Arthur John McIlroy was a 21-year-old jackaroo when he joined the 12th Regiment of the Australian Light Horse on the 24 March 1915 and took part in World War 1. He travelled overseas by boat and undertook the necessary training in Egypt. He fought in Gallipoli as Infantry and from there he returned to his mounted role with the 12th Light Horse.
In 1917, the 12th Light Horse regiment was moved to Palestine in an Allied attempt to rid the Turks from Gaza. To do this, they were to charge on horseback to the wells of Beersheba. This battle for the bastion of Beersheba was in order to win back this valuable water source for the Allies from the Turks. While the Australians were ordinary men, not professional cavalry, were not trained adequately, did not have appropriate weaponry and had tired and thirsty horses, they did not hesitate.
At nightfall the order was given and the 12th Light Horsemen began their famous charge across the desert to capture the Turk entrenched, water rich town. As the horsemen swept on through the sand, they were fired at mercilessly by Turkish Gunners and German bomber planes. Ultimately though, the 12th Light Horse regiment were successful in over running the entrenched foe in Beersheba and securing a water source for 58,000 men and 100,000 animals.
For Private Arthur John McIlroy though, it was very nearly a fatal experience. He was shot and felled in the cavalry gallop and left on the sand, apparently a dead body. However when he was picked up and thrown on a donkey, he grunted; not quite dead but had received a dangerously penetrating gun shot through the chest. He was taken to Cairo and hospitalised where he was listed as “critically ill”. For months he was in a touch and go struggle but miraculously he survived and eventually he was well enough to be sent home aboard the hospital ship Ulysses and discharged in 1918.
The sheer luck of his survival was due to the fact that during the charge, he had a Bible and a leather wallet full of photos and a few documents in his left hand pocket of his shirt. There was just enough thickness in this to deflect the bullet from hitting his heart and killing him instantly.
The wallet and photos each displaying the near fatal little bullet hole and the medal awarded to Arthur McIlroy can be viewed below:
Mrs Ann Osborne, nee McIlroy :: past parent, past staff member at Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School and granddaughter to Arthur McIlroy