Remembering Lyle Chase
Lyle Chase died the day the First World War ended.
He had enlisted with his younger brother, William, and was serving in the 6th Australian Light Horse Regiment in the Middle East when he became dangerously ill during the last days of the war.
He was admitted to hospital, suffering from malaria and pneumonia. But nothing could be done to save him.
His condition slowly declined, and Lyle Chase quietly succumbed to his illnesss, dying on the final day of the war as the rest of the world celebrated the declaration of peace.
Today, his name is listed on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial, alongside the names of almost 62,000 Australians who died while serving during the First World War.
For researcher Meghan Adams, Lyle’s story is powerful reminder of the lives lost.
“It’s very sad,” Adams said.
“He’s 41 years old and he’s gone and done his bit ...
“And it ends up being the final chapter in his life.”
Lyle Joscelin Chase was born on 17 October 1879 in Nebo, Queensland, the eldest of five children born to Richard Chase, a grazier, and his wife Jane.
He grew up on the large, remote cattle stations where his father worked, and was educated at home, alongside his siblings.
By the time he was a young man, the family had relocated to Llanillo Station, a sheep farming property near Walgett, in far north New South Wales, where his father was the station manager.
Lyle took on the role of station overseer when his father retired in 1913, and was working there when war broke out in 1914.
He was almost 40 years old when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in July 1917, alongside his younger brother William, who was the station manager at Howlong Station, near Hay.
“They were talented horsemen, so it’s no surprise that when they enlist, they go straight into the Light Horse,” Adams said.
“They’re a fair bit older, so they don’t enlist up until mid-1917, which is about the time when you start seeing restrictions about who can enlist being relaxed a bit.”
Lyle and William were allocated to reinforcements for the 6th Light Horse Regiment and began their training in Australia. William had been anxious to enlist in the Light Horse, and had to get permission from the station owner, Major W. Oswald Watt, who was serving on the Western Front with the Australian Flying Corps.
“William had to wait until the shearing was over before he could go,” Adams said.
“And there’s a lovely article in the newspapers about how Lyle was best man at his brother’s wedding, just before they left Australia, in February 1918.”
They embarked for overseas service together on board the troopship Ormond, just two weeks later.
After several weeks at sea, the brothers arrived in Egypt to take part in the fighting against German and Ottoman forces in Palestine. Both contracted measles on the ship, however, and spent the first few weeks of active service in hospital recovering, unable to join the rest of their unit until June 1918. Their arrival came in the wake of two major raids – at Amman in February and Es Salt in May – after which the 6th Light Horse was engaged in holding the lines around the Jordan Valley.
“During this period, they spent a fair bit of time patrolling, and were involved in skirmishes with Ottoman and German forces in the desert,” Adams said.
In July 1918, Chase’s unit helped to repulse enemy attempts to retake the Jordan Valley and Jericho.
Allied forces then set their sights on the Syrian capital of Damascus, seeking to take multiple ports along the coast while pushing the enemy out of Palestine.
“It’s a pretty interesting time in the war,” Adams said. “The allies are trying to make a final push through to Damascus and the obvious route for them to attack is through the Jordan Valley.
“But the Jordan Valley is pretty inhospitable, so they leave some of the Australian Light Horse units there to try and make the Ottoman and German forces think that’s where they are going to attack, but instead, they come up the coast and take a number of cities.
“Chase’s unit is left in the Jordan Valley, building dummy camps and horse lines, where they’re exposed to some pretty horrendous conditions.
“You’ve got temperatures soaring over 50 degrees Celsius, troops battling high humidity, and dust, as well as flies, mosquitos and scorpions, not to mention problems with diseases, such as malaria, which were crippling their already depleted units.
“It’s not a nice place for them to be at the time – they’re living rough in camps, and they don’t have great access to nutritious food, hygiene, that kind of thing ...
“They’ve got their horses with them as well, which all need to be cared for, so it’s a pretty horrendous time for them all, but eventually the Allied push proves to be a success.
“The Chase brothers are both part of the final advances in the last days of the war here.”
On 19 September, the Megiddo offensive began, pushing Ottoman and German forces back towards Syria. The Chase brothers were part of the advance to capture Amman, which fell on 25 September 1918, after days of heavy fighting. This series of defeats culminated in the total surrender of the Ottoman Empire just weeks later, with the signing of the Armistice of Mudros on 30 October 1918.
But the war was not over for Chase and his brother. With war still raging in Europe, the Chase brothers continued regimental duties over the weeks that followed and were engaged in regular training exercises as they waited to see what happened on the Western Front.
“But Chase’s time in the Jordan Valley had taken its toll on his health,” Adams said.
“It’s an interesting environment for the troops there, and it’s in such contrast to life on the Western Front, where you see a lot of freezing cold winters – mud, rain, that kind of thing.
“In the Jordan Valley, it’s crippling heat, dust, sandstorms, malaria, so it’s pretty hard conditions, even for hard core, tough bushmen, like Chase and his brother, who had lived and worked on cattle stations all their lives.
“It clearly takes a toll on your health. Not only are you grappling with the awful conditions, but you’ve got a war going on, so it’s a pretty difficult time for them.
“He eventually became quite ill and, in early November, was taken to hospital for treatment.
“There, they discovered he was suffering from malaria, and pneumonia as well, so he was quite sick.
“His condition went downhill rapidly, and he succumbed to his illness on 11 November 1918, the final day of the war.”
Lyle Chase was laid to rest shortly after, and now lies at Ramleh War Cemetery, beneath the simple inscription chosen by his family: “Duty nobly done.”
His brother William returned home to Australia after the war, and named his first child, Richard Lyle Chase – Richard after his father; and Lyle after the brother he had lost during the war.
The boy was known as Lyle for most of his life.