All my life my grandfather Peter Kerr told amusing stories of his time in Palestine 1916-1918. The tales were always told from a spectator's view, as if he had never been in combat. He was born in Victoria in 1896 moving with his family to Queensland with the great migration in 1905 to the Darling Downs area. His family were farmers and great horsemen.
He enlisted in the 2nd Light Horse Regiment at Toogoolawah in 1916. He was sent to Chermside and joined C Troop and the induction into army life began what would become his daily routine for the next 3 and half years. He, with many other young men on their first big adventure travelled to Fremantle Western Australia to join the troop carrier R.M.S Mongolia for the long sea trip to Alexandria Egypt. On his arrival he was put through his training on the Vickers Machine Gun and transferred to the 5th Light Horse Regiment as a machine gunner.
6 months before he died in 1984, we took an afternoon to tape many of the stories told over the years. The collection of these stories are published in "Behind the Lines". The book follows his footsteps with C Troop from his arrival in the Sinai on the December 21, 1916 to the battles of Beersheba, the march into Jerusalem and Jordan, to the hospital beside the Dead Sea, to the signing of the Armistice in 1918.
The following inserts from the book are some of the many amusing stores he told of life behind the battle lines, that he remembered so well. It gives an idea of the conditions and comradeship between the men in the every day battle of life in World War 1.
"When it became daylight, we came into the back of Gaza. Who should come around the corner? But a General and his two lady friends being driven in a phaeton drawn by four ponies. Our squadron happened to be on the screen, and we surrounded them quick smart. We caught him up, he was a little pompous cove, a Turkish General, General Pasha, somebody. I don't know what his other name was. He was jumping up and down and one of our mates, Percy Reed who was like a bloody fox terrier, anything to be got he'd get it. A hard case, he commenced sawing buttons off with a bayonet. You can just image what happened. The little Turkish General was jumping up and down like a frog. In the meantime, we were all having a peak under the veils of these girls. They were all Armenian girls and by gee, they were pretty too. All silks, sandals, scented and done up like sore toes. When Brigade caught up with us, our Brigadier, old Ryrie, a great old chap came along and caught us, and he had his interpreter with him. We couldn't understand what old Pasha was 'yakking' about however he was making a lot off noise something. He was missing several buttons, we know that."
"We had a little cove with us, Freddy Campbell. I'll have to tell you about him. He was such an artist he wasn't a soldier's bootlace, he wasn't the type. He was a little runt of a cove. He had an old cart mare, a real old slug, ''Doreen''. He just loved old Doreen. Every now and again he'd go out and put his arms around her neck. At one stage in the group we had to saddle up at about 2.30am every morning, as we were in support. Saddle up, everything you owned on the damn saddle and lead out. In case of a surprise attack or something like that we would not be caught with our pants down. So this used to go on night after night, no smoking, no talking, no noise, you could do it in your sleep, pack on for full marching order, lead out about 100-150 yards and stop, wait there for daylight. "I think it was Freebie's mates, Jack Barnes, old Billy Renal and Tommy Buck who played a joke on Freddie. About midnight they took "old Doreen" and put her in another troop. The whistle went, quietly saddle up and stand too. No Doreen, Then he started to Bellow, "Stop the Bloody war, Stop the bloody war, Doreen's gone. Here the other troop, were about 50 feet away yelled, "Who owns this ruddy thing over here, come and get this horse." He got the world sped record for getting over there to get Doreen. Laugh, Christ almighty. "Stop the bloody war" Here he was nearly howling, "Doreen's gone." Poor old Freddy."
My grandfather was one of the lucky ones to return to civilian life with only malaria attacks for the rest of his life. On his return he joined the sugar cane cutting route of north Queensland, before marrying and taking up farming in the Gympie and Noosa Hinterland, retiring in 1968 to Noosaville with his daughter, son-in-law and 4 grandchildren.
Courtesy of his grandaughter, Narelle Wynn, author of 'Behind the lines.'
|Age at embarkation||19|
|Next of kin||Mother, Mrs Margaret Jane Kerr, Reservoir Farm, Toogoolawah, Queensland|
|Enlistment date||17 February 1916|
|Rank on enlistment||Private|
|Unit name||5th Light Horse Regiment, 19th Reinforcement|
|AWM Embarkation Roll number||10/10/4|
|Embarkation details||Unit embarked from Sydney, New South Wales, on board RMS Mongolia on 8 July 1916|
|Rank from Nominal Roll||Private|
|Unit from Nominal Roll||5th Light Horse Regiment|
| ||Returned to Australia 5 March 1919|