War Memoir of Robert Ellwood

Ellwood: The regiment was a good regiment because it had good men and that crosses my line of philosophy about anything being only as good as its head cause after all’s said and done we were a good show, I suppose, that is, we were a good show, yes a fine lot of fellows and not only that me being on the land today I think the responsibility for it is the type of man that I met when I joined up with the 2nd Light Horse Regiment – they were all from the country and they were – without saying anything disparaging about the city people or the side of the range – they were a fine type of fellow who were brought up in an atmosphere where they had to develop their initiative to live and their ability to survive on their initiative, you know, to overcome obstacles, a fine type and they made me feel that way that.

I admired them that much – I was a city boy – all my family are city people, business people and they made me feel that way about the country life an the atmosphere in which they were brought up that I wanted to follow on in their footsteps and that was really why when I came back I took to the land. I had a property out at Gordon Green’s selection, and that was really what put me on the land, as a matter of fact I feel that my association with those people in that regiment developed character in me – that’s the type of men that were there.

Turnbull: Could I ask you why it was that you joined up? Was it your background in military activities… [Robert Ellwood had been a school cadet].

Well, you read there where I had.. Well, how it begun. I think there must be something in my ancestry somewhere, but, when I was a young fellow, I was always very fond of reading and I had access… When I’m speaking now, I’m speaking of anything from twelve up. I had access to a private library which was owned by an ex-captain who had been posted in India for quite a while during the British occupation of India.. you know what I’m talking about? And in his library there was a good deal of that old army stuff about Kitchener of Khartoum and Gordon of this and all the rest of it and the Indian mutiny and other things of that description and I think that I was more or less a little bit probably influenced by that background but when I was at school I joined up with the cadets and I think that may have been a beginning of my military life or it could have been that I had some sort of an ancestry somewhere.

But I did… Well to give you an idea, I owned this property in those days and before I went away I simply signed it over to my mother. Well had I any other feeling but one that I may not come back, I wouldn’t have done it. So I had a feeling, I had the knowledge that it was possible that I wouldn’t come back so I went with my eyes opened. Can you see the logic of my reasoning. I signed the property over to her and gave it away which meant that I felt that I was not going to… Not that I felt that I was not coming back but I felt that there was a danger ahead which meant that I could not, I may not… Not that I was not but that I may not, so I went there with my eyes open. That is the only explanation I can give you as to why I went. I was very staunch, I still am, a lover of my country, lover of my family and my culture and standard of living all that sort of business. I was very… I am still very keen that way and that influenced me plus, as I say, I may be a little bit brainwashed through my associations with this private library I’m talking about but that’s the reason why I went, and of course I had an adventurous nature, I suppose you can put something in that too. I was always adventurous. I drove the first motor vehicle between here and Tewantin and I was always doing something or the other. You know I was foundation member for this and that and all the rest of it.

I had a peace time commission as lad but I realise I knew nothing and when I joined up I risked, I got leave. I didn’t make any personal application but they accepted the fact that I was going and they gave me leave from the Australian Military Forces to join the Australian Imperial Forces and I joined up as a trooper. And about the second day or third day or something Birkbeck [Major George birbeck ] saw us doing musketry work it was and he could see that I knew something because I’d just had a crash course in musketry and he dragged me out and put me in charge of a squad to teach musketry and in a day or so I think they appointed me Sergeant.

Turnbull: So it was your peace time experience that came to their attention?

Ellwood: Oh yes, yes. The peace time knowledge that I had gained through this crash course and my association with cadets and things of that description.

Turnbull: Men who came from the same area were put together in the same sections at the outset? Was that done?

