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Remembrance Day 11th November 2017

William Fraser McKerrow, my great uncle, my Grandmother’s brother joined the AIF in Learmonth just outside Ballarat as a 25 year old share farmer on the 7th July 1915.

He joined only 2 ½ – months after the Gallipoli invasion [AWM]. He had nearly seven years in the local light horse squadron as a sergeant based in Ballarat, joining as an eighteen year old.

Just the person to join the Australian Light Horse.

By 2nd January 1916, William was taken on strength as a Lance Corporal, probably due to his previous experience in civilian life. By 2nd March 1917, William was assigned to the 4th Light Horse in Egypt. He then undertook training, with his active duties starting in June 1917.

Like a lot of the Australian soldiers, despite his admission papers showing he was a fit and healthy 5FT 11 ½ tall male, he succumbed to throat infections and malaria during July and August 1917, spending many days in hospital and recovery.

Other records show 35 days in hospital between 28/1/1918 and 4/3/1918

There are number of further hospital visits in early 1918 with the last for malaria just two weeks before William’s death

On 4th May 1917 William McKerrow was Killed-in-Action leaving a grieving father John McKerrow [who sought information about his death ats late as July 1930, receiving the memorial scroll and British war medal]: a sister, Penelope McKerrow [my Grandmother, who witnessed his Will leaving his worldy possessions to his mother].

The official record says “20/5/1918 – Graves Reg Not Buried E.S Salt”

The closeness of the family is shown by Lieutenant Norman McNicol MC, his brother in law, taking possession of his service star for 1914-18 and memorial plaque – 350088 in December 1922.

My brother in a conversation with Penelope McNicol’s daughter Mary, there is family knowledge of three Light Horsemen riding together and William is in the centre, being shot from a distance.

In AWM [Australian War Memorial] records, it shows:

In July 1918, William’s effects were sent home via Darwin, being received in December 1918.

He was one of 143 in A Squadron of some 495 men with the 4th Light Horse Regiment. There were 32 Drivers from transport and mixed numbers (17 men) in the Brigade HQ who charged. Some scouts were known to be in the charge but whether the batman and others did is unknown.

The last action by William McKerrow was at Es Salt in Palestine.

Es Salt, a village in Palestine 23 km west of Amman, was the scene of heavy fighting between 30 April and 3 May 1918. The fighting occurred as part of the second “raid” mounted east of the Jordan River by General Sir Edmund Allenby’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force.

The actual raiding troops – the Australian Mounted, ANZAC Mounted, and British 60th Infantry Divisions, and the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade – were commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Harry Chauvel and their aim was to secure a launching point for operations against the key railway junction at Deraa.

The operation progressed well initially with Es Salt being seized by the evening of 30 April. Increasingly determined Turkish resistance, including counter-attacks that threatened the flanks and rear of the advanced elements of the raiding force, eventually forced a withdrawal back to the Jordan on 3 May 1918.

The raid failed in its objectives but did serve a purpose in that it encouraged Turkish commanders to believe Allenby’s next major effort would be launched across the Jordan, when in fact it would be launched along the coastal plain.


William McKerrow was one of 143 in A Squadron of some 495 men with the 4th Light Horse Regiment. There were 32 Drivers from transport and mixed numbers (17 men) in the Brigade HQ who charged. Some scouts were known to be in the charge but whether the batman and others did is unknown.

In the words of Robyn Van-Dyk in 2007:

The battle of Beersheba took place on 31 October 1917 as part of the wider British offensive collectively known as the third Battle of Gaza. The final phase of this all day battle was the famous mounted charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade.

Commencing at dusk, members of the brigade stormed through the Turkish defences and seized the strategic town of Beersheba. The capture of Beersheba enabled British Empire forces to break the Ottoman line near Gaza on 7 November and advance into Palestine.

At 3:30 pm there was only a few hours of daylight remaining and orders were issued for the final phase of the struggle, the occupation of Beersheba.

Lieutenant General Sir Harry Chauvel decided to put General Grant’s 4th Light Horse Brigade straight at the remaining trenches, from the south-east. Chauvel knew that he must take the town before dark in order to secure the wells for Allenby’s large force. Private Keddie recorded: “We began to talk among ourselves saying Beersheba will be taken and us not doing anything when about 5 o’clock our major came and said that Beersheba had not been captured but we were going in”.

The notes from the diary of James Harold Gleeson, Number 140:

He did spend some time with the 1st Light Horse Regiment [LHR] and was shot in the leg at Gallipoli in Aug 1915 and repatriated to Malta. He joined/rejoined?? the 12th LHR in March 1916 and served with the 12th until discharged in 1919.

The entry for 31 Oct 1917 reads:

“Bombardment of Beersheba commenced about sunrise.
4th troop sent to escort ammunition.
21st Division opened up the attack about 9am with Australian Division in support and held on all day till 4pm.
4th Brigade went up at the trot to the front line.
4th Brigade charged at the gallop and went straight through and took possession of Beersheba.
750 prisoners taken.
Ten field guns.
About dark Taube dropped few bombs amongst the eschelon causing 30 casulaties in 1st Brigade and 50 horses.
A Squadron of 12th Regiment suffered pretty heavily.
Found good water supply in town and horse fodder.Also number of horses and mules.
Turks fired the mosque and ammunition stores.”

Wiliam Mckerrow’s record is quite lengthy as he survived the Bersheeba Charge.

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