Charge to Certain Death.
Mr. W. M. Hughes, the Premier of Australia, at a banquet of the Pilgrims' Club at the Savoy Hotel, London, on Friday, told of Anzac heroism in Gallipoli which will live.
It was a story of the charge to sure death of 500 men of the 8th Light Horse of Australia, not in the heat of fighting, but in cold blood after hours of waiting and suspense. Mr. Hughes, who has called for a decisive Empire policy without delay, in pointing the moral of the deed, said that the only way in which a great democratic Empire could remain free was by every citizen being trained to fight for his liberty.
I feel I stand here to-day, he said, in the reflected glory of the Australian soldier. I never speak – I cannot speak – of their bravery but I choke with emotion. You speak of the charge of Balaclava. These men went out in the broad light of day with all the impetus and stimulus that a knee-to-knee charge on the gallop gives to men. But the story of the 8th Light Horse of Australia is one by which the charge of the Light Brigade must pale its ineffectual fires.
These men – there were some 500 of them – were to attack in three waves. They were given these others six, eight, ten hours before. Every man knew when he got that order that it was certain death. They went. They made their preparations. They handed to those who were to remain in the trench their poor, brief messages of farewell, and they went out wave after wave.
At the whistle the first wave leaped from the trench. Most of them fell back dead upon their fellows who were waiting their turn in the trench. In the face of this awful sight the second line leaped out to meet what they knew was certain death. Of these only five or six remained on their feet after they had gone ten or twelve yards.
All the wounded lay exposed to the pitiless machine-gun fire of the Turks, which poured a veritable hail of death into their poor, bleeding bodies. The man who got farthest was the colonel; he got fifty yards. Out of those who went there were eighteen officers; two officers only got back, and of the men only the merest handful survived. We must look back in the grey dawn of history before we find a parallel with that.
The Spartans at Thermopylae have left a name imperishable, which shall remain when the Pyramids shall crumble to dust; but, surely, what these men did that day – these citizen soldiers of a new nation, the last but one in the family of the great British Empire – will never die.
We have fought and we are fighting this battle as if it were a battle of life and death. It is a battle of life and death. We did not enter it lightly, nor shall we quit it while life remains in us.
Australia has been able to do what she has done because we adopted as the cornerstone of our democratic edifices the system of compulsory military training. We believe that there is but one way by which a nation, being free, can remain so, and that is that every man shall not only be willing to defend his country, but shall be able to do so. We think that the State should train the citizen so that he may be able to defend his country, his home, and his liberties. The defence of one's country is the primary duty of citizenship, the first duty of free men.
Text: The Witness, 23rd March 1916.
Image: 8th Light Horsemen Marching Along Collins Street, Melbourne, 20th January 1915.