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Page history last edited by Lenore Frost 1 year, 7 months ago

Volunteers of Essendon and Flemington, 1914-1918


Courtesy of Kim Phillips,

Spirits of  Gallipoli website


Kerr R    Pte    400    Robert               8 LHR    31    Commercial traveller    Single    Pres       

Address:    Essendon, Brewster St, 52   

Next of Kin:    Kerr, Robert, father, 52 Brewster St, Essendon   

Enlisted:    16 Sep 1914       

Embarked:     A16 Star of Victoria 25 Feb 1915   


Date of Death:  7/8/15

CWGC: "Son of Robert and Jane H. Kerr, of "Restalrig," Brewster St., Essendon, Victoria, Australia".




Trooper Robert Kerr


Rod Martin


Aged thirty-one years and six months when he enlisted on 16 September 1914,  Robert Kerr was a single man, a commercial traveller by trade who lived with his father at 52 Brewster Street, Essendon.  At 175 centimetres in height and just under seventy-nine kilos in weight, Robert was quite a large man for the time and easily met the entry requirements set down by the military in those early days of the war.  His attestation form did note that there was some issue about the state of his teeth, but the problem was obviously not big enough to preclude him from being selected to join the Australian Light Horse, a formation of mounted infantry. He was assigned to the eighth regiment (8 LHR).  Quite possibly, his days as a commercial traveller may well have involved him in riding horses to visit distant customers across the state.  Robert had no previous militia experience.  An interesting fact is his age.  When so many young and fit men were rushing to enlist at this beginning stage of the war, why did the military choose a man at least ten years older than the majority of the recruits?  Perhaps it was felt that he would have a calming influence on many an exuberant youth when it was needed!


A number of 8 LHR recruits left Australia in December 1914, arriving in Egypt in February the following year.  Robert was not among them.  It would appear that, soon after he he was recruited in September 1914, 8 LHR was restructured to comprise three squadrons, each of six troops.  The total complement of the regiment was twenty-five officers and 497 other ranks.  Robert was assigned to C Squadron.


C Squadron 8 Light Horse Regiment 1915         (State Library of Victoria Collection H82.32)


Records indicate that the majority of 8 LHR left for Egypt on 25 February 1915.




 Members of 8 LHR at Port Melbourne, waiting to board A16 Star of Victoria 

 (AWM J02700 and J02772)


8 LHR’s war record begins on 16 May 1915 with the report that the unit sailed for Gallipoli that day.  Up until that time, the troopers had stayed in Egypt after arriving, undergoing training in the desert.  When the first landing at Gallipoli occurred on 25 April that year, it was quickly discovered that the terrain at Gaba Tepe (Anzac Cove) was unsuitable for the horses that had been transported there.  The problems were that there was insufficient space in which to corral a large number of horses, and the terrain was too steep for them to be useful.  As a result, most of them were sent back, and the light horsemen stayed in Egypt for the time being.


Second Lieutenant Charles Carthew of 8 LHR with two of the famous

Waler horses in Egypt 1915  ( AWM J02783) 


However, after the initial success of the first day of the landing, the conflict at Anzac Cove quickly bogged down as the Turks brought in more forces, and a war of attrition began.  Heavy casualties among the Australian infantry forces quickly led to the British command, asking Colonel Harry Chauvel, commander of 1 Light Horse, if his men could be used as infantrymen.  Chauvel agreed and the troops, 476 men of 8LHR among them, including Robert, were dispatched from Alexandria on 16 May. The diary recorded that all of the horses were left behind at their base at Heliopolis.


After a brief stay at the island of Lemnos, the units headed for Gallipoli.  However, when they arrived, fighting was underway and it was too dangerous for them to land.  They were ordered back to Lemnos until 21 May, and they were then taken to Anzac Cove by a destroyer. They went ashore and dug in for the night.  By the twenty-fifth, the one-month anniversary of the first landing, 8 LHR was deployed at Walker’s Ridge, on the heights above the cove and in action against the Turks, who were in trenches nearby.  The very next day, seven men were wounded by a sniper.  The others no doubt learned very quickly that very few places were safe at Gallipoli! 


