Inside the 12/16 Hunter River Lancers 99 years after Light Horse charged Beersheba

JOINING RANKS: Corporal Steven Green has been posted to Beersheba Barracks in Tamworth for three years. Trooper Sarah Stokes is one of the first three women to join the Light Cavalry Scouts in a combat role.

JOINING RANKS: Corporal Steven Green has been posted to Beersheba Barracks in Tamworth for three years. Trooper Sarah Stokes is one of the first three women to join the Light Cavalry Scouts in a combat role.

Lancers lead the charge

The 12th and 16th Light Horse (LH) formed up around 1885. In those days, it was the country man's unit. Most who joined came from the New England region, used to riding horses and accustomed to rifles. 

Current commanding officer, LT Colonel Adam King explained, when the first World War spread from Europe, the soldiers of what was then the New England and Hunter River Light Horse regiments were already very qualified.

"They just had to learn how to fight an enemy," he said.

Former and serving Lancers converged on Beersheba barracks in Tamworth on Saturday, October 29, for the annual regiment dinner.

Former and serving Lancers converged on Beersheba barracks in Tamworth on Saturday, October 29, for the annual regiment dinner.

Today's 12/16 Hunter River Lancers, a concatenation of the 12th, 16th and 24th Light Horse units, have seen their share of change since those days, but LT Col. King said the ranks have largely remained the same.

"Since the beginning of World War I, the makeup of the regiment were country people," he said. The unit celebrated 99 years since their historic charge at Beersheba on October 29, 2016. 

"Now, it has changed substantially, as you might imagine, regarding the of type of people. We still get those people who come from the land, but we also get people from private industry - organisations that aren’t related to the land," LT Col. King said.

Armoured carriers have replaced horses, and where soldiers might once have relied on radio, the unit is now active on Facebook. But LT Col. King said modern soldiers are cut from a remarkably similar cloth to their predecessors.

"I think I could group them (as) being very patriotic," he said.

MODERN TIMES: At Lone Pine, Lancer reserves mount GoPros on their helmets; one small sign among many of a unit, as LT Col. Adam King described it, always "ready and relevant".

MODERN TIMES: At Lone Pine, Lancer reserves mount GoPros on their helmets; one small sign among many of a unit, as LT Col. Adam King described it, always "ready and relevant".

Sarah Spokes, a local trooper, joined the Lancers' reserve ranks this year, one of the first three women to join the Light Cavalry Scouts in a combat role, and Steven Green has been based at Beersheba Barracks for three years. He's bound for Canungra in Queensland at the end of the year.

"(Lancers) want to make a difference. They are incredibly outcome-focused kinds of people. They want to improve their lives and skills and serve their country at the same time." - LT Col. Adam King.

"I was looking for something to do in Tamworth, a challenge, to gain fitness and make friends and the Army looked like a good way to do that," Sarah said.

She trained at Kapooka and since September became one of three women who can fight on the front line in her trade as a cavalry scout.

"They have a few (women) who have progressed through, but there are not many in the Reserve world," she said.

She smiled for a moment: "A lot of the people who are training us don't really know what to do when a girl starts crying," she said.

BRIEFING: Lancer reserves fall in at Lone Pine Barracks' firing range ready for training.

BRIEFING: Lancer reserves fall in at Lone Pine Barracks' firing range ready for training.

"That's what makes us laugh - that they all run around and don't really know what to do.

"They expect the same from us that they do from the men, which they should. Someone is not going to stop shooting at us because we're female."

Steven jumped in: "I've seen a lot of men cry," he said.

Both Steven and Sarah have had family members in the military. Sarah's father was in the Air Force before he joined the civilian life and became involved in competitive cycling.

Sarah competed at the national level, travelled the world for the sport, and often paced at the head of the pack.

Steven's mother was a reservist, and his father served in Vietnam.

"He did his time there and came back and still served in the military. He did around 22 years - a warrant officer, class two, by the end of it. 

