Colin Morgan Reade

COLIN MORGAN READE (1896 – 1915)

Out of the horrors of the First World War came an appreciation for the first time of the lives and stories of ordinary soldiers – the little teeth at the cutting edge of the great war machine. This was especially so in Australia, from whose shores some 332,000 citizen soldiers volunteered to fight overseas. One of that daunting number was Colin Morgan-Reade, a young man from a sheep station outside Winton, in western Queensland. While the details of his brief life are unique, the tragedy of his experience was not.

Colin was born in Rockhampton in August 1896, the only son of George and Charlotte Morgan-Reade. George, London-born and the son of a Royal navy officer, had come out to Australia as a child and gone onto the land as a stockman. By 1896 he was manager of Vergemont, a large cattle station south-west of longreach. Colin’s mother Charlotte (nee Macalister) had been the first white woman born on the Peak Downs, where her father had been overseer on one of the early stations taken up on that fertile region centred on Clermont.

When Colin was five his family, including by then his sister Valerie, moved from Vergemont to Bladensburg, a big sheep run outside Winton. In the year of Federation George had been appointed manager of what was then one of the bigger pastoral enterprises in the district. We know few details about Colin’s childhood except to say that it was a fairly normal upbringing for a bush boy at the time – lots of riding and stockwork, on a property notable for its vivid landscapes of red earth and shimmering white ghost gums. Bladensburg is now in fact a National Park. His early schooling was from his mother, but in 1906 he went away to the coast to board at The Southport School, where he was an average student and an above-average cricketer.

He left school at the end of 1912 and was working back at Bladensburg with his father when World War One broke out. It seems he stayed at home for his 18th birthday on August 17, then got the train down to Brisbane where he enlisted the following week. For some reason his enlistment papers had him down as aged 19 years and one month, either a clerical error or Colin put his age up a year just in case his youthful looks mislead the recruiting officer.

According to his medical record he was 5ft 61/2 inches tall and 116 lbs – a small, wiry fellow with brown hair, grey eyes and a wide smile. He was posted to B Squadron, 2nd Australian Light Horse Regt, and began training immediately at Enoggera Camp.

The training was fast and furious but, and this now seems incredible, lasted little more than three weeks. On September 21 the Queensland-raised units for the first convoy boarded their ships in the Brisbane River, with the 2nd ALH allotted to the troopship Star of England. It was off the NSW coast that Colin wrote what is his only surviving wartime letter. It is a short note to his sister Valerie, then at boarding school in Toowoomba:

“Dear Girlie,
Just a few lines to let you know that all is well on board ship. We did not call in at Sydney as we were going direct to Albany in West Australia for coal, but now we are going into Port Melbourne for repairs. Captain Markwell (CO of A Squadron and also an old Southport School boy) has been as sick as a dog, but not so Sunny Jim who has been in good health bar a slight cold, which has given me fits for a day or so. The work on board is a bit hard, especially stables. It seems very funny sleeping in hammocks after the hard ground. Tell Dad we are going via the Suez Canal, calling at Port Said for coal.

I remain your ever loving bro,

Colin.PS: Remember me to all the people I know.”

Rather than needing repairs, the ships in fact had been hastily ordered to Melbourne on the strength of reports, unfounded as it happened, that the German Pacific Fleet was heading for the Australian east coast. Although the stop-over in Melbourne had been caused by a false alarm, it did produce one decision that was to leave its mark. The Regiment’s CO, Lt-Col Robert Stodart, used the time to seek and obtain permission from Prime Minister Andrew Fisher for emu plumes to be worn as part of the uniform. The plumes had been a “battle honour” awarded to the old Queensland Mounted Infantry for their work during the great shearers’ strike of 1891, and an adornment the unit had worn during its later service in South Africa during the Boer War. Fisher now agreed that the plumes could be adopted by all the Light Horse regiments.

Colin, like everyone else on the convoy, thought he’d be passing through the Suez en route to England, and then the Western Front. As we now know of course, the whole convoy of 19 ships disembarked their troops in Egypt. This was the beginning of December 1914, and so began a period of intense training in the desert close to Cairo and the Pyramids in preparation for a battle much closer to hand. When the ANZAC troops embarked in April of the following year for the Dardanelles, the Light Horse regiments remained behind. The plan was that once the initial breakthrough had been made by the infantry these mounted units would be shipped over to follow through and pursue the fleeing Turks. In the meantime it was said that some of the Light Horse officers were busily studying street maps of Constantinople. Alas, within ten days of the landing at Gallipoli the need for reinforcements was so desperate that these regiments, without their horses, were ordered to join the stalemated battle. (The story is told in Forward – History of the Second Light Horse by Joan Starr and Christopher Sweeney).

Colin’s regiment, together with the 1st ALH from NSW, arrived under fire at Anzac Cove on May 12. The official history makes an interesting observation at this point. “These regiments were composed of a fine class of men, mostly coming from farms or from sheep and cattle stations; but many of them were very young and almost entirely inexperienced. So raw indeed were they that when, during their transfer to the Beach, two shrapnel shells with a shriek like a steam siren burst over the water near them, some of the men thought that their own troops were “having a game” with them. They were undeceived only when a man in one of the punts slid into the bottom, wounded.” (The Story of Anzac by C W Bean, Vol 2, page 117).

