The campaigns of the light horsemen based on the author's actual service Told through the experiences of The Bushman, Tom Blood and his mate Snow, this fictionalised account of the Australian Horse Soldiers gives the reader an authentic view of warfare in the trenches of Gallipoli and the heat, dust & thirst of the epic last great campaign of mounted men through Sinai and into Palestine in pursuit of ‘Jacko’ the often admired enemy soldiers of the Ottoman Turkish Empire during the First World War. This book has been previously publised under the title 'Morale'
The Bushman wasn’t paying much attention.
“Snow,”he whispered,“come up here.”
Snow was beside him in a second, “What is it,Blood?”
“There’s a sniper planted somewhere a bit to the left—think he’s lying near that grave, but I can’t see any flame from the loophole. He knows where it is, though;he’s put his last three shots right on to the plate. I’ll have to chance it or he’ll get one of us.”
He pushed his head above the parapet for a split second only, but it was nearly his last. He saw the flame, heard the report and felt the bullet hiss past his cheek. Some clods rolled off the parados behind him. He was breathing hard as Snow crowded against him.
“Didn’t get you?” he muttered anxiously. “Shouldn’t have done that.” “No, he didn’t; but we’ll make him wish he had yet. All right, Jacko, my son, you’ve had your shot; you wait there till we’ve had ours.” “D’you know just where he is?” asked Snow .“Too far for a bomb?” “Bomb! No, they’re harmless anyway, except to the chaps that throw ‘em. We’ll give him another shot—at a dummy this time. Tell Dick to come here for a minute.”
The Bushman explained his trap for young Jackos. When he signalled by throwing a clod, Dick was to put his hat up slowly on his bayonet point, and give the sniper time for two shots. The name of the first would give them his position. They went round into the next bay, and there, with slow caution, they pushed their rifles over the sandbags.
“We’ll have to get well up, ”whispered the Bushman .“Wait for his second shot, and aim well behind the flame.
We’ll chance three rounds rapid each. Got the clod? All right then—now.”
The trick worked. The first spurt of flame showed the shallow pit where the sniper lay. Simultaneously with the second they pulled their triggers—once, twice, thrice, and dropped down from the parapet in high hopes. Dick gleefully showed them a bullet hole in his hat. They tried the bait again, but this time there was no response.The raiding party assembled in the hollow behind One Tree Hill and moved quietly out amongst the closely growing: almond trees. Then it turned to face the Turkish post and lay down. The night was dark, and the stars gave scant light through the thick branches overhead. As the first shot from the battery sounded, the Bushman looked at his watch. The first three shells burst well in front of them, but the fourth fell dangerously close.
“By Christ, Blood, I don’t like the look of that,” whispered Snow, who lay close beside him.
In a few seconds the raiders knew that one gun was firingshort. The branches above them were blasted into splinters by the low-bursting shrapnel, and almost at once the call came for stretcher-bearers,
For ten minutes they were the only men who left the line. A boy near the Bushman groaned and rolled over clutching at himself in pain. He wondered how many of his chosen eight would be left him for the rearguard job. Snow was still beside him, but three of the others had already gone as a fourth gave a half-suppressed grunt. Through the din the Bushman heard a quaint argument.
“I’m hit! No I’m not! Yes I am.By Ch-h-rist—it stings!”
The barrage lifted and seventy-five of the hundred men were on their feet in an instant. They charged like madmen, and the few Turks standing in the shallow trenches were remorselessly bayoneted—hands up or down. All but four.The squadron moved on the extreme left of the extended line. It was attached that day to another regiment and came under its colonel’s orders. For some distance the advance took place over open and almost flat ground sparsely dotted with small boulders. Men walked slowly, several yards apart. They were within shrapnel range soon after they left the horses, but the Turkish gunners held their fire. They didn’t wish to spoil the sport awaiting their machine-gunners further on.
The Bushman’s troop numbered eighteen. He kept somewhere about its centre, and after awhile he noticed puffs of dust ahead; but Jacko was only range-finding. There was a little firing from the flanks, but it was mostly harmless. Then the line reached an area of hills and hollows flanked by long low spurs which ended in steep knobs overlooking the valley leading towards the aerodrome.
Once over the first ridge the frontal firing became more persistent. The Turk had riflemen waiting, and they fell back from hill to hill as the line drew closer to its objective. The Bushman saw his squadron-leader fall. His own troop was first on the flank of the other regiment, and several times he lost sight of the rest of his squadron as it passed between ridges.
The fire grew hotter, for the line was coming nearer to where the Turk wanted it. The centre of the advance followed a deep valley,and the order came to double. There could be no short rushes, for the ground was coverless. Running steadily the line reached the shelter of a high conical hill, and as it did the riflemen on its top retreated. The Bushman and his troop found cover on the hillside leading up from the valley, and during a brief breather he checked his number. He had now sixteen men. They lay behind boulders, but above them the ground was bare. He could see nothing of the three troops on his left flank. They were somewhere on the, hilltop and exposed to the frontal fire of machine guns working boldly in the open behind iron shields. A sharp spur directly in front of him gave his own troop temporary shelter.Just below him in the hollow he could see the colonel commanding the attack, and with him were two of the senior officers of the other regiment. On the slope to the right men lay behind scanty cover, and on the top of the ridge a Hotchkiss vainly tried to silence some of the fire which seemed to pour in from every direction.
Then the order came to advance. The Bushman ran to his flank and shouted it, since he could see no connecting link with the troop on his left. He heard the order repeated, and almost at once an answer came back from the senior lieutenant. It was: “Further advance impossible.”
Again the order to advance came from the valley, and again the reply was returned. Then the order changed to “Advance at all costs, ”and that sealed the fate of the three troops on the hilltop, for no one knew better what could or could not be done than the officer who had sent the reply. He could see the coverless ground and the shielded machine-guns, the stoutly built sangars where the riflemen secure from any covering fire given by the Hotchkiss on the pinnacle, and the colonel could not. He knew that nothing but disaster lay ahead, and he fell as he led his men over the hilltop. Of the three troops which followed the remaining officer, one man alone beat the Turkish machine-gunners in a desperate rush back to safety a few minutes later.
The fourth troop was the Bushman’s, and the luck of its position saved it. When it advanced, it had cover amongst the hillside boulders until it reached the spur leading downwards. By then the line of men following the valley met the merciless frontal and cross fire which had wiped out the three troops advancing from the hilltop. It wheeled at once to the cover of the spur, leaving its quota of dead and wounded in the valley.
From where he lay the Bushman could see little of what was happening in front; he knew nothing of the fate of the squadron, but the Hotchkiss on the pinnacle to the right was making a gallant effort to check the beginning of a counterattack. An officer whom the Bushman knew well by reputation ran in a leisurely fashion up the slope towards the post. Had he stopped he would never have moved from the hillside. It was a death trap.