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Howard Oliver CHAMBERS


Rank Reg/Ser No DOB Enlisted Discharge/Death Board
Lieut 1885- 29y 1915 14/07/19 3

Second Lieutenant Howard Oliver Chambers (1885-1969)

Chambers Brothers Booklet 

The Chambers Family 

Howard Oliver Chambers was born in Nhill, Victoria in 1885, second son of Oliver Cromwell and Ellen Chambers.  The names of four Chambers soldiers appear on one of the Honour Boards at Saint Andrew’s Uniting Church. They belonged to a large family of six brothers and four sisters. Their parents were Oliver Cromwell Chambers and Ellen (née Bosher). Mr and Mrs Chambers began their married life in 1877 at Nhill, Victoria where the older children were born. They later moved to North Queensland then Roma in Western Queensland. At the time when the four sons were enlisting for service in the Australian Imperial Force in the Great War, their parents were living on a farm called Balmah at Elbow Valley between Killarney and Warwick.

Enlistment 

While working in North Queensland in December 1914 as a labourer which included cutting sugar cane, Howard enlisted at Ayr for service in the Australian Imperial Force. He passed his medical examination in February 1915 and was attached to the Australian Light Horse Expeditionary Force. He farewelled his brother in Charters Towers and travelled by coastal steamer from Townsville to Brisbane to join the 2nd Light Horse Regiment at Enoggera. Training followed and his regiment was transported by train to Pinkenba on 9 February 1915 to board HMAT Itria, bound for Egypt. In his diary he wrote, 

“The people all along the line waved frantically to us on our trip to Pinkenba. It has been an awful day, as it has been raining all the time. Our horses were put on this morning. Have just finished feeding the horses. We’ll soon be off now for some port unknown. Only LH 1on board. Goodbye to Queensland.” 

As they sailed through the Red Sea, Howard recorded, 

“The water looks very pretty at night as it sparkles with a phosphorescent glitter. It is a beautiful night. The water is shining like glass and there is probably no motion. We could see the African coastline in the distance all day just about. The climate has changed; it is quite cold at night now. Country very rough looking and poor. Our journey is coming to an end, for tomorrow we are landing the horses at the Suez.” 

It was Howard’s 30th birthday on the day they disembarked. The horses were transported by train overnight to a camp near Heliopolis. 

Service in Cairo

Howard made many observations about life in Cairo during the weeks that followed. “Ploughing is done by a couple of oxen in a plough that was made in Noah’s time,” he said. He noticed the crops, the buildings of stone, the encounters between the Australians and the New Zealanders. 

He wasn’t at the Battle of the Wazzir because his diary on Good Friday records his trip through Cairo and out to the Pyramids. 

“Proceeded to climb the largest one – Cheops. Very high and it made us very hot. About 470 feet. Electric train and tram run between Heliopolis and Cairo a distance of about six miles. Train 1 piaster, (a small Egyptian coin) tram half a piaster. Pyramids about six miles out of Cairo – one piaster.” 

He wrote about the cold nights, the men going to the hospital, sand storms and loose pebbles making walking and marching across the desert very difficult. Howard was in touch with his brother, Major Arthur Chambers who had landed in Cairo ahead of him. Arthur went across to Gallipoli, again ahead of Howard, but was evacuated to hospital just as Howard was arriving in reinforcements. 

Evacuation of Gallipoli

In August 1915 the Australians were used to create diversionary ‘demonstrations’ during the debacle of the Suvla Bay operation. The 2nd Light Horse Regiment had 16 killed and 36 wounded in a suicidal attempt to capture the enemy position at Quinn’s. Howard and Arthur were part of the now famous evacuation from Gallipoli and their regiment sailed for Alexandria on 19 December, the brothers spending Christmas Day at sea. 

Service in Egypt, Sinai Desert, Palestine and Jordan

Back in Egypt the regiment regrouped in the Mounted Force which fought the Turkish army in the Sinai Desert, Palestine and Jordan. The desert terrain and environment were exhausting for both men and horses; water was at a premium and of poor quality. It became an essential element in the strategic planning. 

On one occasion Howard Chambers’ diary tells of a reconnaissance party infiltrating at night well behind the enemy lines to prospect for water. 

“Left at 6 pm with party of 34 for Wadi el Arish. A dangerous job. First party into Wadi el Arish. Arrived at Wadi el Arish at 4 am. Left at 5.30 am. Arrived back at Gerrat at 3.30 pm. Distance about 30 miles to Wadi el Arish.” 

They took a heliograph and a basket of carrier pigeons with them in case they needed to communicate. 

The enemy began to use aeroplanes and bombed the Brigade camp at Romani. The 2nd Light Horse Regiment was not badly hit but many of the Brigade horses stampeded and galloped to death in the desert. In some battles the soldiers had no rations for a day and the horses no water for more than two days. There was always concern for their horses. Before the Battle of Magdhaba, Howard wrote, 

“Arrived at a hill on the coast to the East of El Arish at 8am today. 3 pm and our horses hadn’t had any water since yesterday before we started at Gerrat, but some have just gone away to water.” 

They won the Battle of Magdhaba and returned to camp for Christmas (1916) with 1100 prisoners. A Scottish Division which then became responsible for rationing the prisoners was not amused by having to share their rations. Chambers says they spent Christmas Day “having a rest in camp and washing. The usual work of fixing up again – Xmas pudding for lunch.” 

