One hundred years ago Light Horse regiments charged well-entrenched Turkish positions at “The Nek” to secure strategic high-ground on the Gallipoli peninsula. The aim: to break-out after months of stalemate around the beachheads in a series of (un)coordinated manoeuvres and battles which were to include the ferocious struggles at “Lone Pine” and “Chunuk Bair”.
These “last-throw-of-the-dice” efforts by British command are known as the “August Offensives” or the “Battle of Sari Bair”.
The subsequent gamble with soldier’s lives and the fate of the 3rd Light Horse Division — charging into certain death — live large in the Australian psyche as the epitome of bravery and self sacrifice amidst ineptitude and pointless slaughter.
The graphic phase “Godley’s abattoir” seems to aptly sum up the grim outcome and wry cynicism felt by troops at the time. Going over in several waves, the 8th Division lost 234 men as casualties.
Amongst its 154 killed was Major Thomas Harold Redford.
Although originally from Warrnambool in Victoria he married Ruth Cameron and lived in Mosman at “Kilmington” in Holt Avenue.
C.E.W Bean describes recollections of the time between the cessation of the preliminary bombardment and the cacophony of Turkish gun-fire as men went over the top in his Official History.
At about 4.22 a.m. Colonel White and Lt Dale were standing with Major Redford and Lt Robinson near the entrance to the Secret Sap. At 4.23 a.m. the artillery fire ceased …
In a letter sent to Bean after the war, 2nd Lt Wilfred Robinson, 8th Light Horse recalled:
I am quite certain that the discrepancy in the timing at the Nek on 7/8/15. When the last shells burst in front I was standing with Col White, Major Redford and Lt Dale. For a few moments no one spoke. Then the colonel said: ‘Come along Dale’, and then walked along the trench from the ‘secret sap’ and I remarked to Redford: ‘What do you make of it? There is seven minutes to go.’ He replied: ‘They may give them a heavy burst to finish!’ For three minutes hardly a shot came from the Turks and then a scattered rifle fire broke out, above which could be heard distinctly the rattle of about 10 shots as each Turk machine gun was made ready for action. I got my men ready and shook hands with Major Redford a few seconds before he leaped out. He remarked as he did so, ‘See you later Robbie’. His watch also showed the same time.”
Thus the fate of the 3rd Light Horse was sealed. The delay between the attack commencing and the expected end of the bombardment at 4.30 gave the Turks ample time to re-entrench, set up their Maxim machine guns and a phalanx of bayonets and rifle fire…
Other eyewitness accounts at the time reveal the fate of “Tom” and his comrades. Many were killed without making it out of their trench and only one recorded made it to the enemy trench before going “out for good”.
At 3.30 on the morning of Saturday, 7th August, word was passed along the regiment that we were to charge the Turkish trenches at 4 a.m. At 3.55 a.m. the officers started calling out the minutes — “Four to go,” “three to go,” etc., and at “One to go” the men were, sitting on top of the parapet like sparrows. At four o’clock the word “Go” was given, and we were off. Some got the bullets before they started and fell back into the trenches. Tom got one about 10 yards away and down he went like a log. Wilson got one at three yards from the trench, dropped, scrambled up and went on, stopped another and went down again. This time he dropped his rifle. He staggered to his feet and waving his revolver, went on again. He reached the Turkish trench and was standing on the edge of it calling on his men, when he went out for good. ….Only 57 out of 480 came back.
Warrnambool Standard, Tuesday 12 October 1915
Major Redford’s own diary contains a post-script reportedly written by Major William McGrath of the 8th Light Horse:
At 0400 on the morning of the 7th a short bombardment by howitzers and warships, which did no damage, was succeeded by the word being passed around for the attack. B Squadron (100 bayonets) plus 50 bayonets from A [Squadron] took from the extreme left to the top of the ridge.
Everyman sprang out of the trench eagerly and crawled carefully for a few yards. Suddenly as they stood up to run forward, and got silhouetted on the skyline, a terrific fire from machine guns by the enemy (at range of 10 yards), swept everything down. Men were shot down in wonderful fashion and never before have I heard such a terrific volume of fire. Those not hit, promptly fell down, but the enemy played all along the ground with terrible effect and slaughter supplemented with dozens and dozens of hand grenades. No man unless in hollow ground escaped.
Our gallant Major whilst lying facing the enemy’s trench (10 yards away) in the front of his men received a bullet through his brain as he raised his head slightly to observe. He died with a soft sigh and laid his head on his hands as if tired. A braver and more honourable man never donned uniform. The love not only by his Squadron (I might well say adored), but the all the regiment, he created respect everywhere.
Major William McGrath duly added:
I went again into the trenches to try and identify bodies through a periscope but the sight I saw will never be forgotten. In this special piece of ground where lie all these good men (a space 100 yards by 50). I have now seen 300 odd Turkish bodies and 150 of our own. Can you imagine greater carnage than this?
Buried at Shrapnel Terrace, Russell’s Top, with the grave marked by a cross made from ammunition boxes, Major Redford’s remains were removed to Walker’s Ridge Cemetery in 1921.
The epitaph on his headstone is taken from Malachi Chapter III, Verse 17:
And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.”
- Doing our bit: Major Thomas Harold Redford
- Photographs: AWM collection
- Private record: Personal diary of Major Thomas Harold Redford, 8 Light Horse Regiment, AIF (AWM)
- War diary: 8th Australian Light Horse Regiment, August 1915 [pdf] (AWM)
- Video: The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of Major Thomas Harold Redford, 8th Australian Light Horse, First World War (AWM)
- Great War Forum: The Nek, 7 August 1915