MICA long field
Hugo Vivian Hope 'Jim' Throssell was born on 26 October 1884 at Northam, Western Australia, one of fourteen children born to George and Ann (nee Morrell) Throssell. He was educated at Prince Alfred College in Adelaide. Following his schooling he worked on cattle stations in the north of Western Australia until, in 1912, he and his brother Frank Eric 'Ric' Throssell worked a 1000-acre wheat property at Cowcowing, north east of Northam, which their father had bought for them.
On 29 September 1914, following the outbreak of the First World War, both brothers presented themselves to the Northam enlistment centre and were assigned to 10 Light Horse Regiment (10LHR), forming part of 3 Light Horse Brigade (3LHB). Throssell was posted to the 2nd reinforcements for 10LHR as a second lieutenant, embarking on HMAT A50 Itonus on 19 February 1915.
During 10LHR's initial deployment to Gallipoli on 19 May, Throssell and a detachment of men remained in Egypt with the horses while the rest of the regiment went to Gallipoli as an unmounted infantry unit. He finally arrived on Gallipoli on 4 August. At dawn on the 7th, 10LHR and 8LHR stood to arms for a bayonet charge uphill from the allied trenches on Russell's Top.
The charge was directed toward a well entrenched enemy at "the Nek", a saddle of land connecting the allied position and the Sari Bair Range, the objective of the allied August offensive. Throssell was put in charge of 'C' Troop, A Squadron, his first command, in the fourth and final wave of the attack. The charge of the first three waves ended in disaster. They simply dissolved under the hail of Turkish rifle and machine gun fire in what was later described as 'one continuous roaring tempest'.
Urgent requests to Brigade Headquarters to abandon the action were rejected and Throssell gave his men the option of changing to a unit with a more experienced leader. All declined. They went over the top and were immediately pinned down. The men could do nothing more than shelter in a shallow depression against the hail of fire for 90 minutes, just ten yards from their own trench. Finally, headquarters accepted that further action would result in almost complete annihilation and withdrew what troops remained.
'That FOOL charge', as Throssell would later describe it, cost 3LHB 234 killed and around 140 wounded 'without ever drawing blood on the Turks.' For their part, 10LHR lost 80 officers and men killed in a matter of minutes. What remained of the regiment stayed in the firing line at Russell's Top for three weeks, 30 yards from the Turkish trenches, subjected to bombings three times a day and unable even to retrieve the bodies of their dead comrades. They were finally relieved on 26 August. The regiment left Russell's Top with barely half their original numbers.
Two days later General Godley, who had been given the task of capturing Kaiajik Aghala, or Hill 60, as it was known to the allies, addressed the officers of 10LHR. There was to be an assault on the hill, an important tactical feature held by the Turks that was preventing the Allied forces from joining up, and the regiment was told to be ready to move on short notice. Previous attempts by 9LHR, 18 Battalion, the NZ Mounted Rifles and the 5th Connaught Rangers had been partially successful in capturing enemy trenches, but the summit, though taken briefly, remained in the hands of the Turks. On the southern side of the hill, Allied and Turkish forces occupied the same trenches, separated only by barricades of sandbags.
10LHR was charged with capturing the remaining portion of the important 'C-D' trench. The 150 yard trench was below the top of the hill, across 80 yards of open ground. Its successful capture would create a secure corridor between the Allied forces at Suvla Bay and Anzac. Godley expressed every confidence in the regiment's ability to take the trench, though he impressed upon them that the difficulty would lie in holding it. Repeated attempts to secure the area had already cost thousands of lives.
To familiarise themselves the officers of 10LHR, including Lieutenant Throssell, were taken forward to observe the enemy trenches. He would later recall the crossing of one section which was exposed to enemy sniper fire as that 'terrible 20 yards [where] we just doubled up and ran for our lives, treading on dead and wounded men.'
Early that evening 10LHR was ordered to make ready for the assault. At 10pm, the regiment moved through the trenches of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles up to its jump-off points in Trenches 2 and 3. Their orders were to attack the enemy in two lines. The first charge was to capture the trench using bayonet and bomb (a fuse-lit hand grenade), the second wave to carry tools to fortify and consolidate the captured positions. Captain Fry selected Throssell to lead the second line. His men were to attack the extreme right portion of 'C-D' trench which was still held by the Turks.
As this was to be a surprise attack, there was none of the usual bombardment that preceded an assault. At 1.00am on the 29th, Fry's men rose silently from Trench 3 and moved forward. Captain Robertson's 'C' Squadron, however, rose with a shout from Trench 2 and charged, alerting a Turkish machine gun post which began to fire. Nevertheless, by the time the Turks realised the extent of the assault, the first line of Australians had already reached the enemy trench and had overcome any initial resistance.
