Bert Canning

Bert Canning 4th Light Horse Regiment

Born Bertram Canning on 25th March 1886, 5th son of Frederick John Canning and Ann Phillip, at Bunyip in Victoria, farmer, “Bert” Canning was one of the first Australians to volunteer for active service overseas on the outbreak of World War One in August 1914. He enlisted on the 20th August, was given Regimental number 239 and allotted to the 4th Light Horse Regiment, which, after two months training, left Australia on the 20th October and reached Egypt on 6th December 1914.
His first promotion was to the rank of corporal on the 10th May 1915 – after intensive training in Egypt – and he proceeded to Gallipoli on the 20th. Four weeks after the famous first landing on the 25th April at Anzac Cove. He was in the most desperate fighting against the Turks – was promoted provisional Sergeant early in August 1915, but a few weeks later, after three months on the Peninsula under continuous fire, he was evacuated to Malta owing to illness. when he recovered his health, Gallipoli had been evacuated and he remained in Malta for duty on a hospital staff until he returned to the Middle East for the Palestine Campaign in June 1916 – for a few weeks in the Camel Corps, and then back to the 4th Light Horse Regiment in August 1916 in which he regained his rank as a Temporary Sergeant in March 1917 – and was promoted to Sergeant four months later during the fighting in which the Regiment took such an active part.

4th Light Horse (B) Troop Taken November 16th, 1917
Many books have been printed which tell of the part played by the Australian Light Horse Regiments throughout the campaign which culminated in the capture of Damascus and the total destruction of the Turkish and German armies in September 1918. Perhaps the action of the 4th Light Horse Regiment which will be the longest remembered was the famous charge – with that Regiment in the forefront – when the Australians – galloping in from the desert, and armed with bayonets, overwhelmed well – entrenched Turks, and against artillery and machine-gun fire, and captured the key town of Beersheba on 31 October 1917. It was described as “a dazzling success of galloping horsemen against an enemy in trenches …. it was of vital significance . . . and a shining precedent to every leader”.
:”The enemy had been beaten rather by the sheer recklessness of the charge than by the very limited fighting power of this handful of Australians.” Sergeant Bert Canning returned to Australia in February 1919 and decided to make the Army his career. He was promoted Squadron Sergeant Major in November 1920; Lieutenant in February 1940, after three years of temporary rank; Captain in September 1941 and Honorary Major (Retired) on 26th March 1946. He had many important postings – including service with the Australian instruction Corps, and with the Armoured Corps Training Corps during World War Two.
This is an extract from his diary, dated Saturday 1st May 1915.
I have had the opportunity of speaking to several of the wounded soldiers by all accounts they have had some trying experiences. On Sunday April 25th about 4 am the first boat moved off towards the shore, instantly there was a hail of Shells and Bullets from the Turks who were entrenched about a 100 yards inland numbers were shot down in the boats.
On seeing what they had to face, the men never waited for the boats to reach land but jumped into the water and waded ashore, they then scrambled up the cliffs and made for the Turks with fixed bayonets and had them on the run in no time.
They had been ordered to take the first hill. This they did but not satisfied at that pushed on and finished up by taking two more positions and driving the enemy about 4 miles inland. It was a glorious feat for the first attempt and showed what our men are made of.
The 1st Division had won a name that will last for all time and will also wipe out any of the petty little rows they may have caused in Cairo.
I believe on one occasion when the Leader was shot down, a Priest seeing a rifle and bayonet led a brilliant charge they tell me some of the words he used were not exactly Priestly, but I am sure he will be forgiven at the end of the chapter.
Article supplied by Bruce Canning.

Regimental number 239
Date of birth 25 March 1886
Place of birth Bunyip, Gippsland, Victoria
Religion Church of England
Occupation Farmer
Address Springhurst, Victoria
Marital status Single
Age at embarkation 28
Next of kin Father, Fred J. Canning, Springhurst, Victoria
Enlistment date 20 August 1914
Rank on enlistment Lance Corporal
Unit name 4th Light Horse Regiment, B Squadron
AWM Embarkation Roll number 10/9/1
Embarkation details Unit embarked from Melbourne, Victoria, on board Transport A18 Wiltshire on 19 October 1914
Rank from Nominal Roll Sergeant
Unit from Nominal Roll 4th Light Horse Regiment
  Returned to Australia 23 December 1918
Discharge date 2 April 1919