Brigadier General Lachlan Chisholm Wilson
“the least known distinguished man in Queensland”
…His leadership was put to a most searching test when ordered to lead the 2nd Light Horse Brigade in an advance along Harris Ridge under heavy enemy fire on 3rd November 1915. Five days later the position was taken. The highest point was named Wilson’s Lookout in his honour. It was 45 metres in advance of the Australian forward tunnel and only 20 metres from the enemy trenches…
Lachlan Chisholm Wilson was born at Brisbane in 1871. His father, Charles Wilson, was a pioneer sugar planter in the Logan District south of Brisbane and his mother was a daughter of Lachlan Chisholm, another pioneer of the district. Lachlan Chisholm Wilson completed his education at Brisbane Grammar School, where he was enrolled in 1885. Wilson did well at school and took a keen interest in rowing. On leaving in 1887, he was appointed to a clerkship in the Department of Lands, where he appears to have started legal studies and was called to the Bar on 3 December, 1895. On 12 November 1896, he joined the office of the Crown Solicitor in Brisbane, where he worked for three years under James Howard Gill, then Crown Solicitor.
In January 1900, both Wilson and David Buchanan, a school friend, volunteered to join the 2nd Queensland Mounted Infantry Contingent for the Boer War as troopers. The contingent sailed on the Maori King on 13 January 1900 and disembarked at Capetown on 24 February. They were in action soon afterwards.
With a number of other Australian Contingents, the 2nd QMI was absorbed into the 1st Mounted Infantry Brigade under the command of Major-General Hutton and served in the 3rd Mounted Infantry Corps. With this corps, Wilson and Buchanan took part in the advance on Pretoria and subsequently in operations at the Vet and Zand Rivers near Johannesburg, Diamond Hill, Riet Vlei and Zilikat’s Nek. For part of this time they were under the command of Major Chauvel. By November, under the command of Captain H. J. I. Harris (later to command the 5th Light Horse Regiment), they were in Machadodorp District. Later they were attached to Major-General H. W. Kitcheners Column, by which time both Wilson and Buchanan had achieved the rank of corporal. One of their last operations was at Swartz Kopje on 13 February, 1901; it was there that Buchanan was seriously wounded and Wilson was taken prisoner. According to an account in Smiths Weekly, Wilson was captured when he refused to leave the badly wounded Buchanan, risking his own life protecting his friend. They were released four days later in an exchange of prisoners.
Both Wilson and Buchanan returned to Australia with the 2nd Contingent when they completed their tour of duty, embarking on 31 March on the Tongariro. They arrived back in Brisbane and were discharged on 10 May 1901.
Wilson found good reason to settle in Townsville when he met the charming Nellie Grant Hartley, daughter of Robert Taylor Hartley, a north Queensland pioneer well known in both Cairns and Townsville. He married Nellie – the first of the Hartley girls to marry – in June 1903 at St James Cathedral, with W. S. Buchanan as best man.
Buchanan, however, was still restless after the Boer War and returned to South Africa in 1903, leaving the partnership. Though he returned to Townsville a few months later, in 1904, he did not rejoin Hobbs and Wilson but opened his own practice. He died tragically only five years later in 1909. After Buchanan’s departure, Wilson carried on alone in the Townsville office, so that it was chiefly his work that enhanced the firm’s reputation in the first decade of the twentieth century. It is most fitting that the firm should still bear his name.
An energetic young man, Wilson played golf regularly and was one of the Trustees for the first golf club in Townsville, at North Ward. He also maintained an interest in military affairs in Townsville, joining the local volunteer defence force and was commissioned in the 15th Light Horse Regiment in 1904 when he once again served with Lieu-tenant-Colonel Harry Chauvel, under whom he was destined to serve in World War I.