Throssell's line followed soon afterward and his troop immediately began building barricades against the anticipated counter-attacks. The regiment's casualties at this stage were relatively low, coming mostly from 'C' squadron during its initial run-in with the machine gun. The trench itself, however, was testament to the bloody fighting of the previous days and weeks. The Australians arrived to find so many Turkish and Australian corpses in it as to almost block their passage. Before they could begin to deepen and fortify their positions, they had to heave the corpses over the parapet of the trench to join others lying in no-man's-land.
Throssell stood guard while the rest of the unit built defences. Soon the Turks began to file back down the trench but he shot five before they could properly determine how much of the trench had fallen to the Australians. Before long the Turks began to bomb Throssell's position. They had put barricades up of their own about five feet from the Australians, leaving a 'neutral' section between them, empty of all but their own dead.
The Australians had been equipped with a supply of 2,500 bombs. Each man was given two as they made their way to the front line. From the time of the enemy counter attacked, Throssell and his unit were engaged throwing bombs or returning the bombs of the Turks before they could explode. A member of Throssell's unit later recalled the exchange: 'Well, it was a great game, a kind of tennis over the traverse and sand bags, and the prize every time was men's lives. But the boys played it calmly as if we'd been playing with rubber balls over a net in a rose garden, with the girls looking on, and afternoon tea at the finish.'
After some time the Turks threw a larger explosive charge that destroyed Throssell's barricade and climbed over to charge the Australians. Throssell and his men, together with another unit close by, managed to hold the attackers with bombs and rifle fire. The enemy were driven off but not before Throssell's unit had been forced back behind another partly built barricade. Fifteen minutes later, another Turkish bomb assault was launched, followed by a second general charge. They were met by a determined Australian defence and once more repelled, although Captain Fry was mortally wounded by one of the Turkish bombs. With Fry's death, command of the squadron now rested with Throssell.
For a while the Turks continued to exchange bomb fire until, at 3.00am, they launched another attack. Against the odds the Australians managed to drive the Turks right out of the trench. Between 4 and 4.30 the Turks launched another counter attack. By this time the regiment's numbers had been reduced significantly from the 180 that took part in the initial charge. Throssell said later that their position was 'hopelessly outnumbered' against an enemy that seemed to be unlimited. Twice his unit had to surrender five yard sections of trench and rebuild barricades.
Throssell, although wounded with a bullet through the neck and a bomb fragment through the shoulder, kept encouraging his men to greater efforts. At dawn, the silhouettes of the approaching enemy could be seen and it was estimated that the Turks outnumbered Throssell's men by eight to one. He gave the word to wait for his mark before they made their move. Then he cried 'Shout and yell, boys, and coo-ee like the devil', and they opened fire. With no thought of cover or safety, Throssell and his men stood and fired into the oncoming Turks as rapidly as possible. The noise created by the rifle fire and the shouts apparently convinced the Turks that the Australian numbers were actually greater than their own and they retreated when within 10 yards of the Australian trench, and almost certain victory.
The respite was short-lived and almost immediately the Turks resumed their charge and were met with the same dogged resistance. On the next and most determined attack the enemy changed their tactics. For an hour the Australians battled on three fronts; from the rear, the front, and from the flank between themselves and the New Zealand trench.
Observing the desperate situation of the Australians, six New Zealanders, aided by men from 18 Battalion AIF, moved from their trenches with a machine gun, firing on the Turks coming up behind the regiment's position. At the same time Lieutenant Tom Kidd, and a dozen men from 10LHR charged toward the advancing Turks. This time the Turks retreated and did not return. While the summit of Kaiajik Aghala was never taken, 10LHR succeeded in taking and holding the trench that proved a vital link between Suvla and Anzac.
Although Throssell was seriously wounded, he remained in position until he was sure that the danger was over. He only sought medical treatment when Captain Robertson ordered him to an aid station. Robertson later recalled Throssell's state, when he offered him a cigarette: 'The wounds on his shoulders and arms had stiffened, and his hand could not reach his mouth. He wore no jacket, but had badges on the shoulder straps of his shirt. The shirt was full of holes from pieces of bomb, and one of the 'Australias' was twisted and broken, and had been driven into his shoulder.'
For his actions during the fighting at Hill 60, Throssell was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC), the only such honour awarded to a member of the light horse and the first for a Western Australian in the First World War. The recommendation for the award reads: 'For most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Although wounded in several places he refused to leave the trench, or obtain assistance, until all danger had passed, when he went and had his wounds dressed, and returned to the firing line until ordered out of action by the Medical Officer. By his personal example he kept up the spirit of his party, which was largely instrumental in saving the situation at a critical period.'
