Sidney Alfred Maddison

On 31 October 1917 Sidney Alfred Maddison was killed in the Battle of Beersheba in Palestine. Sidney was one of 31 Australians who died that day, and the only person from the Orange district to die in that conflict.

Sidney was born in Orange in 1882 to John and Elizabeth Maddison. John and Elizabeth were early settlers in Orange; during the 1860s John worked as a carrier for Dalton Brothers. After 25 years’ employment with the company John retired to Manildra.

Sidney was educated at Manildra Public School. Following John’s death in January 1904 the family moved to Elderslie, near Camden, where Sidney found work as a station manager.

In July 1915 Sidney and his brother John, a veteran of the Boer War, enlisted in Liverpool. Both were assigned to the 1st Light Horse Regiment, 12th Reinforcement; the brothers embarked together and served together in Egypt and Palestine.

The 1st Light Horse Regiment was involved in several conflicts during 1917: the Battle of Romani, the Second Battle of Gaza and the Battle of Beersheba. On 31 October 1917 Sidney was driving a supply wagon during the Battle of Beersheba when a bomb landed nearby, killing Sidney and several horses.

Sidney Alfred Maddison is commemorated on Manildra Soldiers Memorial Hall Honour Roll, St Luke’s Church Manildra Honour Roll, Manildra Rifle Club Honour Roll and on panel number 2 on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

There is also a monument in Meranburn Cemetery at Manildra that is inscribed:

In loving memory of
Sydney Alfred Maddison
Killed in action in Palestine
31 October 1917
Aged 35

A young life nobly ended
Too far away for sight or speech
But not too far for thoughts to match
Peace Perfect Peace

Sidney’s brother John Ernest Maddison was declared medically unfit and discharged from the AIF in April 1918.

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The Battle of Beersheba


Charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade at Beersheba, Palestine, 31 October 1917. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

The Battle of Beersheba began at dawn on 31 October 1917 as Field Marshal Viscount Edmund Allenby led three British Divisions in an attack on the oasis of Beersheba, 43 kilometres from the Turkish stronghold of Gaza in Palestine.

Located at the eastern extremity of the Turkish defensive line, Beersheba was well fortified. The Turks dug in and by mid-afternoon the Allied advance had slowed to a virtual standstill.

The 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade was ordered “straight in” to seize the town. Director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson explains the charge:

In lengthening late afternoon shadows, one of history’s great cavalry-style charges was about to take place. But these were mounted riflemen – no swords or lances. Some slung rifles over their backs, riding bayonet in hand. Others couched rifles beneath arms, bayonets fixed, stock braced against the thigh. Their mounts were mostly ‘Walers’ – hardy, stocky, sure of foot and able to carry heavy loads long distances. The tired horses were desperate for water.

Six kilometres from Beersheba, hidden from the Turks by a low ridge across a front of 1,100 metres, 800 Light Horsemen formed up. By squadrons in three lines, 300 to 500 metres apart, they were ready. Saddle-worn, overloaded and parched, the horses began to fidget, tossing their heads. They’d caught the excitement.

At 4.30 pm they moved forward at a slow trot. Cresting the ridge, the formation tightened and began to canter. A kilometre on they were in a gallop, five metres apart. Two kilometres from the town, it was on – a reckless, headlong charge down the long gentle slope to Beersheba. The thirst crazed horses pinned back their ears and flared their nostrils, eyes widened, heads outstretched and mouths frothing, tails flying.

Turkish rifles, machine guns and artillery opened fire. Bullets twitched the horses’ ears. Horses and men at the front fell. Expecting the Light Horse to stop and dismount to attack, the Turks held most fire until too late. As the first wave approached the trenches, the Turks opened up with everything including grenades. The official historian, Henry Gullet described the Light Horse sweeping over the deep, wide trenches like ‘steeple chasers’. As they did, Turks slashed at the horses’ bellies with bayonets. Some Australians dismounted and fought in savage hand to hand battles. Others rode on into Beersheba.

By nightfall the town, wells, reservoirs and ammunition dumps were captured and horses watered. The Australian Light Horse had ridden not only into Beersheba, but to history.

Seven hundred Turks were killed during the battle and 1,000 taken prisoner. The capture of Beersheba enabled British forces to break the Ottoman line near Gaza and advance into Palestine.

Australia sustained relatively light casualties at Beersheba (in contrast to other battles): 31 dead and 36 wounded (and 70 dead horses).

Sidney Alfred Maddison was the only man from the Orange district to die during the Battle of Beersheba. Five others are known to have fought in the battle:

Ralph Coote
Robert Stanley Trethewey
William James Dunbar
George Denis Chapman, who described the battle in a letter home
Benjamin Barnett Chapman, George’s brother, who also provided an account of the battle. [Ben describes his cousin Alfred Chapman‘s death during the battle. Alfred was in the 2nd Australian Machine Gun Squadron; he was killed in action on 5 November 1917, five days after the Battle of Beersheba.]

The charge of the light brigade was re-enacted in the 1939 film Forty Thousand Horsemen, starring Chips Rafferty. Director Charles Chauvel enlisted the services of the 6th Light Horse Regiment during their annual camp at Orange Showground in the making of the film. First World War veteran and prominent Orange citizen William Edwin Agland also participated in the re-enactment.

The filming of Forty Thousand Horsemen in Orange

The Charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade at Beersheba

Australian Light Horse Memorial sculpture by Peter Corlett, Park of the Australian Soldier, Be’er Sheva, Israel. Photograph by Howard Grey, 2010.

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31 October 1917

Members of the 12th Light Horse survey damaged items and captured Turkish equipment from the Battle of Beersheba, Palestine 31 October 1917. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

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30 October 1917

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29 October 1917

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28 October 1917

Members of the 1st Australian Light Trench Mortar Battery listen to “the latest” from one of their comrades in a dugout billet at Ypres, Frank Hurley, 28 October 1917.

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27 October 1917

The War Chest by Constance Campbell

What guards our gallant boys in France
From many an adverse circumstance.
Their health and vigor to enhance?

What gives our comforts by the score.
Warm scarves and caps and socks galore,
While eager men crowd round for more?

What follows them where’er they roam
With gifts that breathe the thought of home.
In dear Australia, whence they come?

Whose coffee stall is soon aglow
In captured trenches of the foe,
That filled them one short hour ago?

What works in Egypt’s burning sand,
As well as France’s pleasant land,
Creating joy on every hand

Enduring gamely to the end,
What message do our heroes send,
“For our sakes, held the soldier’s friend,”

And now you have the chance to show
You heed that message well, and so,
IN THEIR NAME pay the debt you owe,

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26 October 1917

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Lancelot Douglas Nicol

Lancelot Douglas Nicol, June 1916. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

Lancelot Douglas Nicol was born in Temora in 1892, a first son to John Coventry Nicol and his wife Florence Emma (nee Stark). Lance grew up in Millthorpe, where his father ran a butchery. He was educated at Spring Hill Public School and Bathurst Superior Public School and later trained as bookkeeper.

Lance also helped out in his father’s butchery, and in 1912 opened his own business at Forest Reefs. In April 1912 Lance was unfortunate enough to trip over in Pym Street in Millthorpe, where he lived. He badly dislocated his knee and required surgery to repair the injury.

In September 1915 Lance and his best friend Thomas Vaughan enlisted together and went into training with the 6th Light Horse Regiment, 14th Reinforcement. In December 1915 the Leader reported that both Lance and Thomas had been promoted to corporal. Later that month Lance again injured his knee, this time while attempting to break up a disturbance in the camp. The injury delayed his embarkation for overseas service.

Lance embarked HMAT Wandilla A62 in February 1916. In March he joined the 25th Field Artillery Brigade at Tel-el-Kebir in Egypt. He undertook further training in England during June, before being sent to the Western Front.

Just six weeks into his service in France Corporal Nicol was hospitalised with a hernia and transferred to England for surgery. His recovery took almost a year; he did not rejoin his unit in France until August 1917.

On 29 September 1917 Lance was promoted to sergeant. On 24 October Sergeant Nicol’s battery was under heavy enemy attack at Westhoek Ridge in Belgium. Lance and several others sought shelter in a nearby dugout, but were soon killed by a direct hit from a German artillery shell. Lance was 25 years old; he had served in the Australian Imperial Force for just over two years.

The Leader of 19 November 1917 reported:

Deepest gloom was spread over the town [of Millthorpe] on Friday evening when the sad news became known that Cpl Lance Nicol had been killed in action

In November 1917 Thomas Vaughan wrote the following letter of condolence to Lance’s parents:

Dear Mr and Mrs Nicol

You will no doubt have been notified of Lance’s death ere this letter reaches you. It is useless for me to try and express in writing my feelings for you, and for myself — you for the loss of a son and myself or the loss of a pal, having known him so long — 14 years — and being pals for that time without once having a disagreement. It is hard to realise we are parted. We were like brothers.

His death was felt very keenly among the men of his battery, who are never tired of eulogising the excellent qualities and principle of their Sergeant. He was without doubt a universal favorite of the battery — both officers and men — and I can assure you if sympathy will tend to cheer you in your bereavement, you have it most sincerely from them. The battery Lance belonged to has for some time past been having a very severe time, and has lost quite a number of excellent fellows, with whom I was personally acquainted.

One becomes very callous seeing men in the prime of life falling before your eyes every day, but the death of Lance seems to have made a gap in my life which it is impossible to repair. We were brothers, not in blood, but in friendship.

The only consolation I can offer you is that he died fighting for his country — very small consolation in your bereavement — but kindly accept from me the sympathy I feel at your loss of a son, a soldier and a man.

Your sympathetic friend, T Vaughan.

On Sunday 9 June 1918 a large congregation gathered at the Methodist Church in Millthorpe to view Mrs Florence Nicol unveil a new honour roll that she had donated in memory of her late son. Sadly, the original honour roll was completely filled by the names of the town’s men and boys who had volunteered their services.

In July 1918 Florence wrote to Base Records Office to enquire if any of her son’s personal effects had been retrieved. The office replied:

No personal effects … have been returned to the office to date…Anything coming to hand will be promptly transmitted to you… It is pointed out that owing to the lack of shipping accommodation considerable delay is being caused in the transmission of personal effects of deceased members of the Australian Imperial Force. However, as soon as parcels reach here they are expeditiously dealt with.

The office was true to their word; in September 1918 they forwarded Lance’s possessions: one identity disc, a wallet and purse, a religious book, a note book and case, a whistle and lanyard, a small key, some photographs and letters, eight coins and one charm. Florence received the parcel on 3 October 1918.

Lancelot Douglas Nicol is commemorated on the following honour rolls: Spring Hill Public School, Methodist Church Orange, Methodist Church Millthorpe, Manchester Unity Oddfellows Millthorpe. He is also commemorated on panel number 18 on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

On 4 January 2014 Lancelot Nicol was commemorated in the Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial.

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24 October 1917

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