During the succeeding years, though continuing with conveyancing and estate matters, Wilson handled a number of court cases reported in the press. As one might expect, the more sensational received the greatest attention, as in the case of Ruby Vickery who murdered John William Brooke at Bowen in 1905; Wilson instructed the barrister, A. W. MacNaughton, to plead insanity, a plea that was accepted. The Brownrigg divorce also attracted much interest with headlines of The actress and the doctor. Dr Brownrigg, a Charters Towers medical practitioner, had married the actress, Rosa Eddleston, at Clermont. Frederick Slater of the Evening Telegraph, Charters Towers, reporting salacious detail, was sued for libel; Hobbs, Wilson & Co appeared for the defendant.
Within three years, Lachlan Chisholm Wilson was destined to make history on a larger and more turbulant stage. As a major figure and pioneering influence, whose name is retained in the firm today, it seems appropriate here to detail Wilsons impressive but now largely forgotten military record.
By the time he left Townsville in 1912, Wilson was in command of the 6th Squadron of the 15th Australian Light Horse with the rank of Major. In Brisbane, he continued his military interests but in an infantry brigade, becoming second-in-command of the old Moreton Regiment.
At the outbreak of World War I, Wilson joined the Australian Imperial Force as a Major on 30 September, 1914. He was appointed second-in-command to Lieutenant-Colonel Hubert Harris of the 5th Light Horse Regiment.
The regiment was dispatched first to North Africa and then to Gallipoli. Though not among the initial invasion force, they embarked, dismounted, on the trawler “Claxton” on 20 May 1915 to reinforce those already entrenched. As they approached the shores of the peninsula, shells were falling so close to the boat that they splashed water on the men; but they landed with few casualties. Harris was killed in action on 31 July, 1915. Wilson was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel the following day and assumed command of the regiment.
Mild and quiet, he remained cool and collected throughout the horrors of the campaign , leading his men with authority and skill. They swore by him , following his leadership willingly and knowing that he would not ask them to do anything he would not be prepared to do himself.
In August 1915 , Wilson Led a successful raid against Bird Trenches near Gaba Tepe. His leadership was put to a more searching test when ordered to lead the 2nd Light Horse Brigade in an advance along Harris Ridge under heavy enemy fire on 3rd November 1915. Five days later the position was taken. The highest point was named Wilson’s Lookout in his honour. It was 45 metres in advance of the Australian forward tunnel and only 20 metres from the enemy trenches. In the action, 500 enemy casualties were inflicted for the loss of fourteen killed and sixty-seven wounded among Wilson’s men. An Army Corps Routine Order of 8th December 1915 reads:
“The Commanding Officer wishes to express his appreciation of the action of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade in successfully advancing the position to Wilson’s Lookout on Harris Ridge between 3rd and 8th November 1915. The operation was skillfully planned and carried out with vigor and determination.”
Yet the gallant action of Wilson and his troops went for naught. Just over a month later, on the nights of 18th to 20th December, the Australian and New Zealand forces were withdrawn form Gallipoli. The force from Wilson’s Lookout was one of the last to withdraw and Wilson was in charge of the last evacuation parties to leave the peninsula.
Of the original officers of the 5th Light Horse Regiment who landed on Gallipoli, Wilson and Captain Stanley were the only two to survive the campaign unscathed to evacuation. For his services, Wilson was awarded the C.M.G., with General Birdwood’s commendation which you so thoroughly earned for all your good work on the Peninsula.
The end of the Gallipoli campaign was not the end of Wilson’s war. He and his men then found themselves in the deserts of Egypt and in Palestine. They returned to Maadi in Egypt where they remained until 23rd February, 1916 while the regiment reformed and the men were reunited with their horses. After conditions on Gallipoli, desert life may have seemed preferable but it left much to be desired.
Despite the vicissitudes, Wilson and his men fought bravely and with considerable skill. After only four months recovering from the Gallipoli campaign, on 23rd February 1916, the 5th Light Horse under Wilson’s command was ordered to move from Egypt across the Suez Canal to Serapeum, where they were inspected by General Birdwood and the Prince of Wales. The 5th Light Horse was the first Australian Regiment to cross the Suez Canal. On 22nd April 1916, they marched from Salhia to Kantara and on 23rd April were ordered to the relief of Dueidar.
Shortage of water for both men and horses was a continual problem. It was Lachlan Chisholm Wilson who provided an ingenious solution – the introduction of the Queensland spear-point pump to tap wells in the desert. He had first seen this pump in use in the Ayr district, when in practice at Townsville. As C. E. W. Bean explained,
” carried without trouble on the saddle, this pump entirely changed the practice of watering horses. In a few minutes it could be unpacked and driven into the sand in a likely spot for water: by the time other men had laid out the light canvas troughing a plentiful supply of water was being pumped out of the sand .”
The pump saved time and work and greatly increased flexibility of movement. The British refused to supply the pumps, so the Australians used their regimental funds to obtain them. After they had demonstrated the speed with which the horses of the brigade could be watered, the British then decided to adopt the use of the pumps. As Bean remarked, “The pump abolished the water problem for horses in the Sinai”.
Wilson led his men in the advance on Katia in August 1916. In this manoeuvre, for the first time in the campaign, the Light Horse Brigades charged mounted with fixed bayonets but swampy ground impeded progress. Wilson’s horse was shot from under him while the horses of many others floundered. They advanced on foot to discover the Katia oasis strongly held by machine guns. Despite many casualties, they persisted and prevailed. The regiment then advanced to Romani and, from 25th March 1917, participated in the first Battle of Gaza.
Bean commented that Wilson “had led the Fifth Light Horse Regiment with marked sagacity and dash”, and thought him
“… an outstanding example of a number of Australian city men who had won distinction in the light horse .
He was shy in manner and very sparing of speech; but his quiet figure concealed the spirit of a great master of horse he became marked as a leader capable of handling command far more important than a Brigade.”
From 30th May 1917 to 5th October 1917, Wilson was temporary Commanding Officer of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade. During this period he was awarded the Croix de Guerre. On 27th October 1917, he was appointed to command the 3rd Light Horse Brigade. The Brigade consisted of Headquarters, 8th, 9th and 10th Light Horse Regiments, 3rd Australian Machine Gun Squadron, 3rd Signal Troop 3rd Light Horse Field Ambulance and 8th Mobile Veterinary Section. Usually a troop of the Australian Engineers and a battery of British Royal Horse Artillery (The Notts Battery, 4 guns, 13 or 18 pounders) were also attached to the Brigade. Wilson was promoted to Colonel and acting Brigadier General.
Commenting on this promotion, H. S. Gullett noted in his history of the 9th Light Horse Regiment:
“At the end of this period (1917) the Regiment passed, with the rest of the 3rd Brigade, under the command of Brigadier General Wilson who soon proved himself one of the ablest cavalry leaders disclosed by the war.”
High praise indeed but well deserved. Command of the 5th Light Horse Regiment then passed to Lieutenant-Colonel D. C. Cameron. Later, Field Marshal Viscount Allenby, commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, paid this compliment:
“I . . . add my tribute to the honour and esteem in which the Regiment is rightly held. I had the good fortune to see its work, at close quarters, when under the efficient leading of Brigadier General Wilson and of Lieutenant-Colonel Donald Cameron and I commend to all this brilliant record of what a grand Regiment achieved in the War.”
Immediately after Wilson’s appointment as Commanding Officer, 3rd Brigade participated in the capture of Beersheba, which fell on 31st October 1917. By 7th November the allied forces, including 3rd Brigade, had forced the enemy from a strong defensive position in the Beersheba-Gaza sector. On 8th November, Wilson recorded: ‘The whole of the enemy forces were now in full retreat”. Wilson also recounted many of the gallant deeds of his men in the action but seldom refers to his own actions as their leader – that was acknowledged by others. Until 30th December 1917, Wilson and his men were engaged almost continually in operations against the enemy.
On 30th December, 3rd Brigade was relieved and retired to encamp at Belah. Wilson maintained training and re-equipping of his men proceeded. Afternoons were free for recreation, athletics and mounted sports training. His concern for the health and well-being of his men is frequently evident in his account of the Brigade’s actions. Several days were devoted to rehearsals for the inspection of the Division by the Duke of Connaught on 14th March 1918.
By April, however, the Brigade was again in action; on 24th April, they entered the Jordan Valley to camp a mile north-west of Jericho. Winter was over andthe extreme heat affected both men and horses. The next objective was to capture Shunet Nimrin and Es Salt, where the enemy was entrenched. Wilson led the men of 3rd Brigade on a brilliant raid on Es Salt, taking the position with remarkable speed. The track up the hills to Es Salt proved to be impossible to wheeled traffic but horses and camels could ascend in single file. In the roughest terrain, the men were forced to dismount and lead the animals. Some stubborn resistance was encountered but the objective was gained and by 1st May 1918, Es Salt was in Australian hands. It has been referred to as “one of the cleanest and most decisive pieces of light horse work in the campaign”.
Wilson and his men swept on to Kefr Adan where 1800 Turks surrendered with 400 horses and mules. At Jenin, they closed the roads and seized two motor lorry convoys with fifty vehicles. On the outskirts of the town, twenty-three Australians captured 2800 Turks. Obviously the Turks were in great disarray. Before long, the Australians had captured 8000 enemy troops, a great dump of ammunition and a wagon loaded with gold and silver money.
In a fortnight they took over 11000 prisoners in what must be described as one of the epic advances of the desert campaigns of World War I.
This was part of the famous trans-Jordan campaign, described as:
” one of the most thrilling assaults in the history of the war, in which some twelve thousand mounted men, as well as infantry units, were engaged in a dash from the Jordan to the hills of Gilead”.
In September 1918, as the allied advance drove steadily north, Wilson was ordered to close the main road north of Damascus. He realised that if he skirted the city, still in enemy hands, he could not arrive in time to prevent many of the enemy escaping. Though it appeared to be strongly held, Wilson reasoned that the enemy was in a state of chaos. Taking what proved to be a wise, even inspired decision, at 0500 hours on 1 October, he ordered his men straight into the city. His assumptions proved correct. The greatest worry for the Australians was the delay caused by the civilian population welcoming them joyfully and by enemy troops wishing to surrender. Eventually they drove through Damascus, successfully cutting off the road to Homs. It was a daring exploit.
History has accorded Lawrence of Arabia the honour of being the first to enter Damascus but it was, in fact, Wilson of Australia and the men of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade.
“Col. Lawrence, of the Sherifian Army, with an escort pushed on to Damascus on the morning of the 1st October and were seen to enter the city a few minutes before 0800. By this time Wilson’s Brigade had come and gone”
For his part in the campaign, Wilson was awarded the D.S.O. and, on completion of operations in Palestine, he was made a Commander of the Bath in recognition of his services as Commander of 3rd Brigade.
When fighting ceased in November 1918, the Australians withdrew to Egypt to await transport home. For Wilson and his men, however, departure was delayed by the outbreak of rebellion in Egypt in March 1919. By that time, virtually all of the British and Indian troops, apart from the permanent garrisons in Palestine and the prisoner-of-war camps in Egypt, had left. The 1st Light Horse Brigade had embarked for Australia and arrangements were proceeding to repatriate the remaining four brigades. So, when the disturbances began, there were four Australian mounted brigades and part of the New Zealand Mounted Brigade in Egypt. Seven Australian regiments were detailed to Zagazig to assist in quelling the rebels, with Wilson as General Officer Commanding, he found the situation difficult:
“The villagers had been deceived as to the true position of affairs. They had been told that the Irish would not fire on them, that the Australians were fighting the English in Cairo, that at least 50 Australians were murdered every night in Zagazig and that there would soon be none of them left and, unfortunately for the villagers, they believed it, too.”
By June 1919, the rebellion was virtually over and, on 11th July 1919, the 3rd Light Horse Brigade left for Australia. The “originals”, like Wilson, had been away four and a half years from home and family. The account left by Wilson of their
Egyptian adventures is one of the most detailed records of the Australian participation. He ended his wartime career with the decorations C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., Croix de Guerre and was mentioned in dispatches on six occasions. Fittingly, he wrote the history of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade in the desert campaigns and, in 1926, with H. Wetherell, wrote the history of his first command – the 5th (Queensland) Light Horse Regiment.
After returning to Australia, Wilson resumed his career in partnership with E. K. Tully but continued his association with the Australian Military Forces. From 1923 to 1927, he was aide-de-camp to the Governor-General of Australia and he commanded 11th Infantry Brigade from 1925 to 1929. From 1941 to 1942, during World War II, he was State Commander of the Queensland Volunteer Defence Corps.
Wilson also participated in public affairs. He was Chairman of the Pensions Appeal Board; President of the Brisbane Legacy Club in 1929-30; Trustee of both the War Nurses Fund and the Limbless Soldiers Fund; and for a time President of the equivalent of the South-Eastern District Branch of the RSSAILA (now RSL). In business affairs, he was a director of the AMP Society; as Deputy Chairman of the Queensland Board, he returned to Townsville to open their new District Office building on 21 February 1938. This building superseded the original AMP building in east Flinders Street, in which Hobbs and Havard rented offices from 1898 to 1901. Wilson was also Chairman of Directors of Cribb & Foote and Alexanders Pty Ltd and served as Chairman of the Air Inquiry Committee that investigated the tragic loss of the aircraft “Kookaburra”
Wilson died on 7 April 1947. Despite his successes, he is remembered as a quiet and modest man, truly “the least known distinguished man in Queensland”
|Religion||Church of England|
|Address||Milne Street, Albion, Brisbane, Queensland|
|Age at embarkation||43|
|Next of kin||Wife, Mrs Nellie Grant Wilson, Corner Christian and Milne Streets, Albion, Brisbane, Queensland|
|Enlistment date||30 August 1914|
|Rank on enlistment||Major|
|Unit name||5th Light Horse Regiment, Headquarters|
|AWM Embarkation Roll number||10/10/1|
|Embarkation details||Unit embarked from Sydney, New South Wales, on board TRANSPORT A34 Persic on 21 December 1914|
|Embarkation details||Unit embarked from Sydney, New South Wales, on board TRANSPORT A44 Vestalia on 19 December 1914|
|Rank from Nominal Roll||Colonel|
|Unit from Nominal Roll||5th Light Horse Regiment|
|Recommendations (Medals and Awards)||Mention in Despatches
Awarded, and promulgated, ‘London Gazette’ No. 31138 (22 January 1919); ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 61 (23 May 1919).
Mention in Despatches
Awarded, and promulgated, ‘London Gazette’, fourth Supplement, No. 29664, 11 July 1916; ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 176, 30 November 1916.
Mention in Despatches
Awarded, and promulgated, ‘London Gazette’ No. 3138 (5 June 1919); ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 113 (6 October 1919).
Mention in Despatches
Awarded, and promulgated, ‘London Gazette’, Supplement, No. 29845 (1 December 1916); ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 62 (19 April 1919)
Mention in Despatches
Awarded, and promulgated, ‘London Gazette’, Supplement, No. 30746 (14 June 1918); ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 173 (7 November 1918).
|Returned to Australia 10 July 1919|
|Medals||Distinguished Service Order
Source: ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 61
Croix de Guerre (France)
Source: ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 174
Source: ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 113
Source: ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 129