The Langtip brothers
Like thousands of young Chinese men in the 1850s, Chin Lang Tip moved to Australia with hopes of a new and prosperous future. This was a grand adventure for a nineteen year old man; setting sail for a distant land, which was so unlike his home in China. Settling in the little town of Tarraville in Victoria, Lang Tip established his own market garden business, selling his home-grown fruit and vegetables to the townsfolk. Over the coming years, Lang Tip’s business would grow and prosper. In 1870 he married Mary Ann Prout. Several years later, Mary Ann’s sister, Elizabeth, became his second wife. Lang Tip fathered seventeen children, all of whom lived in the one household. Given the Chinese convention of writing the surname first, it is likely that Lang Tip was, in fact, his first name. In any case, his name was adopted by his wives and children as their surname, and became ‘Langtip’. By 1878 he had applied, and been approved, for naturalisation.
When war broke out in 1914, thousands of young Australian men responded to the call to defend the Empire. War provided a chance for adventure, but also drew upon a growing national pride for a young nation.
In February 1916, the Camperdown Chronicle reported that six of the Langtip sons had enlisted for active service with the Australian Imperial Force. The boys had signed up on the 25 and 26 January. The newspaper went on to report that two of the sons had failed their medical examination. Family legend, however, claims that only four boys were successful as the medical examiner believed that this was more than a sufficient contribution from one family.
"One sees more in one day here than you could see in a lifetime at home."Henry Langtip
Aged 27, 21, 20 and 18 respectively, Henry, Ernest, Leslie and Bertie, were given consecutive service numbers and assigned to 16th Reinforcements for the 4th Light Horse Regiment. Embarking together for Egypt in June 1916, the boys could not have imagined the adventures that lay before them. Henry kept a personal diary from 1916 to 1918, which is now part of the Memorial’s collection of private records. After a day visiting the pyramids he wrote that “one sees more in one day here than you could see in a lifetime at home.” Not all sightseeing trips were as pleasing. After a trip to the zoo in Egypt, Henry lamented that “the poor kangaroos look out of place and I was sorry to see them there.”
The Langtip boys quickly adapted to life serving in the desert. Days were filled with drills and parades, as well as the essential care of the horses and camels. Henry was initially impressed with the camels, but later wrote that “they are terribly slow and when they don’t want to go they simply lie down and they take some shifting.” During their spare time, the boys were able to join in friendly cricket and football games or watch boxing matches. They waited expectantly for precious letters from home, which helped to ease their homesickness. There were regular concert parties to entertain, and occasional opportunities to swim in the Suez Canal. Fighting in the desert had its drawbacks however, as extreme heat, dust and water shortages, were constant difficulties for the troops to endure.
While serving with his regiment in Kaukab in late 1918, Leslie distinguished himself with an act of gallantry for which he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. According to the citation, “he gave valuable assistance in the capture of a field gun and showed great initiative and courage. He forced the enemy drivers to take their own gun towards our lines under heavy fire and when a party of enemy endeavoured to retake the gun, he took up position and drove back the party.”
All four Langtip sons returned home to Victoria in 1919. Henry married his childhood sweetheart Eileen, and they had three children. Ernest also married after his discharge from the army, and his twin sons went on to enlist in the Second World War. Leslie married and had a family, but changed his surname to Langton. His daughter later recalled that there was little contact between the brothers after the war.
Like many men of their generation, the war had left a lasting legacy on the Langtips. Those at home could not fully understand their wartime experience and the boys had to readjust to their peaceful lives back home. Bertie and Leslie would later seek financial assistance under the Repatriation Act, for wounds sustained during their service overseas.
 Diary, Henry Langtip, AWM PR00053.
Why did so many Chinese people immigrate to Australia in the 1850s?
Why was Chin Lang Tip naturalized as a ‘British subject’ in 1878, and not as an Australian?
What would be some reasons why the Langtip boys may have wanted to enlist? Do you think the date that they chose to enlist reflects some of these reasons?
Discuss some of the challenges of fighting a war in the desert. Examine these images to support your discussion.
The Langtips were part of the 4th light Horse Regiment, which was involved in the Battle of Beersheba. Why has this battle become legendary?
George Lambert, The Charge of the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba, 1917 (1920, oil on canvas, 139 x 262 x 10cm).
Late on 31 October 1917 the 4th Light Horse Brigade was ordered to gallop towards Beersheba and seize the town. Two regiments, the 4th and the 12th, made the charge. This bold and successful move was one of the last major cavalry charges in history.
Lambert's work depicts the impact of men and horses on the Turkish troops and trenches. A tangled mass of horses and soldiers is shown against a backdrop of barren and undulating landscape. The buildings of the town are just visible on the horizon at left.
Leslie Langtip was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). Investigate the origins of this award. How might the Langtip family have felt about this award given to Leslie?
What is a legacy? What might have been the legacy for men who came home from the First World War?
What was the Repatriation Act? Who did it help and in what ways?
Why would keeping a diary be important for a soldier? How have Australians benefited from these primary sources?