George MacLeay MacArthur-Onslow was born at Camden, New South Wales, on 2 May 1875, the son of Arthur Alexander Alexander Walton Onslow and his wife, the former Elizabeth MacArthur, a granddaughter of John MacArthur. Onslow died in 1882 and Elizabeth took her six children to England with her in 1887. There she studied dairy farming and on returning to Camden in 1889 founded a dairy farming complex, the Camden Vale Milk Co, which eventually merged with the Dairy Farmers' Co-operative Milk Co in 1928. George was educated at Rugby School, England.
The MacArthur-Onslows were also a military family. George's brothers James and Arthur served in the South African War where James was mentioned in dispatches. James also served with the AIF, as a colonel with the Sea transport Service. He was aide de camp to the governor general from 1902 to 1909 and 1917 to 1920 and retired from the army with the rank of major general in 1925. Arthur's son, Major General Sir Denzil MacArthur-Onslow served with the 2nd AIF and was promoted to major general in 1955.
George was commissioned a second lieutenant in the New South Wales Mounted Rifles on 5 April 1895 and was promoted to lieutenant the next year. In July 1903 he became a lieutenant in the 2nd Light Horse. He was promoted to captain in 1911 and major on 16 February 1914, commanding the 9th Light Horse Regiment.
In August 1914, MacArthur-Onslow was designated commander of the 1st Light Horse Regiment. In the middle of organising the regiment, he had to relinquish command and undergo an operation for appendicitis. On 1 November 1914, MacArthur-Onslow was again appointed to the AIF, this time as deputy commander of the 7th Light Horse Regiment.
The 7th Light Horse Regiment arrived in Egypt in February 1915 where it trained at Maadi. In May, it received orders to moved to Gallipoli for dismounted service, arriving on 19 May 1915, where it was temporarily split up, with squadrons attached to the 9th, 10th and 11th Battalions. The regiment was soon back together again, and after a period in which he was evacuated to Egypt sick, MacArthur-Onslow took over command of the 7th Light Horse in October and was promoted to lieutenant colonel on 22 November 1915. He organised the famous cricket match at Shell Green on 17 December 1915.
At Katia on 5 August 1916, the 7th Light Horse, advancing in a single line, came under fire from a party of Turks in a hod 200 metres in front of them, who were rushed and overwhelmed. MacArthur-Onslow then advanced from the hod with three men 20 metres in front of his troopers and all four were shot down by Turks concealed a few metres in front of them. Severely wounded, MacArthur-Onslow was evacuated. He was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).
MacArthur-Onslow was back in the saddle again at Beersheba, leading his regiment on a night march around Gaza, thus completing the encirclement of the town. When the incredible order to retire was received he concentrated the regiment, and returned that way, having ridden around the town. He led his regiment through the subsequent battles for Gaza, the pursuit across the Philistine Plain, and the operations across the Jordan.
From May to August 1918, MacArthur-Onslow was acting commander of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade in the absence of the Brigadier General G. deL. Ryrie, who was hospitalised with a stomach complaint. Then on 3 September 1918, MacArthur-Onslow took command of the newly formed 5th Light Horse Brigade, with the temporary rank of brigadier general.
In the final campaign, the 5th Light Horse Brigade slipped around the enemy's flank on 19 September 1918. The Turks attempting to flee down the road were savagely attacked fro the air by the RAF and No 1 Squadron AFC. As they tried to flee they ran into the Australians and Frenchmen of the 5th Light Horse Brigade and captured in droves. By nightfall, the brigade had taken 2,000 prisoners and captured fifteen guns. The brigade pushed on to Nablus, which it captured on 21 September 1918. The brigade then swept the enemy from Samaria, driving them out along one road, where they were attacked by No. 1 Squadron. The light horsemen found 87 guns, 55 trucks and 916 other vehicles abandoned or destroyed by the aviators. They then advanced on Damascus, which fell on 1 October 1918. In the period from 19 September to 2 October 1918, at a cost of 3 killed and 6 wounded, the 5th Light Horse Brigade captured 7,523 Turkish and German prisoners.
In January 1919, MacArthur-Onslow was evacuated with typhoid and returned to Australia four months later. For his services in Palestine, he was twice more mentioned in dispatches, and appointed a Companion of St Michael and St George (CMG).
After the war, MacArthur-Onslow was elected councillor for Wolindilly Shire, alderman of Camden City Council and mayor of Camden.
MacArthur-Onslow held a series of light horse appointments. Like his brother, he was aide de camp to the Governor General from 1920 to 1923 and commanded the 1st Cavalry Division from 1927 to 1931.
He died on 12 September 1931 and was buried in the family cemetery at Camden.
The official historian, Captain H. S. Gullett, wrote of MacArthur-Onslow:
Although no deep student of tactics, he had, as an Australian countryman, a very shrewd sense of the ground, and was by instinct a dashing leader of the horse. Fiery in temper, but gallant and generous in bearing, no light horse leader rode harder or straighter in action than George MacArthur-Onslow. His men of the 7th [Light Horse] Regiment had trusted him implicitly and followed him blindly, and as a vanguard in serious operations they had no peers in Palestine.
Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1899-1939, Vol 11, pp. 196-197; Bean, C. E. W., The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918. Volume II: The Story of Anzac pp. 293-294; Gullett, H. S., Volume VII: The AIF in Sinai and Palestine, pp. 165, 269, 284, 640-641, 698-704, 772
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Last update 08 September 2001