On the twenty-ninth, Turkish forces attacked the ridge, killing one 8 LHR man.  The unit commander noted in the diary that the brunt of the attack was borne by the troops based at Quinn’s Post nearby.  This attack may have been an after-event assault by the Turks to show that they were still a potent fighting force.  On 19 May, they had staged a major assault, aimed at reaching the beach and driving the Anzacs into the sea.  The Anzacs held firm and the Turks lost an estimated 10,000 men, 3,000 of them deaths.  The Anzacs suffered just under 700 casualties.  This was the one and only major Turkish attack of the campaign.  It was important for them to regroup after such a massive defeat.


 Anzac Cove as seen from Walker’s Ridge   (AWM H00302)


8 LHR stayed at Walker’s Ridge until 7 June, when it was relieved and moved to a rest bivouac.  However, as noted above, no spot at Gallipoli was entirely safe.  If the men even went for a swim in the sea, they were likely to be bombarded by shrapnel shells that burst above them, scattering pieces of iron, ball bearings and other solid hazards into the water.  The men returned to Walker’s Ridge on 20 June, and three of them were killed and one wounded (subsequently died at sea) on the twenty-second.  The commander reported on the twenty-seventh that the Turks shelled them heavily and five men, including the second in command, were killed and sixteen wounded, including the 8 LHR commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander White.  Between the twenty-eighth and the thirtieth of the month, the Turks shelled the post quite heavily and even mounted a frontal attack, which was repulsed. The attacks cost the Turks an estimated 250 killed and an equal number wounded.  In return, the regiment lost six men killed and twelve wounded.


On 4 July, 8 LHR was relieved and moved to a rest bivouac at the foot of Walker’s Ridge.  By that time, Lieutenant Colonel White had returned to the unit.  While still resting the unit suffered a tragedy on the fourteenth of the month when the medical officer, Captain S Campbell, was killed while swimming at the beach. What was that warning about the place being dangerous?  On 29 July, the men relieved 9 LHR at Walker’s Top.  At 5.30 pm that day, one man was killed and two wounded while located on the so-called Shrapnel Terrace - named for obvious reasons.


Shrapnel Terrace, on the path to Walker’s Top.

Note the dugouts down the side. (AWM J02738)


Tired of the ongoing stalemate at Gallipoli, the British command in early August planned a breakout, conducting a number of actions designed to take over the high ground at the northern point of Anzac Cove and create a link with a new front, to be established by the landing of British forces at Suvla Bay, north of the cove.  As the website Anzac Portal puts it:


The main objectives of the August Offensive were to capture two peaks on the             

 Sari Bair Range - Chunuk Bair and Hill 971.


If successful, this would have:

  • protected the troops at Anzac from enemy observation and fire
  • given them a clear view over the eastern approaches to the peninsula


The elaborate plan for the August Offensive included many military actions:

  • British troops would break out at Helles, at the tip of the peninsula
  • Australian troops would create a diversionary attack at Lone Pine on 400 Plateau, south-east of Anzac Cove
  • Australian, British, Indian and New Zealand troops would assault Sari Bair
  • New Zealand Infantry Brigade would assault Chunuk Bair
  • Australian 4th Brigade would assault Hill 971
  • British troops and 300 Australian engineers would land at Suvla Bay, 8km north of Anzac


To divert the Turks’ attention from the landing at Suvla Bay, a number of feints were planned: Lone Pine, Sari Bair, Chunuk Bair and Hill 971.  An extra one was planned that it not listed above: the Nek, a narrow stretch of No Man’s Land connecting Australian and New Zealand trenches on the ridge known as "Russell's Top" to the knoll called "Baby 700" on which the Turkish defenders were entrenched.  The distance between the opposing trenches was no more than thirty to fifty metres.  The attack across this heavily defended space was designed to support the New Zealand troops assaulting Chunuk Bair.


Post-war view from the Australian trenches across to the Turkish trenches at the Nek. 

The monument, laying behind the Turkish trenches, was constructed by the Turks

subsequent to the attack.  Note the skull and bones in the middle ground.   (AWM G02013B)


The attack was to be carried out by 3 LH Brigade, specifically by 8 and 10 LHRs.  The Australian commanders on the spot knew the dangers of the attack - men running into the face of well-established Turkish machine guns - and they expressed their concerns.  As Peter Burness wrote in The Nek:


[New Zealand General] Godley was proposing to use the light horsemen in a massed bayonet attack of a kind which had been rendered ineffective by weapon developments back at the time of the American Civil War.


When told of the Australian commanders’ concerns, Godley was obdurate, as were the men charged to conduct the operation. They had their orders from above and orders must be followed!  8 LHR would go forward first (150 men at a time because Nek was so narrow) with bayonets and bombs. Then the second line would sweep on and take the lower trenches of Baby 700.  Then the third and fourth lines, composed of Western Australians from 10 LHR, would drive further into the Turkish lines, establish themselves and dig in.  None of the troops would have bullets in their rifles because it was felt that they would not have time to fire during their rushes. How they would defend themselves when attempting to take the Turkish trenches does not seem to have been considered.


Another post-war photo showing the terrain the men were expected to cross,

while facing Turkish machine guns. (AWM P03631.228)


That was the plan, anyway.  At 4.30 am on 7 August, after counter-bombardments the evening before, Lieutenant Colonel White led the first line of 8 LHR men (nine officers and 150 other men) over the edges of the trenches and into No Man’s Land. The second line followed quickly, led by the second in command, Major Redford.  Which line Robert was in we do not know. The bravery of these men knows no bounds.  As the war diary puts it,


Owing to a deadly machine gun fire, the attack failed to get home.


George Lambert: The Charge of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade at the Nek 7th August 1915  (1924) 

(AWM ART 07965) 


After the two disastrous attacks by 8 LHR, the war diarist (obviously a survivor!) reported that the regiment had lost twenty-one killed and seventy-six wounded.  The largest figure reported, however, was that of the missing: 127.  Those men lay out in No Man’s Land, and included Robert.  Also laying with them were the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel White and his second in command, Major Redford.


Lieutenant Colonel Alexander White, aged 33.

The Bill Hunter officer character in Peter Weir’s film

Gallipoli was modelled on him. A small memorial

plaque is located in the garden bed at the beach end

of Cole Street, Brighton, Victoria - the street in

which he lived before sailing for Egypt. (AWM H19261)


However, the carnage was not over.  Sadly, the third charge, by 10 Light Horse Regiment (WA), was ordered to go ahead by an Australian: Lieutenant-Colonel John Antill. Despite being told of the slaughter that had already occurred in the first two charges, he gave the order to push on without referring to those higher than himself. In the words of then war correspondent Charles Bean, ''The 10th went forward to meet death instantly''. It was reported that some of the men did not even bother to take their weapons with them. They knew they were doomed.


The fourth charge was then called off.  Those men were VERY lucky!


600 men were involved in the three charges.  234 of them were killed and 138 wounded.  The dead lay on the ground until the end of the war in 1918. It was too dangerous for the military to retrieve the bodies before they evacuated the peninsula in December 1915.  By the time Australian officials returned to Gallipoli after the war ended, only scattered bones remained.


Post script: Of the feints carried out that day, the only successful one was at Lone Pine.  The British landed successfully at Suvla Bay but then, when they should have consolidated their position and begun to move inland towards the Anzac heights, they stopped to refresh themselves with some tea and biscuits.  By the time they were ready to move, the Turks had reinforced their opposing positions, and the plan was thwarted.  All of the men who died that day died in vain.  The strategic position at Gallipoli did not change and remained that way until the Allies evacuated the peninsula in December 1915.


Constructing the cemetery on the No Man’s Land at the Nek. The Turkish memorial can be seen behind their trenches at the top of the picture.  (ww1cemeteries.com)


The cemetery today, constructed over the remains of the 234 Australians who died there. (news.com.au)


Because they had no individual graves, the names of the men who died at the Nek are inscribed on the Lone Pine Memorial at Gallipoli. Trooper Robert Kerr is remembered there.


(Commonwealth War Graves Commission)



Australian War Memorial

Burness, Peter: The Nek, Roseville, Kangaroo Press, 1996

Carlyon, Les: Gallipoli, Sydney, Pan Macmillan, 2001

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Dennis, Peter et al: The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History,  Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1995  




Moorhead, Alan: Gallipoli, London, Nel Mentor, 1974

National Archives of Australia

Phillips, Kim

State Library of Victoria


Mentioned in this publication

Essendon Gazette 12 Jul 1917 in item relating to the death of Jennings-J-E-2nd-Lt


Essendon Gazette 29 July 1915

The following is an extract from a letter dated 16th June, written in the  trenches by Private R. Kerr, to his mother, Mrs R Kerr, Brewster St, Essendon:·-—

"Just a few lines from the firing line to let, you know I am still alive, and in the best of health. We arrived here safely, only having 5 shells fired at us. I was a bit shy at first, but after the first day I went about as if nothing were going on. The Turks always fire a big gun at us just about dinner time, so we have christened it "Dinner Time Kate." You should see us ‘duck’ like a lot of rabbits into their borrows when we hear the shells coming. Our troops have been in the firing for the last fortnight. We do 48 hours on and 48 hours off. During that time I have not had my clothes off, and have had only one wash. While I am writing this bullets are hitting the bank above me. We are 150 yards away from the enemy-—in some places they are only 50 yards away.  The Turks have been very quiet for the last few days. I think they have had enough, as we  have been giving  them a rough time. Life in the trenches is not too bad, it is safer here than in the rest trenches and we are well looked after." The above letter was written on two pages torn from his notebook, then folded about two inches square in another leaf and  stitched round with linen thread, reaching his mother in safety.

It augers well for the care the Postal authorities take of "Our Boys' ” correspondence, the letter being so small, and easily missed.


Mr Robert Kerr, of 52 Brewster street, Essendon, was officially notified
this morning that his son, Private Robert Kerr, is reported missing. Pri-
vate Kerr was a member of the 8th Light Horse which distinguished itself
In the recent charge at Gallipoli.

LIGHT HORSEMAN MISSING (1915, August 30). The Herald

(Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 - 1954), p. 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242354743


Essendon Gazette Thursday 2 September 1915

Advice has been received by the Defence authorities of the death at the Dardanelles of Private Robert Kerr only son of Mr Robert Kerr, JP of Brewster street Essendon. Mr Kerr is president or the Scottish Union of Victoria.


Private R. Kerr, son of Mr. Robert Kerr, of Essendon, has been killed while  fighting in Gallipoli. The deceased was a popular young fellow, 30 years of  age: and was fighting with the 8th Light Horse, when that body was almost  decimated. The sad news was received by his father yesterday morning, and  great sympathy is felt for the family in the sad bereavement they have  sustained.


With the Colours

At the Essendon Court, on Monday, Mr.- S. Goldsmith, P.M.. referred to the absence of Mr. R. Kerr, J.P., a regular attendant on the bench, and expressed his sympathy for the family in connection with the death of Private R. Kerr, of the 8th Light Horse, during the recent glorious charge of the Australians at the Dardanelles. Mr. C. J. McFarlane also made sympathetic reference to the sad happening on behalf of the legal profession.

WITH THE COLOURS. (1915, September 9). The Essendon Gazette and Keilor, Bulla and Broadmeadows Reporter (Moonee Ponds, Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 5 Edition: Morning. Retrieved January 14, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74590028



War Service Commemorated

Essendon Town Hall F-L

Essendon State School 

St John's Presbyterian Church*

Essendon Gazette Roll of Honour killed

Regimental Register


In Memoriam


KERR.-ln loving memory of Robert Kerr, 8th Aus-
tralian Light Horse, killed at Lonesome Pine, 7th August,
1915. (Inserted by father, mother, and sisters,
"Restalrig," Essendon.)

Family Notices. (1916, August 7). The Argus, p. 1.



KERR.-In loving remembrance of Robert Kerr (8th
Light Horse), killed at Lone Pine, 7th August, 1915,
only son of Mr. and Mrs. R. Kerr, "Restalrig,"
Essendon, brother of Margaret and Rae.


ROBERTS-KERR - A tribute to the memory of   
Sergeant Roberts*, Trooper Kerr, and the brave boys
of the 8th Light Horse, who fell on the 7th 
August, 1915
" Theirs not to reason why"  
-(C and W Cashmore )

Family Notices. (1917, August 7). The Argus p. 1.



*42 Sgt Henry George Roberts, 8LHR, died 7 Aug 1915 aged 29.  Musician of "Quamby", Royal Parade, Royal Park.


No further notices in The Argus to 1919.

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