Tabulam and the Light Horse Tradition

The Boer War (1889-1902) was the first overseas service for the Light Horse. Tabulam’s own Harry Chauvel was there. He served first as an officer with the 1st QMI contingent and again as the CO of the 7th Battalion Australian Commonwealth Horse. Christopher Mealing, Billy Mealing and Lou Hunter, at least three Tabulam men, enlisted in the Boer War.

The story of Tabulam’s involvement with the Light Horse goes back to 1885, when the Chauvel’s owned Tabulam Station. The old Captain, Charles Chauvel, had been an Indian Army man and, with the Russian scare in mind, he offered to raise a body of fit and able men to serve, if necessary, on the North West Frontier.
The result was that in October 1885, the two troops of the Upper Clarence Light Horse were formed, No 1 (Tabulam) and No 2 (The Border). On New Year’s Day 1886, 129 men were sworn in and there was a banquet and great rejoicing in McLean’s Tabulam Hotel that night. Along with the father, Captain Chauvel, the two sons, Arthur and Harry, were lieutenants and two younger sons joined as troopers. The troop also included four sons of George Smith of Drake; Jordans of Tabulam and Casino; four McAlister brothers; James McLean; Billy Craike (famous stockman on Tabulam Station) and his younger brother Charlie and young Alf Ravenscroft.
The first official duty of the new troops was to form a guard of honour – resplendent in the new full dress uniform of the day – at the opening of the Tenterfield Railway in February 1886.
In 1888, the Chauvel family left Tabulam for ÒCanning Downs South near Warwick, Qld. Harry Chauvel continued his military career which Tabulam people watched with interest. The Upper Clarence Light Horse continued to exist, with changes in Troop names and numbers dictated by the flow of population and availability of recruits. Harry Chauvel was now a Queenslander and formed and commanded the Warwick troop, including men from the Border Troop of the Upper Clarence Light Horse. Their first military duty was to assist the Police to keep order during the rioting and turmoil of the Great Shearer’s and Barrier Miner’s strikes of the 1890’s. It is said that it was here that the tradition began of wearing the Emu feathers in the hat bands, which had so much tradition in the Light Horse regiments. Emu chasing on the western plains became a sport and naturally, the troopers stuck their trophies, the feathers, in their hats. It became so much a part of their dress that Queensland Troops were allowed to wear the feathers in their hats during the Boer War. Later, in 1915, the privilege was extended to all Light Horse Regiments.
The Boer War (1889-1902) was the first overseas service for the Light Horse. Tabulam’s own Harry Chauvel was there. He served first as an officer with the 1st QMI contingent and again as the CO of the 7th Battalion Australian Commonwealth Horse. Christopher Mealing, Billy Mealing and lou Hunter, at least three Tabulam men, enlisted in the Boer War. They enlisted as State troops but returned as “Commonwealth Military Forces”, Federation having been achieved during their absence.
The Light Horse next served on Gallipoli as infantry and then fighting in Palestine during the desert campaign of 1916-17, under the command of the now General Harry Chauvel. Alf Ravenscroft, whose father, also Alf, was an original member of the Upper Clarence Light Horse, was General Chauvel’s standard bearer during this campaign. Names like Magdhaba, Rafah, Gaza, Romani, El Arish and the famous charge of Beersheba, are a proud part of our history on account of the heroism of our Light Horsemen.
During the post-war years, there was less activity on the part of Citizen’s Military Forces. Perhaps old soldiers were sick of war and talk of war, after all, had they not fought a “war to end all wars”? – or so they thought. By the 1930’s, however, there was a fresh stirring of interest, perhaps fostered by the ominous unrest in Europe.
The Tabulam troop was reformed in January 1931 and became part of the 15th Light Horse, Northern Rivers Lancers. The first parade was held on the same ground where Captain Charles Chauvel first enrolled the men of the Upper Clarence Light Horse, forty six years before. The then Lieutenant Harry Chauvel was now Hon. Colonel of the Regiment.
The early members of the new troop included Lionel Hewetson, Lt George Grey, Sgt and Troopers:-