Ellwood: As far as possible yes. Listen might we start with correcting something I possibly wrongly inferred or wrongly got. That is that second Light Horse Regiment, I think you gave me the impression that you had an opinion of it which was given to you by a twenty-fourth reinforcement. Well believe me I’m speaking very sincerely when I say that the opinion of a twenty-fourth reinforcement would have very little value from the point of view that they would hardly have time to get there, take their hat off, say good bye again and come out. And to express an opinion as to the value of the regiment would be of no value at all to anyone. The second Light Horse Regiment first of all went away under Colonel Stodart and it was then taken over later on after he was a casualty by Sir William Glasgow and out training was done under Egypt under those two fellows who were C.O. and 2IC and we spent eight months on the Peninsula under those two fellows and it wasn’t for a long time afterwards before the Command was taken over by Bourne. And what they went through, the training period and the levelling out and the cleaning out of the misfits on Gallipoli left behind a real sound solid concrete type of regiment. There is no doubt about that. And anybody would be absolutely wrong if they said anything which was derogatory or in any way reflected. They were a sound, solid body of men who had been through the fire, who had through experience found out their own value and knew what they would do under all circumstances. And they were well disciplined and they were well trained. Now don’t let anybody put any ideas into your head other than those because they would not be right. Definitely they would not be right.

Turnbull: Many officers came from established pastoral backgrounds – the [enlisted] men would have come from small selections?

Ellwood: A lot of them, yes. A lot of them came from small selections, farming communities, but with country backgrounds, country-like backgrounds, the majority of them. I don’t particularly remember anybody who was city – town yes, but not city folk. They were most country town or country itself people that were there, that I can remember. But they were a good solid type of fellows Doc. Never let it get in your mind anything else than the fact that they were sound, stable well-balanced and well-behaved and was intelligent. There were people who had been brought up to fend for themselves and make do instead of being spoon fed. I can never speak too highly of the type of fellow that was in our show. And they were only just typical of what was in every other Light Horse regiment. There were very – no misfits, they were soon got out and anybody that was uncontrollable they were simply shot out quick and lively or sent back out of the way.

Turnbull: You were with the [Second Light Horse ] Regiment from the outset [August 1914]. If we talk about the men and their horses – according to the official accounts – many men actually brought their own horses with them when they came to join up. The horses were taken in and then they were issued to them again at a later date?

Ellwood: That could have happened but not in any large quantities. The majority of our stuff or all of our stuff in the first instance we collected from the remount depot at Fraser’s Paddock or Rifle Range or somewhere around there at Enoggera and I think I explained to you yesterday how we took over those and how they were put on the line and how each man was turned around to face the horse that was behind him and that was his horse. There may have been instances – well I remember in one case there was – a chap named Mick Shanahan, [Major M. Shanahan] he was a Captain, a Major at the finish, he lost one leg. He brought his own horse in, I know that. There could have been others but I don’t know of many. But the majority of our horses, in fact all of them I think, just a few exceptions, were the gifts from the grazier and the squatter outside. Only he didn’t always send his quiet horses in either.

Turnbull: One of the other items that is talked about a lot is that when men enlisted in the Second some sought to enlist but then showed themselves incapable of passing a riding test, I mean, what sort of testing did you do.

Ellwood: none

Turnbull: you never had anyone turn up and try to join…

Ellwood: Not to my knowledge, I never saw one man who wasn’t able to ride a horse in the first lot of and afterwards too as a matter of fact, although they began to weaken off at the finish. but there was no one in our 510 and 32 officers that was not able to ride a horse. Some were expert horsemen and expert horse – breakers and they handled anything that was out of control sort of. But I never saw anybody and they were definitely men from the country. They weren’t they may have been farming community people they may have but they were not city office people or people who you know had nothing to do with horses. They were all horsemen to some extent.

Turnbull: So if somebody said to you that you had a few blokes who tried to join up because they were too tired for the infantry.

Ellwood: HA. HA. HA. I’d laugh at that. That’s ridiculous. That’s like saying that the first lot that went away either went away because they left a girl behind them pregnant or because they couldn’t get on with their wife or some other damn thing just plain garbage. Plain garbage.