In 1896, Chauvel transferred to the Queensland
Permanent Forces with the rank of Captain.
Chauvel commanded A Squadron of the Queensland Mounted
Infantry in the Boer War, where he was Mentioned in Despatches and was made a Companion
of St Michael and St George (CMG). He returned to Australia to take command
of the 7th Commonwealth Light Horse, but did not get back to South Africa with
it until after the war had ended.
After the war he returned to Australia where he served as a
staff officer with the Northern Rivers District near Townsville.
He was chief of
staff there from 1904 to 1911, being promoted to lieutenant colonel in December
1909. Appointed to the Military Board as Adjutant General in 1911, Chauvel was
involved in the implementation of the compulsory training scheme.
On 3 July
1914, Chauvel replaced Colonel J.
G. Legge as the Australian representative on the Imperial General Staff in
London, with the rank of full colonel. He was offered the post of Commandant of
the Military College at Duntroon on completing his posting there, but the
outbreak of war intervened.
On the outbreak of war, Chauvel was appointed to command the
1st Light Horse Brigade. He remained in England however, because that was where
the brigade was scheduled to train. While his brigade was en route to join him,
Chauvel became convinced that the proposed camps on the Salisbury Plain would
not be ready on time. He persuaded the High Commissioner in London, former Prime
Minister Sir George Reid, to approach Lord Kitchener with an alternate plan of
diverting the AIF
to Egypt, which was done. Chauvel finally sailed for Egypt with Major T.
A. Blamey on 14 November 1914.
by George Lambert, in right profile with moustache of General Sir Harry
Chauvel KCMG, KCB and Croix de Guerre. He is wearing a shoulder strap with
crossed sword and baton badge, and Sam Browne belt.
Chauvel began his active military career in the Boer War
in 1900. In 1915 he commanded the first Light Horse Brigade at Gallipoli
and after evacuation was given command of the Australian and New Zealand
In April 1917 he succeeded Sir Philip Chetwode to the
command of the whole Desert Column, later the Desert Army Mounted Corps,
thought to be the largest body of cavalry ever to serve under one leader.
After his overwhelming successes in Palestine he continued in the army and
retired as Chief of General Staff in 1930. AWM image & text.
When the light horse were called upon to provide
reinforcements for the Gallipoli Campaign, Chauvel and the other light horse
leaders protested that they would serve better intact. Their arguments won out,
and the light horse were sent to fight at Gallipoli dismounted. The campaign
would be a very different one from the open warfare for which the light horsemen
had trained. Chauvel arrived on 12 May 1915 and took over the critical sector
which included Quinn's, Courtney's and Steele's Posts from Brigadier General J.
Monash. Open to Turkish observation on two sides, these four advanced posts
at the top of Monash
Valley were the linchpin of the defence. Chauvel reorganised the defence,
appointing permanent commanders for the posts. He also formed special sniper
groups who eventually managed to suppress the Turkish snipers, making it safe
even for mule trains to move up Monash Valley.
Chauvel's brigade soon found itself under heavy pressure from
the Turks. On 29 May 1915, the Turks fired a mine under
Quinn's Post and broke into it. As fate would have it, the permanent commander
of the post, Lieutenant Colonel J.
H. Cannan was absent, having been invited by General Sir Ian Hamilton to
spend two days rest on his flagship, Arcadian and the acting commander,
Lieutenant Colonel G. J. Burnage was wounded in the fighting. Chauvel responded
by bringing up reserves and appointing a temporary
post commander, Lieutenant Colonel H.
Pope, with orders to drive the Turks out at all costs. Fortunately, Major S.
C. E. Herring was miraculously able to charge across the open practically
unscathed, his attack having coincided with a Turkish one on another part of the
post and the Turkish machine gunners could not shoot without hitting their own
men. In fact, there were only about seventeen Turks in the post, who eventually
surrendered. Chauvel's decision may have have been the wrong one, but it was
decisive. He was also lucky.
Chauvel spent six weeks in Egypt in June and July in hospital.
He took over acting
command of the New Zealand and Australian Division on 19 September 1915, a
position that became permanent on 2 October 1915. Then on 6 November 1915, he
became commander of the 1st Division, and was promoted to Major General. He
commanded this division through the final phase of the Gallipoli Campaign, the
evacuation, and the reorganisation in Egypt in February and March 1916. On
15 March 1916, Chauvel, offered his choice of appointments, chose to take
command of the Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division rather than take the
1st Division to France.
His new command consisted of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Light
Horse Brigades, and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, supported by three
brigades of British horse artillery. In June 1916, Chauvel also took over the
role of GOC AIF
Egypt from Lieutenant General A. J. Godley. He was therefore answerable both to
the British GOC-in-C of the EEF, General Sir A. J. Murray and to the GOC AIF
in France, Lieutenant General Sir W. R. Birdwood.
Once again, Chauvel's campaign started with being attacked by
the Turks. His division was committed to No. 3 Section of the Suez Canal
Defences, the northern part of the Suez Canal, under Major General H. A.
