Colonel Colin D. Fuller DSO, Order of the Nile
6th Light Horse Regiment
1882 – 1953
Colin Dunmore Fuller was born the eleventh of fourteen children in 1882 at “Dunmore House”, his father’s estate in the Illawarra district on the South Coast of NSW, near the town of Kiama. He was to become the area’s most distinguished soldier.
Colins father, George Laurence Fuller, was born in 1832 in the town of Dunmore, County Galway, Ireland. He came to Australia as a child with his parents and, in 1859, George married Sarah Miller of Gerringong. Soon after, they moved to Kiama where he bought the general store, eventually becoming the largest business in Kiama.
In 1865, George bought property on the Minnamurra River midway between Kiama, Jamberoo and Shell Harbour, which he named ÒDunmoreÓ after his old home in Ireland, selling his business in 1868 to concentrate all his attention on his new estate. He was to become the largest landowner in the district with 9000 acres and a “beloved squire of his tenantry”.
It was to this well-to-do environment that Colin was born on the 10th of February 1882. No doubt he spent his early years learning his way around the estate and his father’s growing business interests (which by this time included a blue metal mine and a steamer which he also named “Dunmore”) and of course learning to ride the horses bred on the property.
Colin was sent to school in Sydney where he attended both Shore College and Sydney Grammar School, eventually returning to Dunmore to help run his father’s estate. Indeed in 1915 when he joined the A.I.F. he was to give his occupation as farmer.
On the 21st July 1905, Colin enlisted as a second Lieutenant in the 1st Australian Light Horse (Royal New South Wales Lancers). He rose rapidly through the ranks, being promoted to 1st Lieutenant in 1906 and Captain in 1908. In 1909, Lord Kitchener arrived in Australia at the invitation of the Commonwealth Government to give the benefit of his experience. One of Kitchener’s recommendations was that twenty eight Regiments of light horse be maintained. In NSW, a new Regiment, the 28th (Illawarra) Light Horse, was formed in 1912, its first commanding officer being Captain Colin Fuller. All ranks were expected to supply their own horses and he would normally ride one of the horses bred at Dunmore, a particular favorite being an Arab/Thoroughbred cross named “Bobs” after Field Marshall Lord Roberts, the great tactician and commander of horses in the Boer War who was affectionately known to his troops as “Bobs Bahadur” or just “Bobs”.
When war broke out in 1914, Colin, at the age of 32, resigned his commission in the C.M.F. and on the 28th September applied for a commission in the 6th Light Horse Regiment of the 1st AIF, being appointed to the rank of captain. Prior to the AIF convoy leaving Australia, he was again promoted, to the rank of major, and appointed as second in command of the Regiment to Lt Colonel Cox.
On the 21st of December 1914, the Regiment sailed from Sydney on board the Suevic but it was not until the first days of May that the initial confused reports of the landings at ANZAC Cove started to filter through the Light Horse regiments training in Egypt . Following Brigadier Granville Ryrie’s offer to send the 2nd Light Horse Brigade to Gallipoli dismounted, the Brigade was embarked on the “Lutzow”, eventually going ashore on the 20th of May 1915. Once ashore, the Brigade was given the task of digging saps at Holly Ridge on the far right of the Anzac positions. By mid July the heads of the saps were joined to form Ryrie’s Post. Major Fuller was mentioned in the 6th Light Horse records of this period for his work in the construction of Ryrie’s Post and general good work since 20.5.15. Indeed, on the 30th June, Colin was appointed to temporary command of the Regiment in the absence of Lt Colonel Cox.
Shortly after this appointment, on the 12th of July, there was launched by the British a series of major attacks at Helles. The Australians were to keep the Turks occupied at Anzac by making a series of demonstrations. It fell to the 6th and 7th Light Horse regiments at Bolton’s Ridge and Ryrie’s Post to keep the Turks busy. The Turkish defences were, however, much two strong and after the first two waves went “over the top”, and were cut to pieces, the third was wisely held back.
One wonders whether Major Fuller had any influence on this decision. Certainly it appears that at some point he “had words” with an English officer who ordered him and his troops to attack. Colin apparently refused point blank indicating (among other things!) that while he himself was prepared to attack he would not order his men to do so. This incident landed him in some trouble, but not much can have come of it as there is no mention of it in his service record. It is, however, a mark of his braveness and his thoughtful kindness toward his men. Throughout his service career, Fuller, through his actions, earned the goodwill not only of those in command, his fellow officers, but of all those under him.
Barely six weeks later, on the 22nd of August, Colin was admitted to the hospital of the 2nd Australian Field Ambulance at Anzac with severe bronchitis. He was evacuated to Cairo but he must have been too sick to be treated in Egypt because, on the 26th of August he sailed from Mudros on board the “Franconia” for England where he was admitted to the 3rd London General Hospital on the 8th of September and was treated there for five days. He was still not well enough to return immediately to active duty, however, and was granted two months furlough in England, being seconded from the Regiment for duties at Weymouth Depot.
