Brigadier General Lachlan Wilson

11 July 1871 - 7 April 1947

AWM Negative Number: B00776 Caption: Tripoli; December 1918; Group portrait of dismounted Brigadier General L C Wilson (front, left), commander of the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade, 1917-19, and his unidentified staff.

Lachlan Chisholm Wilson was born in Logan River, Queensland, on 11 July 1871, the son of farmer. He was educated at Brisbane Grammar. Admitted to the bar in Queensland in 1895, he practiced law in Townsville. Later he moved to Brisbane where he entered into a partnership with E. K. Tully to form one of Queensland's leading law firms.

Wilson volunteered for service in South Africa, serving as a corporal in the 2nd Queensland Mounted Infantry, participating in the advance on Johannesburg and Pretoria, the battle of Diamond Hill and other actions. Commissioned as lieutenant in the 15th Light Horse Regiment in 1904, he was promoted to major on 6 February 1911. After moving to Brisbane, he became second in command of the Moreton Regiment.

Wilson was appointed to the AIF on 30 September 1914 with the rank of major as second in command of the 5th Light Horse Regiment. He embarked for Egypt on HMAT Beltana on 21 December 1914, arriving at Alexandria on 25 December 1914. He landed at Anzac on 16 May 1915. On 1August 1915, he took over command of the 5th Light Horse when its commander was killed and was subsequently promoted to lieutenant colonel. On 23 August 1915, Wilson led a pre-dawn trench raid on the Bird Trenches near Gaba Tepe. Under the cover of fire from destroyers, the light horse seized the trenches and killed thirty Turks before withdrawing without loss. When the Turks established two posts uncomfortably close to the 5th Light Horse's positions following a counterattack, Wilson managed to work them out of the posts without a costly major attack by using a combination of artillery fire, rubber grenade catapults and tunnelling. The position thus secured became known as Wilson's Lookout.

The 5th Light Horse arrived back in Egypt on 25 December 1915 and moved to Serapeum to defend against a Turkish attack on the Suez canal on 23 February 1916. Wilson is credited with the introduction of the spearpoint pump, with which he had been familiar in Queensland. This simple device consisted of lengths of 2.5 inch tubing with a solid point above which were sections of strong wire gauze. The point would be driven into the bottom of existing wells that had become silted up or fouled by algae and producing a plentiful supply of water within minutes. More than any other innovation, the spearpoint pump allowed the light horse to operate in the Sinai Desert. For his services in the Sinai Desert, Wilson was twice mentioned in dispatches and made a Companion of St Michael and St George (CMG) on 3 June 1916.

From 28 May 1917 to 5 June 1917, Wilson was acting commander pf the 2nd Light Horse Brigade while Brigadier General W. G. de L. Ryrie was acting commander of the Australian Mounted Division. Then, on 30 October 1917, on the eve of the battle of Beersheba, Wilson took over as commander of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade with the rank of temporary brigadier general after its South African commander, Brigadier General J. R. Royston, inhaled poison gas in order to determine its effect.

Wilson was disappointed at the results of the pursuit after Beersheba. "From my subsequent experience in the use of the sword," he later wrote, "I consider it would have been invaluable here. If we had had swords, I am sure that we could have ridden down and captured thousands; as it was we stood off and shot hundreds only." The 3rd Light Horse Brigade also captured several guns.

At Es Salt on 30 April 1918, despite bad weather and rugged terrain, Wilson captured the town with astonishing speed, attacking the Turks with one regiment while keeping the others ready to move at an instant. He also made excellent use of fire and movement to reduce positions with minimal casualties. Above all, he moved quickly, and never more so than when the situation changed and a withdrawal was ordered. Wilson managed to withdraw in good order and escape the threat of encirclement.

During the final campaign. Wilson once again led a lightening advance. He surprised an encamped enemy at Kefr Adan on 19 September 1918 and captured 1,800 Turks and Germans, then pressed on to Jenin, where they captured 3,000 more. A few days later, the 3rd Light Horse Brigade set out from Nazareth on its longest ride, with Damascus as its objective. They reached Lake Tiberias on 25 September, cutting off the Turks to the south, and then pushed on to Kuneitra. On 30 September 1918, the 3rd Light Horse Brigade reached Damascus. Ordered to take up positions to the north of the city, Wilson chose the fastest and boldest route -- straight through the city itself. In doing so, he cut off another 2,000 Turks. In the fortnight from 19 September to 2 October 1918, at a cost of 3 killed and 28 wounded, the 3rd Light Horse Brigade captured 11,025 Turkish and German prisoners.

While Wilson was in Moascar awaiting a ship back to Australia, the rebellion broke out in Egypt. On 31 March 1919, all leave was cancelled and Wilson was ordered to Zagazig where, with seven light horse regiments under his command. The light horse carried out a series of rural pacification efforts which had the desired effect of making the country seem quite enough for the light horse to proceed homeward. Wilson embarked for Australia on 10 July 1919, arriving in Sydney on 17 August 1919. His appointment to the AIF was terminated on 17 October 1919. During the 1918 campaign he had contracted chronic malaria, and suffered from a number of attacks in 1919.

For the campaigns of 1917 and 1918, Wilson was mentioned in dispatches three more times, bringing his total number of mentions to five. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in the 1919 New Year's list and was made a Companion of the Bath (CB) on 3 June 1919. He was also made a brevet lieutenant colonel in the AMF on 24 December 1918.

Wilson was aide de camp to the Governor General from 1923 to 1927. He commanded the 11th Infantry Brigade from 1925 to 1929 and then the 1st Cavalry Brigade from 1929 to 1931. He was state commandant of the Volunteer Defence Corps, the Australian version of the Home Guard, in Queensland from 1941 to 1942.

Wilson collaborated with Captain H. Wetherell in writing The Fifth Light Horse Regiment 1914-1919, which was published in Sydney in 1926. He died at his New Farm home on 7 April 1947 and was buried at Toowong Cemetery.

Of Wilson, the Official Historian, Captain H. S. Gullet wrote: "Wilson's appearance and bearing were always in contrast to the confident, dashing, picturesque men that he led. He was shy in manner and very sparing of speech, but his quiet figure concealed the spirit of a great master of horse, and between the time of his promotion to brigadier and his dramatic, unpremeditated dash through Damascus as the vanguard of the British and Arab Armies a year later, he became marked as a leader capable of handling a command far more important than a brigade."

Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1899-1939, Vol 12, p. 528; Personnel File, NAA; C. E. W. Bean, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918. Volume II: The Story of Anzac, pp. 824-827; Gullett, H. S., Volume VII: The AIF in Sinai and Palestine, pp. 104, 380, 446, 705-707, 772, 793; 
From Law to War: The Life of Brigadier Lachlan Wilson of the Light Horse

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Last update 10 March 2005