Thursday 19 April 2007 by Mal Booth. No comments
Exhibitions, Lawrence of Arabia and the Light Horse, Chauvel, Less than six degrees of separation

This post is a bit of a stretch, but I think the link is there and it is interesting enough, so here it goes. Recently, I have been reading up on the actions of our Light Horse in Palestine, particularly in late 1917 and 1918. This has all been related to the development of the exhibition text or storyline. Earlier, our efforts had concentrated on selecting items for the exhibition and then negotiating loans for those items that have to be borrowed. There'll be more about that soon. Currently, we are trying to finalise the text and all the captions and then get a designer on board.

So, now back to "Hooky" Walker . . . One of the loans we have negotiated from the UK is a sketch map that was drawn by Lawrence. It covers part of the route taken by Sharif Nasir's expedition from Wejh to Akaba in July 1917 to capture the Red Sea port from the Ottomans. This map is owned by the Royal Society for Asian Affairs in London and my negotiations for this loan were greatly assisted by Sir Harold "Hooky" Walker, their Chairman. Sir Harold told me that his grandfather was Lieutenant General Sir Harold "Hooky" Walker, who as an English regular officer had commanded the 1st Australian Division. General Walker took command of the 1st Australian Division temporarily on Gallipoli in May 1915 after Major General Sir William Throsby Bridges was mortally wounded.  After being wounded himself, General Walker left Gallipoli, but returned to command the Division as a Major General in France from March 1916 until July 1918 when he relinquished command "to the deep regret of his officers and men" according to Bean.

So, apart from the sketch map, what does this have to do with the exhibition you might ask?

Well, I found a rather interesting remark about General Walker made by Lieutenant General Sir Harry Chauvel. I had been reading about the terrible period from May to September 1918 when the Desert Mounted Corps under Chauvel had to occupy and defend the Jordan Valley while General Allenby prepared for his final push in the west. In late June Chauvel learned about the senior command changes in France when Lieutenant General Birdwood left command of the Australian Corps in France and Lieutenant General Monash took over. Birdwood remained as commander of the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF). Chauvel was the most senior Australian officer in the AIF at that stage and, although he believed he should have been offered the command of the Australian Corps in France, he wrote to his wife that he thought he was much better placed where he was. Apparently, Chauvel believed that it was more important to have an Australian in command of the AIF, but that as far as commanders in the field went, those appointments should go to the best man for the job.

In the 1 July 1918 letter to his wife, quoted by A.J. Hill in his biography Chauvel of the Light Horse, Chauvel writes of Monash's appointment to command the Australian Corps in France:

. . . What they want is a man who knows his job and will not sacrifice them unnecessarily. I don't, of course, know how things stand at present but when I knew the Australian infantry, they would  infinitely rather be led by W[alker] than M[onash].

Chauvel is of course referring to General Walker and probably based his opinion on what he knew of General Walker's actions on Gallipoli.

One of the joys of curating this exhibition is that in my position as Head of our Research Centre, I don't just have to read it in a book. I was easily able to drag out the actual letter written by Chauvel and I've attached some images below. It is pretty hard to read and I think written in pencil. I think Chauvel's sentiments express both his high regard for General Walker and his own beliefs about leading troops in the field. From what I've read, he always lead his own troops in that way.

Chauvel letter, 1 July 1918, Page 2. (PR00535) Chauvel letter, 1 July 1918, Page 2. (PR00535)

We thank Richard Chauvel for his permission to use items from the Chauvel collection in our exhibition.

References:

Chauvel of the Light Horse, A Biography of General Sir Harry Chauvel, GCMG, KCB, by A.J. Hill, Melbourne University Press 1978.

PR00535, Papers of General (Sir) Henry George Chauvel, GCMG, KCB. Guide available here.