One can only imagine that it must have been some sort of relief to be away from the strain of Gallipoli for a couple of months. Colin was to remark later that his “hair was white when he came off the peninsula but, in the months that followed, it mostly went back to its original colour”. By November, he was well enough to rejoin the Regiment and, on the 5th, he sailed on board the “Andania” bound once more for the front and the death trap of “Wilson’s Outlook” at the southern end of Anzac.
When, finally, in December the peninsular was evacuated, Colin, while not the last man to leave, was in the company of the last and spent his second Christmas at sea, this time on board the “Beltana” en route for Egypt and the waiting horses. Following his fine work at Anzac, Colin was again promoted, this time to Lt Colonel, on the 1st of February and given full command of the 6th Light Horse Regiment, a position he was to hold until December 1918.
Following a well deserved period of rest and training in Egypt after the rigours of the peninsular, the first major test of the Light Horse came in August of 1916 at the Battle of Romani. The 6th Regiment engaged with machine guns some two thousand Turks who were moving eight hundred yards in front of them. After a vicious little firefight, which inflicted heavy casualties on the Turks, the Lighthorsemen, unable to hold the enemy, were forced to withdraw a further seven hundred yards. Colonel Fuller had at this time the support of some infantry units who were in the vicinity but was ultimately forced to retire as the Turks continued to envelop the right of the line held by the Regiment. The Light Horse continued to harass the Turks, who were forced to dig in. It was for his actions in that most difficult of military manoeuvers, the orderly and controlled withdrawal under heavy enemy fire, that Colin Fuller was to be awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
In the wake of the remarkable success of the Light Horse at Romani, Chauvel moved vigorously in pursuit of the by now exhausted and demoralised Turks with a view to completely routing the entire Turkish army east of Suez.
The Turks, though, had other ideas. Dug in around Katia and stiffened by German machine gunners, they were always going to be difficult to assail. Despite the best efforts of the Light Horse, after three days in the saddle with no rest and little water, both men and horses were exhausted and consequently ordered to withdraw to Romani. Unfortunately for Colin, during this withdrawal, on the 5th of August, he was wounded in the thigh and had to be evacuated to the 3rd Australian General Hospital in Cairo.
The wound to Colin’s thigh was officially described as “mild”, however, the terse telegram informing his family simply that he was wounded must have caused some anxious moments at home. While Colin was able to rejoin the Regiment (commanded during his absence by Major Bruxner) one month later with apparently few ill effects, he was to complain in later life that his leg caused him some discomfort. Colin returned to the front line on the 15th of September and learned shortly afterwards that he had been awarded the DSO (AIF Orders List 138) and mentioned in dispatches of General Sir Archibald Murray (dated 1.10.16) for his conspicuous service at Romani and Katia.
Right at the end of August 1917, Colin took over temporary command of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade while Brigadier Ryrie was away on leave. On the 2nd of September, however, Colin’s father passed away. George had been ill for some time and it would appear that Colin had tried to obtain leave so that he could return to Australia to see his father before he died but circumstances and the pressure of the war dictated otherwise. Colin was eventually granted furlough to take four weeks leave in Australia but it was too late. It was not until the 23rd of October that he was able to embark in Suez aboard the ‘Port Campbell’.
Colin’s return home was keenly anticipated, so much so that even his arrival in Adelaide was reported in his home town papers. He had been away for three years and was now welcomed home as a returning hero; all the surrounding districts claiming him as “their Colonel”.
Colin no doubt had a lot of family business to attend to in four weeks, in addition to the round of public and private receptions given in his honour in the surrounding districts of Shellharbour, Gerringong and Kiama. With so many of the district,s soldiers under his command (and so many of them being tenants of the “Dunmore” Estate) of course all were anxious to hear first hand news of their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands away for so long at the war.
At the reception given for him at the Kiama Presbyterian Church (of which he was at one time secretary), Colin described the sandy wastelands of Sinai, the Regiment’s work in reconnaissance, it’s part in the struggles for Gaza, El Arish and Magdhaba and the fall of Beersheba, a town Colin described as being about the same size as Wollongong. A local paper at the time described the hall being especially decorated with bunting for the occasion, musical items were performed (Colin himself being greeted with “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”), “dainty refreshments” were served by the ladies and the evening began and ended with “God Save the King” heartily sung.
Colin once again left Sydney on the 2nd of February on board the “Wilthshire”, serving as Commanding Officer of all Australian troops on board bound for the Middle East, rejoining his Regiment in time to make the long descent into the Jordan Valley from Hajlia; The 6th in fact being the first Light Horse Regiment to cross the Jordan. There followed soon after the nasty little raids on Amman and Es Salt, which would cost the 6th so dearly.
