was no further evidence required and were of the opinion all those missing were killed in action; Brazier concurred with the findings of the board.
In a letter written by Mrs Clara Robertson dated 5 April 1967, it is clear the terrible grief of losing both of her brothers more than 50 years earlier had not abated. In her letter she mentions how Gresley and Wilfred ‘were not buried’ and how she had read many accounts of the ‘horrible business’ each of which she said made it plain to her ‘what little care was taken of them.’
Their younger brother, Prescott Henry Harper who had enlisted in March 1917 returned to Australia as a Lieutenant in June 1919.

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