The 500 men of the 2nd ALH were rushed up to Quinn’s Post two days later, an extremely dangerous position clinging precariously to the edge of the high ridge overlooking Anzac Cove. This was a desperately contested position where the opposing trenches were no more than 15 to 20 metres apart. Major Quinn, after whom the post was named, was himself also an ex-Southport School boy, though of course older than Reade. The 2nd’s Baptism of fire was immediate and was graphically recorded by Maurice Weeks, a South African-born member of the regiment. “The enemy’s trenches are only a few yards away,” he wrote that day in his diary. “It is nearly impossible to put a rifle out of a loop hole without getting hit. There were three or four rifles smashed up in the afternoon. Bombs came in fairly thich and our casualties soon began to get heavy, a good many by bombs. Could not use a periscope – they used to break them every time.” The men however soon became adept at either tossing the bombs back to the Turks or smothering them with sandbags. This was warfare of medieval closeness and savagery. At the end of his first day at Quinn’s, Weeks added: “They put 23 bombs around us in the afternoon. It breaks one’s nerves a bit. There are hundreds of men piled up between the trenches and in the gully to the right. The smell is pretty solid. Our trenches are alive with maggots. There are Turks, Australians and (Royal) Marines piled together in places. This entry from Weeks diary was published in ALHA ‘Spur’ April 2002 issue, page 19.

By the time of the great Turkish attack against the Anzac positions a week later the 2nd ALH had been rotated out of Quinn’s to the only slightly less-deadly Pope’s Hill, across the way at the top of Monash Gully. From there the Light Horsemen joined in what became known afterwards as “the great slaughter” that saw 10,000 Turks killed in a matter of hours. Ten days later the Turks tried again, an assault in which Major Quinn himself was killed. It was during the aftermath on Sunday May 30 that Reade, still on Pope’s Hill, was shot dead. The commander of B Squadron, Major George Bourne, who knew the family from before the war, wrote to Colin’s father telling him what had happened. “He was in the trenches at Pope’s Hill and during an attack on Quinn’s Post by the Turks, we were pouring fire into the advancing enemy. Colin had just shot a Turk and, elated by his success, raised his head a little over the parapet to have another try, but a bullet hit him in the forehead. He died before the bearers could carry him to the beach . . . He was buried by Captain Green, our CE Chaplain.”

The Rev. George Green had been busy with burials and trips to the firing line since 1.30am that morning. He and another chaplain had buried 26 Australians and 20 Turks, a task made even more unpleasant and hazardous by the fact that the Turks had turned a machine gun on the cemetery at daylight. Green however had a particular reason for noting in his diary Colin’s death. “Among the casualties of the 2nd Regt,” he wrote, “was Colin Morgan Reade – a taking lad of Southport School, the youngest member of the Regiment – not much more than 18 years. He was shot through the head this morning. I was with him at the last, but thank God he was quite unconscious . . . .”

It was over a month before his parents on Bladensburg received the cable notifying them of his death. In due course they received a photograph of his grave, and “one brown paper parcel”, as the “Inventory of Effects” form-letter carefully noted, containing: “Disc, patent-lighter, letters, belt, coins and note-book.” After the war ended came three medals – the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, and a little pamphlet entitled Where the Australians Rest.

His mother apparently never recovered from the loss. His sister named her eldest son after him.

This was Colin George Milson (1919-1975) who emerged from the Second World War a Wing Commander and one of the RAAF’s most decorated airman, winning the Distinguished Services Order and Bar and the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar.

In May 1976 I visited Gallipoli and the old battlefield. It was then still a quiet, deserted place, off the beaten track and visited by only a handful of people, quite unlike the way it is now. There had been a big bushfire some months previously so the battlefield was laid out like a model, stripped of virtually all vegetation except the tall pines clustered around the big Australian memorial at Lone Pine. You could still walk along the shallow trenches on Pope’s Hill (I even picked up a pile of old bullet clips there) – and from them you felt you could reach out and touch Quinn’s Post. It was staggering to think that so much blood and effort had been expended in such a tiny area.

Colin is buried just down the way at Shrapnel Gully cemetery, a few hundred metres or so from the Beach. It was a small, stony place then, shaded by a few gum trees. It is a bit more landscaped now, and there are lawns. The bronze plaque over his grave simply says: “383, Trooper C M Reade, 2nd Aust Light Horse, May 30, 1915”.

Regimental number 383
Religion Church of England
Occupation Station hand
Marital status Single
Age at embarkation 19
Next of kin Father, George Reade, Bladensburg Station, Winton, Queensland
Enlistment date 25 August 1914
Rank on enlistment Private
Unit name 2nd Light Horse Regiment, B Squadron
AWM Embarkation Roll number 10/7/1
Embarkation details Unit embarked from Brisbane, Queensland, on board Transport A15 Star of England on 24 September 1914
Rank from Nominal Roll Private
Unit from Nominal Roll 2nd Light Horse Regiment
Fate Killed in Action 30 May 1915
Place of burial Shrapnel Valley Cemetery (Plot III, Row F, Grave No. 18), Gallipoli, Turkey
Panel number, Roll of Honour,
Australian War Memorial