Francis Patrick CURRAN – 7th Light Horse Regiment (1887 -1915)
Running along the trench line, a digger fielded the bombs mid air, as they flew towards him. With only seconds to spare, he sent them back to their owners with deadly accuracy. Some did manage to get through to sputter on the trench floor, only to be smothered with a sandbag or flicked back over the lip of the trench.
Francis Patrick Curran was born in Tenterfield in 1887. He was a carter and postman by trade. He was also a keen sportsman, excelling in football and boxing.
When war erupted in 1914, he presented himself for enlistment. A competent horseman, he was assigned as a reinforcement to 7th Light Horse Regiment (7th LHR).
As they finished their training in Egypt, the infantry battalions of the AIF were given the order “Prepare to move”. As the trains pulled out to carry the diggers to the ships, they waved to their light horse cousins who were to remain behind.
As Frank Curran turned and walked back towards the tent line, he thought to himself, “The lucky bastards”.
But the landing at Gallipoli wasn’t the piece of cake many expected. The losses among the infantry were severe and forces were required to bolster the tiny beachhead before the Anzacs were pushed back into the sea.
To a man, the troopers of the light horse volunteered to fight as infantry. As Frank Curran slammed home the bolt of his .303 and threw his bandolier over his shoulder, he said to himself, “You bloody beauty, we’ll show “em”
The light horse regiments began to land at Anzac in early May and were just in time to help repulse a savage series of counter attacks by the Turks.
Frank Curran, now a lance corporal, soon showed his worth as a bomber. He would engage the Turks into a bombing duel, launching the projectiles into the enemy with deadly accuracy.
The troopers wrote home, speaking of Frank Curran’s daring-do exploits. Many labelled him as the bravest man in the 7th, if not on all Gallipoli.
As the campaign bogged down into a war of attrition, the British High Command planned a British landing at Suvla Bay to break the stalemate. To help draw the Turkish reinforcements away from Suvla, a series of diversions along the Anzac line were planned.
These were at features known as Chunuk Bair, The Nek and Lone Pine.
As the New Zealanders battled their way up the slopes of Chunuk Bair, 8th and 10th LHR were decimated as they charged at The Nek, the infantry of the 1 Australian Brigade launched its attack on the fortified trenches of Lone Pine.
As they rushed forward they found the trenches covered with thick pine logs. Levering up the logs with their bayonets, the diggers dropped into the inky darkness.
No quarter was asked or given by either side, and the fighting – much of it hand to hand – was to last four days.
7th LHR was rushed in to consolidate the infantry gains. Frank Curran immediately made his way to the forward trench, which was unmanned, and engaged the enemy in a bombing duel. The screams of the Turks indicated that his bombs were right on target and doing the job.
Two troopers rushed in to assist, Curran calmly turned to them in between throws and said “I can handle this, get me more bombs.”
Rushing along the length of the trench, Curran would light with one hand and throw with the other. At times he caught the Turkish bombs like a cricket ball in mid flight and threw them back before they exploded.
Some Turkish bombs did get through and as they lay spluttering on the trench floor, Curran would either flick them over the lip of the trench or smother them with a sandbag before they exploded. He kept this up for hours.
As the Turks withdrew, Curran had time to rest. For his bravery in the Lone Pine trenches, Frank Curran was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. It was the first awarded to a member of the 7th LHR.
His exploits did not stop at Lone Pine and during actions in September he was Mentioned in Dispatches. It was during this action that he displayed great bravery, stopping a Turkish bombing attack single handed while in full view of the enemy.
With the evacuation of Gallipoli in December 1915, the Anzac forces were withdrawn to Egypt to re-arm, re-enforce and re-equip.Frank Curran, now a corporal, looked in envy as the infantry boarded the ships to carry them to France and the real war.
The light horse were to stay behind in Egypt to continue the fight. Frank was sure it would soon turn into the backwater of the war. Frank Curran decided to take matters into his own hands and stow away for France. Once there he was sure that he would be able to secure a posting to the infantry.
His mates tried to conceal his absence but as the ship docked in Marseilles, Curran was discovered. His dreams of staying in France were shattered as he was returned to Egypt as a deserter, under close arrest.
On returning to Ismailia, Curran heard that the Turks had attacked the British garrisons at Kartia and Ogratina and that his regiment had gone into action to defend the vital group of oases at Romani.
Curran was spoiling for a fight and did not want to let down his mates. Seeing his chance he escaped from his guard and made his way, unarmed, to the front line.
On arrival he started to assist the stretcher bearers with the wounded. Hearing that some troopers were still lying in no man’s land, in blistering heat, Curran went forward under heavy fire and started to carry them in.
He went out time and time again, each time dragging back a wounded comrade.
On his fifteenth sortie out, a Turk took a bead on the unarmed digger. He squeezed the trigger and Frank Curran fell dead with a bullet through the heart. Today as you stroll through the immaculately kept cemetery of Kantara, just a stone’s throw from the Suez Canal, you pause at a weather beaten grave and etched in the stone is the name Cpl Frank Curran DCM.
Courtesy of WO1 Darryl Kelly “Just Soldiers”, ARMY, March 2, 2000