Throssell's deeds were all the more remarkable given the confirmation put forward by witnesses. In his evidence, Captain Bentley, a doctor with the Australian Army Medical Corps writes that '[Throssell] was wounded by rifle bullets (1) in the left shoulder which cut the muscle almost down to the bone (2) on the right side of the neck from front to back and (3) by splinters of bomb over various parts of the hands and face.' Bentley, after tending Throssell's wounds and hearing the anecdotes from men who had fought beside him in the trench that night, believed that he deserved 'the highest tribute which it is possible to give.' Lieutenant Kidd wrote that Throssell 'fought like a lion and was mainly instrumental in our arms being victorious.'
Throssell was evacuated off Gallipoli to Lemnos and on to England for treatment. While in England he underwent surgery to correct a temporary deafness that was a result of his wounds. The surgery was a success though he contracted cerebro-spinal meningitis and was seriously ill for some time. While recovering in hospital he was visited by his brother Ric who told him that he had been awarded the VC. The award was presented to Throssell on 4 December 1915, at Buckingham Palace by King George V.
Throssell's squadron commander, Major Tom Todd, who had been convalescing in England following the charge at The Nek, also paid a visit to Hugo at Wandsworth Hospital. Todd was well aware of Hugo's exploits on Hill 60 and was determined that his story be told. He organised an introduction for Throssell to the emerging author and columnist Katharine Susannah Prichard in the hope that she would be just as impressed. Prichard certainly made an impression on Throssell. When Todd recognised the mutual attraction between them he told Prichard: 'You can get engaged to him if you like, but you can't marry him until after the war.'
On 17 April 1916, Throssell was invalided back to Australia on 'light duties' aboard HMAT A11 Ascanius. While in Australia, he campaigned vigorously for the war effort, and for the affections of Katharine Prichard. In November he returned to active service and left from Fremantle on 22 January 1917 with the 23rd Reinforcements for 10LHR, on HMAT A45 Bulla. He rejoined his unit on 17 March and on 19 April took part in the Second Battle of Gaza.
During the battle he sustained serious gunshot wounds to his left thigh and foot and his brother Ric was killed. Though Throssell's wounds healed, the loss of Ric was a shattering blow from which he never fully recovered.
Throssell was promoted to captain on 15 August and in October 1917 10LHR took part in the breakthrough of the Gaza-Beersheba line. On 20 November the regiment received news that they had been chosen to represent Australia in a final assault on Jerusalem. The attack began at dawn on 9 December, and by that evening the city had fallen. Captain Throssell and thirty men from 10LHR were given the distinction of representing Australia in the Guard of Honour for General Allenby's formal entry into the city on 11 December.
Following the battle for Jerusalem, Throssell's health deteriorated. The effects of the meningitis lingered and he now suffered from malaria. Over the next few months he was in and out of hospital and, finally, on 4 September 1918 he returned to Australia, to assist with recruiting. Throssell was with Katharine in Emerald, Victoria, when the Armistice was announced, on November 11. The couple were married in a Melbourne Registry Office on 28 January 1919, subsequently settling on a property at Greenmount in Western Australia. Throssell was discharged from the army the following month.
In July 1919, Throssell rode at the head of the Peace Day parade in his boyhood town of Northam. To tumultuous applause he addressed the gathered crowd, among them his family and friends. The applause turned to disbelief when he announced that the war had turned him into a socialist. He made a similar address later in Perth. 1919 also saw him appointed the soldiers' representative on the Discharged Soldiers' Settlement Board.
During the 1920s, Throssell turned his hand to selling real estate blocks that he had subdivided at Greenmount. The economic crash of 1929 spelt the end of any realistic expectation of success from the venture. Throssell's financial position became so strained that he was forced to take up a position with the WA Department of Agriculture. In 1933, encouraged by her husband, Katherine travelled to Russia to see, first hand, how a communist state worked in practice.
While she was away, despite promises to the contrary, Throssell devised another scheme to help relieve them of their debt. Using Greenmount as a venue, Hugo organised a rodeo to bring people out from the city to experience the country and, hopefully, buy the remaining blocks from his failing real estate business. He hoped to recoup the cost of the rodeo through admission fees but had not realised that it was illegal to charge people an entry fee on a Sunday. The scheme failed and Hugo sunk deeper into debt and depression.
In one final desperate move, on 17 November 1933, he tried to pawn his Victoria Cross and was offered the sum of ten shillings. This seems to have been the final straw for Throssell; two days later he shot himself. His suicide note read: 'I can't sleep. I feel my old war head. It's going phut, and that's no good for anyone concerned.' An inquest found that he 'died by a bullet wound in the head self inflicted while his mind was deranged due to war wounds.' Throssell was buried with full military honours at Karrakatta Cemetery in Perth. The chaplain presiding over his funeral said that he had 'died for his country just as surely as if he had perished in the trenches...'
In 1984, Throssell's only child, Ric, who had served as a signaller with the Australian Army at Milne Bay in New Guinea during the Second World War, donated his father's VC to the People for Nuclear Disarmament so that they could sell it to raise money for their cause. A private buyer acquired it and presented it to the Australian War Memorial later that year.