Small country towns never give up, just like the Light Horse of World War I. And this year, the Winton Outback Festival goes all-out to remember 500 of its sacred sons. This is an amended reprint of the story written by Col Jackson for Blue’s Country Magazine in April 2016.
WHILE 2016 defined the Centenary of Anzac, namely the Gallipoli campaign, World War I began in 1914 and went through till 1918. In each of those years there have been significant events that will also be remembered in their centenary years.
Gallipoli was in 1915, the Battle of Fromelles was in 1916, the Charge of Beersheba in 1917 and the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux in 1918 that changed the course of the war. These were just a few of many significant military events in the war.
Queensland’s small outback town of Winton is already planning to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Beersheba in September 2017.
It was in October 1917 that Winton resident Trooper Thomas O’Leary led the 4th Light Horse Regiment Machine Gun Section in the famous Charge of Beersheba, a three-phase attack that culminated in a wild, desperate charge to seize the town before dark.
It has been written that “they rode for victory and they rode for Australia.”
The favoured mount of the Australian Light Horse was the New South ‘Waler’ (aka Waler), and not ‘Whaler’ as appears in some publications. A large number of the horses originated from the ‘Beltrees’ property near Scone.
O’Leary enlisted in Winton on January 7, 1915. When he died, the gravesite dedication service in Townsville was told that “Trooper Thomas O’Leary, MM, of the 4th Light Horse Regiment and 4th MG Squadron lead the Charge at Beersheba and personally rounded-up 30 Turkish prisoners in the thinly-defined forward trenches, single-handedly holding them until his dismounted colleagues caught-up.
“Trooper O’Leary then galloped some 70 yards in advance of the squadron, and rode through untouched. He jumped all trenches and charged alone right on into Beersheba. An hour and a half afterwards, he was found by one of the officers of the Regiment in a side street seated on a field gun which he had galloped down, with six Turkish gunners and drivers holding his horse in turn.
“He explained that, after capturing the gun, he made the Turks drive it down the side street, so that it should not be claimed as a trophy by another Regiment.”
During the 2015 Winton Outback Festival, an amount of $30,000 was raised and donated to three key Queensland military charities, which helps soldiers and their families in need of support. This was despite the town’s own challenges brought on by its third consecutive year of prolonged drought, plus its major tourist attraction, the Waltzing Matilda Centre, being lost to fire in June.
Outback Festival Coordinator Robyn Stephens OAM told that out of 500 enlistments from Winton in World War I, 83 enlisted in the Light Horse.
“It makes me very proud that the Winton community, despite being subject to its own hardships, can help our soldiers and their families,” Robyn Stephens said.
“Winton has a very special place in our country’s military history by contributing one of the largest numbers of enlistments per head of population anywhere in Australia.”
The donations were raised from a Sunset Extravaganza Charity Dinner held under the stars at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs natural history museum, located on an escarpment 24km from Winton. About 300 people attended the event.
“We wanted to do something very special to mark the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli,” Robyn Stephens said.
The dinner featured a charity auction, a video message from Ben Roberts-Smith VC MG, a guard provided by members of 2/14 Light Horse (Queensland Mounted Infantry), vehicles from 2nd Cavalry Regiment and members of the Historical Group of the 2nd /14th Light Horse Regiment (QMI) and the New Zealand Mounted Infantry who provided soldiers dressed in WW1 uniforms mounted on horseback
Following the festival, Robyn Stephens presented $10,000 cheques to the Welfare Sections of 7th Brigade (Brisbane), Australian Special Air Service Association, Queensland Branch, and the 3rd Brigade (Townsville).
The Outback Festival’s military advisor, Alan Bowen OAM said the donations would help soldiers in a meaningful way.
“Although the Department of Defence and Department of Veterans Affairs do a fantastic job looking after young veterans, they are often restricted by budget and entitlement constraints and are veteran focused not family focused,” he said.
“The donations will benefit young soldiers returning from active service who are in need of support to deal with hidden wounds that no-one else sees — the wounds to the families of our returned service men and women.”
A portion of the donated money will also help the families of those soldiers who are deployed in war zones throughout Afghanistan and Iraq.
The biennial Outback Festival holds a charity fundraiser as part of its five days of outback sporting and cultural events.
The 2016 Winton Outback Festival will again go all-out to support the military, and will again feature a significant military presence.
With so many commemorations being held across Australia next year to honour major events in Australia’s military history, the Charge of the Light Brigade at Beersheba will be commemorated in Winton in September instead of October.
Already being planned is a ride by 100 horsemen in full Light Horse regalia from Longreach to Winton.
Also, a number of military scenarios are being considered utilising the expertise of Light Horse historical units and modern Cavalry and Light Horse units.
It will give those interested in military history to witness some spectacular re-enactments.
It is hoped that the new Waltzing Matilda Centre will be opened during next year’s festival and be more spectacular than its predecessor.
“That will give impetus to our support for our soldiers and their families in a special centenary year,” Robyn Stephens said.
- The Winton Outback Festival 2017 with be held from September 19 to 23. For full details, go to: www.outbackfestival.com.au.