Lawrence. Arrangements were far from ideal. Command was divided between Chauvel
and Lawrence. The British infantry commanders would not take orders from
Chauvel, and Lawrence was too far away to control the battle. Lawrence's
dispositions were faulty, with the British infantry located too far away to
support the mounted troops, which resulted in the burden of defence falling on
the mounted troops. Chauvel chose his ground carefully, reconnoitring it from
the ground and the air, and selecting both forward and fall back positions. His
luck held; the German commander selected the same position as the forming up
area for his attack.
Chauvel's was unable to do more than direct the defence of his
position as two of his brigades had been taken away from him by Murray. Under
Lawrence's command, they did not move until too late. The counterattack that
Chauvel had been calling for all day did not materialise until dusk. At Katia
and again at Bir el Abd, Chauvel attempted to sweep around the Turkish flank but
wound up making frontal attacks on the Turkish rearguard and was beaten off by
determined counterattacks and by the timidity of Brigadier J.
M. Antill, who withdrew under light shelling.
Despite a haul of over 4,000
prisoners, Chauvel felt frustrated, his failure to rout and destroy the Turks
rankling him. However, for the Anzac horsemen, who suffered over 900 of the 1130
British casualties at Romani, it was a clear-cut victory, their first decisive
victory and the turning point of the campaign. Later Chauvel realised that it
was the first decisive British victory of the war outside Africa. And it was
Chauvel's victory, almost single handed and in spite of Murray and Lawrence.
Afterwards Chauvel visited each of his brigade and personally congratulated them
for the way that they had fought, a gesture that became a habit.
Afterwards, the command arrangements were altered. A new
command, Eastern Force, was formed under Lieutenant General Sir Charles Dobell,
and its advance troops, including Chauvel's Anzacs, became part of the Desert
Column under Lieutenant General Sir Phillip Chetwode, a capable British cavalry
baronet with a keen and insightful mind. Chauvel soon won victories over the
Turks at Magdhaba and Rafa. In these battles, Chauvel had a free hand,
answerable only to Chetwode, instead of the cumbersome arrangements on the
Canal. His men and commanders were more experienced, and his tactics simpler and
easier for them to follow, and intelligence on enemy dispositions considerably
better thanks to the work of the aviators of No. 1 Squadron, AFC. And still he
was lucky, the battle at Magdhaba being won after he gave the order to break
off, and the Rafa being won in spite of the same mistake by Chetwode, thanks to
Brigadier General C. F. "Fighting Charlie" Cox
ignoring the order. For these victories, Chauvel was created a Knight
Commander of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in the 1917 New Year's List.
In February 1917, a second mounted division, the Imperial
Mounted Division, was formed from the 3rd and 4th Light Horse Brigades and two
British mounted brigades. A British regular army officer, Major General Sir H.
W. Hodgson was appointed to command, with an all-British staff. The deliberate
mixing of Australian and Imperial troops was done with Chauvel's approval but
was contrary to the policy of the Australian Government, which soon registered
its displeasure, sending Brigadier General R.
M. McC. Anderson to Cairo to discuss the matter frankly with Chauvel and his
superiors. As a result, the Imperial Mounted Division was renamed the Australian
In the First Battle of Gaza, Chauvel's mission was similar to
Rafa and Magdhaba, but on a larger scale. He encircled the town while the
British infantry was to capture it. When this failed, Chetwode ordered Chauvel
to attempt to capture it from the rear. Chauvel successfully improvised a 4pm
assault on Gaza and captured the town despite the barriers of high cactus hedges
and fierce enemy opposition, entering it after dark, only to have an
out-of-touch Dobell order the mounted troops to withdraw, despite Chauvel's
protests. This time his brigadiers at the front, Brigadier Generals G.
de L. Ryrie and E. J. Chaytor, felt compelled to obey, as they could not see
the whole battle. All guns, including captured ones were hauled away, as were
all unwounded prisoners, the wounded and even the dead. Chauvel ensured that the
Turkish wounded were each left with a full water bottle.
Dobell decided to launch the Second Battle of Gaza as a full
scale frontal assault with heavy artillery, tanks and poison gas. It ended even
more unsatisfactorily, and Dobell was relieved, his place taken by Chetwode,
while Chauvel took over the Desert Column. Shortly after General Sir Edmund
Allenby took over the EEF
and moved to regularise the command set-up. The Desert Column became the Desert
Corps, with the Anzac Mounted Division, the Australian Mounted Division, the
British Yeomanry Division and the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade assigned.
Although some thought that Allenby would replace Chauvel with a British officer,
Allenby retained him in command. Chauvel thus, on 2 August 1917, became the
first Australian to permanently command a corps, and the first to reach the rank
of Lieutenant General.
In the Third Battle of Gaza, it was again Chauvel who had the
critical role. Chetwode believed that the EEF did not have the resources to
defeat the Turks in their fixed positions so he planned to drive the Turks from
them by turning the enemy flank at Beersheba. Beersheba lay on the edge of the
enemy line, in a waterless area. The Desert Mounted Corps would have a long
overnight approach over waterless desert and would have to capture the town
quickly with its wells intact or perish from thirst. Once again the battle went
right down to the line, but the mission was accomplished, albeit not without a
wild mounted bayonet charge by the 4th Light Horse Brigade -- perhaps the last of
history's great mounted charges -- to capture the town and its vital water
supply. Few battles have been won in such spectacular fashion. For
this decisive victory, and the subsequent capture of Jerusalem, Chauvel was
created a Knight Commander of
the Bath (KCB) in the 1918 New Years List.
Chauvel, however, was still disappointed at the failure to
destroy the Turkish army. The Turks had fought hard, forcing the commitment of
the Desert Mounted Corps in much fighting before the moment for a sweeping
pursuit came. When it did, the men and horses were too tired and could not
summon the required energy. Once again, Chauvel studied his mistakes, determined
to learn from them. In February 1918, the Desert Mounted Corps began a series of
operations across the Jordan. Chauvel faced great difficulties with the terrain,
the weather and a tenacious enemy. The campaign was not a success. The Desert
Mounted Corps found itself fighting outnumbered, with Turkish reinforcements
closing in from all sides. Chauvel was forced to withdraw back to the West Bank
of the Jordan. His handling of the withdrawal was as skilful as any operation he
Chauvel soon found his British troops diverted to France, to
be replaced by two Indian cavalry divisions, and the Australian Mounted Division
faced a similar fate for a time. Its Yeomanry brigade was disbanded and Chauvel
replaced it with a new 5th Light Horse Brigade formed from the Australian and
New Zealand components of the now disbanded Imperial Camel Corps Brigade, and a
French cavalry regiment. In the final campaign he was able to effect a secret
redeployment of three of his mounted divisions, launch a surprise attack on the
enemy, win the Battle of Megiddo and follow up this victory with one of the
fastest pursuits in military history -- an astonishing 167 km in just three
days. It was not just a great victory, but one of the greatest of all time. This
time he succeeded in destroying the Turkish army at last. At a cost of 533
battle casualties, the Desert Mounted Corps had taken over 70,000 prisoners.
The Desert Mounted Corps moved across the Golan Heights and
captured Damascus on 1 October. To restore calm in the city, Chauvel ordered a
show of force. This was later lampooned by Lieutenant Colonel T. E. Lawrence as
a "triumphal entry" but was actually a shrewd political stroke,
freeing Chauvel's forces to advance another 300 km to Aleppo, which was captured
on 25 October 1918. Five days later, Turkey surrendered. For his services as
commander of the Desert Mounted Corps, Chauvel was created a Knight
Grand Cross of St Michael and St George (GCMG) in the 1919 New Year's list.
Chauvel returned to Australia in late 1919 and was appointed
Inspector General, the Army's most senior post, which he held until 1930. In
February 1920, he was promoted to the substantive
rank of lieutenant general, back dated to 31 December 1919. In January 1920,
Chauvel chaired a committee to examine the future structure of the army. This
proved next to impossible in the face of defence cuts that were imposed in 1920
and 1922. On Lieutenant General C.
B. B. White's retirement in 1923, Chauvel also assumed the post of Chief of
Staff as well. In November 1929, he was promoted to the rank of full general,
becoming the first Australian to reach that rank. Chauvel attempted to maintain
an increasingly hollow structure in place. As Chief of the General Staff,
Chauvel had tried to keep standards up by arranging for regular officers to be
posted to British staff colleges at Camberley and Quetta, and the Imperial
Defence College. When conscription was abolished by the Scullin government in
1929, it was left up to Chauvel to make the new volunteer system work. He
retired in April 1930.
During the Second World War, he was recalled to duty as
Inspector General of the Volunteer Defence Corps, the Australian version of the
home guard. He held this post until he died on 4 March 1945. He is commemorated
in a bronze plaque in of St Paul's
Cathedral, Melbourne. His sword is in Christ Church, South Yarra, Melbourne
and his uniform in the Australian
War Memorial in Canberra. There is also a memorial window in the chapel of Royal
Military College at Duntroon.
As Inspector General and Chief of the General Staff, Chauvel
fought long and hard to ensure that the nucleus of a well trained army would be
available to meet the next great challenge, which eventually came in 1939, but
it will be as the leader of the light horse that he shall be remembered. Chauvel's
employment of his mounted troops was characterised by a firm understanding of
their capabilities. His leadership was characterised by painstaking preparations
and careful staff work. He exploited the mobility of the light horse, took
carefully calculated risks and, if things did not work out, quickly withdrew. He
employed his troops boldly in the tradition of the cavalry, and thereby achieved
great results, yet still kept his losses to a minimum. The capture of Beersheba,
and the final battle at Megiddo remain some of the finest feats achieved by
mounted troops in any war.