Clarrie Mealing, Jack Hollis, Owen (Nugget) Winterton, Eric Wilkinson, Bevan Wilkinson, Eric Wilkinson (yes – two Eric WilkinsonÕs), Charlie Coledus, Ernie Wright, Bill Ward, Jack Ward, Bill Poulson, Bert Wann, Jimm Wann and, slightly later, as they came of age, Cecil Keogh and Alex (Bill) Fraser.
This list was compiled with the aid of Mrs Jean Winterton of Tabulam. We apologise if it is incomplete but we are relying on our memories of sixty odd years ago.
One of the highlights for these boys and indeed for the whole district was the opening of the Grafton Bridge in July 1932. The 15th Light Horse provided escorts for Governor General Sir Isacc Isaacs during the opening of the bridge, an event in which one of our life members, Bob Smith, took part. Tabulam representatives for this event were W. (Bill) Ward, C. Mealing, W. (Bill) Poulson, Sgt. G. Grey, E. Wilkinson and J. Hollis (Photo). Monthly parades and annual camps were held regularly during the 1930’s.
In 1938, the 15th Light Horse travelled to Sydney to take part in Australia’s 150th Anniversary celebrations. The long train journey began at Casino and, after forty eight hours, reaching Darling Harbour at Sydney.
With other units, a total of four hundred men took part in the drills, part of which was to form the outline of Australia on the Sydney Show Ground. It was men from this camp who volunteered to stay behind and take part in the making of Charles Chauvel’s (nephew of Sir Harry) film of “Forty Thousand Horsemen”, the saga of the famous desert campaign.
In March 1939, the Annual Camp was held in Grafton. It was their last peace time camp. The next camp, also in Grafton in November was held in a more serious atmosphere as World War II had been declared in September.
By January 1940, the Northern Light Horse Regiments were in camp in Armidale. This necessitated a long train journey from Murwillumbah Lismore Casino Grafton, horses and equipment had to be trucked to Maitland. Here horses were untrucked, watered fed and re-loaded on the Tableland line for Armidale.
It was from this camp that the majority of men enlisted for the A.I.F. as a Light Horse Unit. The camp contained 2,000 men and their horses and made a considerable impact upon the country town of Armidale.
Another year elapsed before another Light Horse camp was held. This time it was at Rutherford near Maitland. The 2,000 men of the 12th, 15th and 24th Light Horse Regiments were told that the Light Horse will always be a vital part of the defence of this country. How wrong can one be?
It was the last Light Horse camp to be held. Later that year, the men were told to hand in saddlery and equipment and dispose of their horses. The 15th Light Horse, born at Tabulam in 1885 was dead and, in its place was the 15th Motor Regiment, Armoured Division.
In October 1985, Tabulam celebrated the Centenary of the foundation of the Upper Clarence Light Horse. The 41st Battalion and the 1st/15th Lancer Regiment from Parramatta, complete with military band, led a march through the town. The parade also included mounted ex-members of the old Light Horse Regiments, led by F. Shephard and B. Ravescroft (son of Gen Chauvel’s standard bearer). Other members of the old Regiments marched and the Queensland Mounted Police and member of the 14th Light Horse Troop from Mudgeeraba, Queensland and colonial riders including a lady riding side-saddle, joined the parade.
During the afternoon, a memorial was unveiled by Elyne Mitchell (daughter of Sir Harry Chauvel). The memorial features a base-relief of a Light Horseman, the work of Father John Casey of Mallanganee. It shows the names of those who enlisted from Tabulam and district for the 2 World Wars. Picnic tables and a flag pole were added.
The afternoon was then given over to sports of a military nature. Tent pegging, etc.. was demonstrated by the Qld Mounted Police and the Mudgeeraba unit. There were two showings of the film “Forty Thousand Horsemen” during the afternoon and a colonial Dance at night completed a really memorable day for Tabulam.
With all this Light Horse tradition behind Tabulam, it was surely fitting that seven ex-members of the 15th and 12th Light Horse were able to ride at the Tabulam Race Day on 11th November, 1995, the “Australia Remembers” year. Tabulam remembers the Light Horse. 

Tabulam – home of the Australian Light Horse – is marked the centenary of the Battle of Beersheva on Sunday, July 16, 2017  with a Light Horse reenactment by local horsemen at the memorial site.