"You could definitely tell that's what he was, as a father," Steve laughed. "Now  I look back and think, yep, I can definitely see where he got that from."

Sarah is bound for a three-month stint in Malaysia soon and is thinking of joining as a full-time soldier when she gets home.

"It’s very competitive at the moment, thinking about going to full-time service," she said.

Commanding the regiment, LT Col. King said the soldiers of the 12/16 share a similar drive.

"(Dad) really wants me to go to the Air Force and I’m now strong for Army, so we butt heads with that a little bit, but it’s all just competitive." - 12/16 Trooper Sarah Spokes.

"People do extraordinary things to make it to Army Reserves training, just in terms of organising their personal lives around it," LT Col. King said. He catches the train each week, balancing his civilian life with the Army, but said the partners, friends and family of soldiers are often just as tough as those undergoing the training.

"If it wasn’t for my wife looking after my seven-year-old son, I wouldn’t be able to do this.

"There is a whole myriad of similar stories all across the regiment. "Single mums do extraordinary things to take their child to their carers. A lot of regular army soldiers sacrifice the fact that they can’t be with their family all the time. 

"It is a really extraordinary thing and gets back to that sense of service; that patriotism.

LIVE FIRE: The 84mm short-range anti-armour gun is fired by two soldiers. The first sights a target downrange while the second loads and braces. The process is completed in smooth, almost unconscious movements with both soldiers in near-constant communication.

LIVE FIRE: The 84mm short-range anti-armour gun is fired by two soldiers. The first sights a target downrange while the second loads and braces. The process is completed in smooth, almost unconscious movements with both soldiers in near-constant communication.

He described a unit built on its heritage. "It's not a lead weight," he said.  

"It's what binds us all together."

As the Lancers come together tonight to catch up and share their stories, Regimental Sergeant Major, Warrant Officer Class one, Jason Moriarty recalled a distant cousin, discovered by accident in his family tree - a captain at Beersheba.

"We had the Spirit of the Anzac come through last year, and one of the guys who came along, Tony Carter, (Jack Davey) was his great-grandfather," he said.

"He saw my name tag. When all the family trees came together, he worked out Jack Davey’s mum was a Moriarty."

The 12th Light Horse has, among others, battle honours from Gallipoli in 1915, Egypt in 1916 and 1917, Jordan, and Palestine in 1917 and 1918. Both the 12th and the 16th saw active service in South Africa between 1899 and 1900, one of their earliest appearances on the battlefield, and were amalgamated in May of 1948. 

DOWN RANGE: A reservist with the 12/16 Hunter River Lancers prepares for live-fire training using an 84mm anti-armour weapon at Lone Pine Barracks near Singleton.

DOWN RANGE: A reservist with the 12/16 Hunter River Lancers prepares for live-fire training using an 84mm anti-armour weapon at Lone Pine Barracks near Singleton.

The unit saw Australian Federation and two World Wars. Today, the 12/16 is divided into two squadrons, based respectively in Armidale and Muswellbrook, with a headquarters in Tamworth.

Last week, reserves undertook live fire training at Lone Pine Barracks near Singleton. It was the first time since 2007 the unit had access to live ammunition for an 84mm short-range anti-armour gun.

Though the regiment has changed since the days of the 12th and 16th Light Horse, the soldiers are still the same.

"My motto for the regiment anecdotally, notwithstanding the official motto for the unit, is ‘do what you say you are going to do’," LT Col. King said.

"People live up to that."

Live fire training with the 12/16 Hunter River Lancers

October 22, 2016: 12/16 Hunter River Lancers reserve adjust the sights on the 84mm short-range anti-armour gun before firing live rounds for the first time since 2007.

October 22, 2016: 12/16 Hunter River Lancers reserve adjust the sights on the 84mm short-range anti-armour gun before firing live rounds for the first time since 2007.

The story Inside the 12/16 Hunter River Lancers 99 years after Light Horse charged Beersheba first appeared on The Northern Daily Leader.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop