Colonel George Herbert Bourne
Colonel George Herbert Bourne
D.S.O., V.D. 1881—1959
Commanding Officer, 2nd Light Horse Regiment, AIF, 1916-19
George Herbert Bourne was a Queenslander of distinction, serving his country well in peace and in war. He was born in Brisbane on 21 November 1881. His father was John SP Bourne, and his mother was Jane, nee Hocking, another well-known Queensland family. He attended Brisbane Boys Grammar School before entering the Bank of New South Wales in 1898 in Brisbane, where he remained until 1907, when he was transferred to Toowoomba.
He joined the Commonwealth Military Forces in 1905 and in 1908 was commissioned Second Lieutenant in the 14th Light Horse Regiment, Queensland Mounted Infantry. By World War I he was a Major. At the outbreak of war he enlisted in the AIF, and was appointed Major, commanding ‘B’ Squadron, 2nd Light Horse Regiment. By December of that year the Regiment was in Egypt. In May 1915 he went with the Regiment to Gallipoli, where they fought as infantry.
In the offensive of 7 August, Bourne was in temporary command of the Regiment, which had been ordered to attack Turkish positions near Quinn’s Post in four successive waves. The first wave, including Major Logan, was annihilated. Bourne realised the futility of sending any more waves, which would certainly meet the same fate. He ordered the men to remain in the trenches, an order which saved the lives of the men. His decision was endorsed by higher command. Other units were not so fortunate in having an Officer such as Bourne, whose moral courage saved many lives.
On 20 September, Bourne was evacuated because of illness, and did not rejoin the Regiment until 12 March 1916 in Egypt, prior to its advance into Sinai. On 27 June he became Commanding Officer of the Regiment, and promoted Lieutenant Colonel on 16 July 1916. The Regiment was part of 1st Light Horse Brigade, which was actively patrolling in the lead up to the battle of Romani on 3-5 August.
The 2nd Light Horse Regiment played a major role in the battle of Romani, which defeated the Turkish attackers. For his part in this battle, and later at Bir-el-Aba, Bourne was mentioned in Dispatches, and awarded the DSO:
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in the field. He held an extended and improvised outpost line at Romani on the night of 3rd August, 1916, and held up the enemy advance, against great odds, from 10.20 pm until dawn, then skilfully withdrew. Later at Bir-el-Aba, he held the extreme left flank at a critical juncture under very heavy fire, covering the withdrawal of other troops.”
Later that year, his Regiment became part of Major General Sir Philip Chetwode’s Desert Column, which defeated the Turks at Magdhaba and Rafa. He was evacuated sick on 13 January 1917, and returned to the Regiment in time for the second battle of Gaza. During 1917 he was appointed ADC to His Excellency the Governor General, in which capacity he remained until 1920.
From October 1917 to February 1918 he was in temporary command of 1st Light Horse Brigade, returning to command of the Regiment for the advance into the Jordan Valley. The 2nd Light Horse Regiment took part in the fierce fighting at Abu Tellul and, to quote CEW Bean, the 2nd LHR ‘fought doggedly in the face of irresistible odds’. Bean later described Bourne’s leadership as ‘cool and admirable’, and the work of the Regiment as ‘never excelled in the career of the Light Horse’.
Late in August 1918, Bourne contracted malaria, and was unable to return to command of the Regiment until shortly before the armistice with Turkey. Returning to Australia with his Regiment, his AIF appointment was terminated in June 1919, upon which he returned to his pre-war employment with the Bank of New South Wales in Brisbane.
While in Tamworth he commanded the 33rd Infantry Battalion, the New England Regiment, from 1926-27. While in Tamworth he wrote “Nulli Secundis, the History of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment, AIF”, published in 1926, in the foreword of which Lt Gen Sir Harry Chauvel acclaims the service of the Regiment under the command of Lt Col Bourne. Also while in Tamworth he was appointed a magistrate for NSW, effective 18 December 1924.
His banking career included positions as manager at Christchurch, New Zealand, 1936-38, and Rockhampton, 1938-46. While in Rockhampton Bourne was a member of the Sub Committee of the State Recruiting Committee, and made a number of submissions to the Mayor of Rockhampton for appropriate action in event of any threat to the city. During World War II he served as Chief Air Raid Warden.
On his retirement from the bank, Bourne returned to live in Brisbane. Throughout his life he had been a strong churchman. He died on 8th March 1959, and was buried in the Lutwyche Cemetery, after a service at St Colomb’s Anglican Church, Clayfield. He was survived by his wife and three sons.
[This article is based on the research done by Miles W Farmer when preparing an article of 500 words for the Australian Dictionary of Biography, compiled by the Australian National University in the 1970s]