Another victory at Rafa convinced the Turks that the Mounted Troops were a formidable foe and they withdrew to the more difficult Gaza-Beersheba defence line. It was near Khan Unis during the second battle for Gaza that Arthur Chambers was killed. Howard entered in his diary, 

“Went out on extreme left of our front to connect with New Zealanders. Met with heavy rifle and machine gun fire and it was here that Arthur was mortally wounded, but I did not know it was such a wound at the time and heard good results from him. Friday 20 April – the worst day I ever spent in my life. Arthur died between 1 and 2 this morning. We buried him at 10 am.” 

“The Brigade had to move out and we were given permission to bury poor old Arthur. About this time Taubes bombed the Brigade and inflicted about 100 casualties. We have had an awful time lately no sleep, no rest, very little to eat and have had a good number of casualties.” 

The Regiment improved their trench lines and maintained patrols around the Shellal area and there were several diary entries about attention to his brother’s grave. Despite the personal trauma, he was still in the front line and involved in such dangerous stunts as the demolition of the old Turkish railway line running to Beersheba. 

“Under cover of darkness we arrived at the railway at 7.30 am, blew up a great length of enemy line – 30 miles away SE. Arrived back in Camp Shellal at 11.30 pm, 6000 lbs gun cotton used.” 

Return to Cairo and Loss of Family

He then returned to a training school near Cairo as a musketry instructor and from his diary it seemed as if the less stressful life behind the lines was helping to heal body and soul. 

However, tragedy struck again at the end of July 1917. In the previous December Arthur had received a family letter saying that two other brothers had sailed for France at the end of November. Howard’s daughter, Lyn Plumb pointed out that her father’s diary had only five inconsequential entries between August and the end of November after writing, “Received cable last night with the sad news about poor old Tooey.” The much loved youngest brother, Stuart had been killed at only 20. Howard received a promotion to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant on 21 September 1917. 

The New Year (1918) found him on secondment, in command of the training squadron near Cairo. Meanwhile the Regiment had been heavily involved in the action which secured Beersheba and Gaza in early November. Jerusalem fell in December and the Regiment spent Christmas near all these ancient cities known in Biblical times before continuing the attack into the Jordan Valley. 

In May he rejoined the Regiment near Bethlehem where he contracted malaria which was to trouble him for the rest of his life. So many of the force had to be evacuated with malaria that at one stage the regiment had only one man for every three horses. 

Service in the Jordan Valley

During the next stint of duty in the Jordan Valley, they repulsed an attack on Musallabah – a pivotal position for the entire force in the Valley. His diary record says, 

“To Musallabah. Came out last night about midnight. Slight shelling by the enemy onto our position this morning. Visit by Generals Chauvel and Howard Vyse. Enemy putting up a great show with artillery. Enemy attack with German and Turkish troops. King and seven of troop killed. All quiet again. Gave us great dust up with artillery.” 

“Saw General Chauvel again. Capt Handy, Sgt Chambers (no relation) and Gisart killed. We are being relieved tonight by the 8th. Got away from Mussalabah at about midnight.” 

He was not to participate in the front line again because of illness and being evacuated to hospital in Gaza and Port Said. By the time he recovered, the diary was recording, “News of Bulgaria’s collapse – unconditional surrender, Turkey capitulates and Austria capitulating.” His weariness of these dreadful years is clear when he writes, 

“News of the war still exciting, but very little excitement is shown by the soldiers. They have been looking for it for so long.”

“Finally, German delegates have arrived at GHQ in France. They have been given 72 hours to decide. 1100 Monday, time will be up. What is it going to be?” And on 11 November 1918, “Word has just come – Germany has agreed to no terms”. Life changed. He wrote of Christmas, “Turned out a beautiful day, we had a bonza Xmas dinner, the best so far.” 

Return to Life in Australia

At last, despite a bout of malaria, he boarded the ship Kaldozian on 2 April 1919 from England bound for Australia. Amongst the 1400 on board he noted some well known people - CEW Bean (reporter), AB Patterson (Banjo), CG Macartney (cricketer). They arrived in Brisbane on 12 May 1919 and he was met by his parents and sisters and in the next few months travelled to Warwick, North Queensland and Sydney to visit his brothers.

“What bitter-sweet reunions they must have been,” said Lyn Plumb, “in the knowledge that two brothers were not to return.” The marriage of Howard Chambers and Sarah Hunter Arbuthnot was held at St Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Mackay on 17 January 1923, Rev R Bardon officiating. 

Lieutenant Howard Chambers served again in the Garrison Battalion in New Guinea during World War II. In his later life he was well known in Mackay. His grandchildren and their families lived there too. 

Passing

Howard died in 1969, aged 84 years. 

Chambers Brothers Booklet 


Select Bibliography 

  • Bean C E W, Anzac to Amiens, Penguin Books, Melbourne, 2014 Pedersen Peter, The Anzacs - Gallipoli to the Western Front, Penguin 
  • Group, Camberwell, 2007 Queensland Register of Births Deaths and Marriages
  • Births Deaths Marriages Victoria
  • Queensland War Memorial Register
  • Daily Mercury, Mackay, 19 January 1923, page 5
  • National Archives of Australia, military records
  • The Queenslander, Saturday 26 June 1915
  • First World War Embarkation Rolls
  • Warwick Examiner and Times, Saturday 20 October 1917
  • The Australian Light Horse Association on line
  • Plumb, Lyn, ‘Excerpts from the Diary of Howard Chambers’, published by The Daily Mercury and on line 

Compiled by Noel E Adsett, February 2015

 

 

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