The Regiment spent the summer of 1918 in the grim oppressive heat and dust of the Jordan Valley, despite the snakes, spiders, mosquitos and the debilitating malaria they carried. Also during the summer of 1918, Brigadier Ryrie was forced to retire to hospital at Port Said for three months with what he described in a letter home to his wife as a “jippy” stomach. Colin temporarily took over command of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade in Ryrie’s absence, with command of the Regiment passing to Lt Colonel White. Indeed, Colin was appointed to permanently command the 2nd Brigade in December 1918 when the war was all but over, an appointment he may have felt was long overdue.
The regimental diary recorded his departure thus:
“The relinquishing by Colonel Fuller of the actual command of the Regiment was received by all ranks with feelings of very genuine regret. Save during his brief furlough in the 1917, he had led us since November 1916 and no leader ever had more thoroughly at heart the interests and welfare of his officers and men. He was always approachable and always the essence of a sport; no man ever left the orderly room without a fair deal. And the features of his long command of the Regiment in the field, were the unerring accuracy of his always rapid decisions, no less than his actual personal leadership.”
The final days of the war proved to be relatively quiet for the Light Horse though many men had to be evacuated sick, largely through the effects of malaria contracted during that long oppressive summer in the Jordan Valley. Colin’s command of the Brigade was to be cut short by the disease. He was admitted to hospital in Kantara on the 28th of December 1918 and subsequently transferred to Abbassia on the 21st of January 1919 before being granted fourteen days sick leave in Cairo, returning to assume command of the Brigade in early March.
News of the signing of the Armistice and the final capitulation of Germany left nothing for the Regiment to do but wait patiently for demobilisation. A syllabus of training was formulated to keep the men busy and, of course, race meetings were popular. At one race meeting in Cairo the Regiment was represented by Colin’s horse, “Illawara”, which easily won the two mile race.
His A.I.F. commission was terminated on the 20th of October 1919. He had served for just over five years and in recognition Colin was awarded the honorary rank of Brevet Major in the 28th (Illawara) Light Horse (C.M.F.) for “especially meritorious service” and by order of His Excellency the Sultan of Egypt was awarded the Order of the Nile.
Following the war, Colin settled back into life at ‘Dumore” and it would appear that it fell largely to him to attend to his father’s business and personal interests. Finally, though, with matters in hand, in 1920, he was able to marry Amy Rea at St Luke’s Church of England in Mosman, Sydney and start a family at the age of thirty nine. They were to have two daughters, Hope and Betty.
Barely one month after his commission was terminated, suggestions were made proposing a war memorial be built in Kiama; among the first suggestions, it was proposed that the memorial be a drinking fountain at the local surf beach reserve. Thereafter followed some years of debate; in 1924 a memorial wing at the hospital was proposed and eventually, at Colin’s suggestion, the construction of a memorial arch on the corner of Collins and Terralong streets (along with the beautification of the adjoining park) was accepted. The memorial, designed by architect Sir Charles Rosenthal, was officially opened on Anzac Day 1925 by Colin’s eldest brother, George Warburton Fuller, who was at that time Premier of NSW.
Colin became, as his father before him, one of the leading figures in the community and known throughout the district (especially in latter years) as the “Old Colonel”. He was president of the Kiama RSL and the Agricultural Society in addition to being involved in the local Presbyterian church.
Also, like his father, Colin was very generous with money and anxious to help those around him. Unfortunately, he was a bit too generous for his own good and, when a number of unsecured loans that he had made were not repaid and the property became too much of a burden, he was forced to sell “Dunmore” in 1948 and move to Beverly Hills in Sydney. It might be imagined that selling the family property would have caused the “Old Colonel” a great deal of distress but if it did, he never showed it. He lived the remaining years of his life in Sydney where, after a long battle with lung cancer, he died on the 19th of September 1953. He was survived by his wife and two daughters.
With thanks to Hope and Fredrick Rutledge, Cedric Rutledge, The Tongarra Bicentennial Museum.
By Graeme Clark
|Date of birth||10 February 1882|
|Address||Dunmore, Illawarra Line, New South Wales|
|Age at embarkation||33|
|Next of kin||Father, G.L. Fuller, Dunmore, Illawarra Line, New South Wales|
|Enlistment date||28 September 1914|
|Rank on enlistment||Major|
|Unit name||6th Light Horse Regiment, Headquarters|
|AWM Embarkation Roll number||10/11/1|
|Embarkation details||Unit embarked from Sydney, New South Wales, on board Transport A29 Suevic on 21 December 1914|
|Rank from Nominal Roll||Lieutenant-Colonel|
|Unit from Nominal Roll||6th Light Horse Regiment|
Unit: 6th Light Horse
Promotion date: 1 February 1916
|Recommendations (Medals and Awards)||Mention in Despatches
Awarded, and promulgated, ‘London Gazette’, Supplement, No. 29845 (1 December 1916); ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 62 (19 April 1917)
Recommendation date: 10 September 1917
Recommendation date: “Unspecified”
|Returned to Australia 27 June 1919|
|Medals||Distinguished Service Order
Source: ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 103
Date: 29 June 1917
Order of the Nile, 3rd Class
Source: ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 33