Charles Livingstone was born in Fremantle on 26 January 1892. His father was killed in an accident when he was four years old and his mother, alone in a new state, had friends who raised money to help her. As a young man, Livingstone worked on the sheep station of a friend near Broomehill.
At the age of 20, after the death of his maternal grandfather in Queensland, Livingstone travelled there with his mother, leaving their home in Harvey, Western Australia. They spent time with relatives before travelling to Sydney by train. He decided to see more of the state, and before returning home, Livingstone took a working holiday in New South Wales. He had several jobs, including cutting furnace wood for a copper mine, working on the railway and managing a picture theatre. He was working as a tram conductor when war was declared.
Livingstone enlisted at Victoria Barracks in early October 1914. Despite his Western Australian roots, he joined a New South Wales unit, the 1st Reinforcements of the 6th Australian Light Horse Regiment. After a short period of training at Liverpool Showground, he went to Holsworthy for mounted training and was then ready to ship out to war.
Livingstone embarked from Melbourne on 20 December 1914 aboard HMAT Bakara. On board, the men were on duty for two hours and off duty for four hours to care for the horses. Not one to suffer from seasickness, Livingstone was able to enjoy the sun on deck with his fellow recruits. During the passage through the Great Australian Bight, he was on deck when the hatch cover blew off, disgorging smoke and flames. There was a fire in the coal stores, and though the ship was repaired, it left Albany after the other ships in the Second Convoy.
Livingstone’s family had not seen him for four years and had travelled to Fremantle hoping to see him, but sadly for all of them, he remained in Albany while repairs were carried out.
The men on board Bakara had a swimming pool made in one of the loading hatches that was used to great advantage. Livingstone and the others in the regiment enjoyed the crossing the line ceremonies that involved being lathered with soap suds and dunked into the pool.
The Bakara arrived in Alexandria, Egypt and the light horse was encamped for training just outside of Cairo at Maadi.
After heavy losses on Gallipoli, reinforcements were badly needed. The men in the light horse regiments were required to leave their horses behind in Egypt with a portion of troops staying back to care for the horses. They then undertook the same roles as the rest of the infantry. Serving on Gallipoli involved routine duties such as digging in, improving positions, and carrying food, water and other stores to those on the front line.
Livingstone and the 6th Light Horse Regiment landed on Gallipoli on 20 May 1915. Only a few days later he participated in the armistice, during which both sides buried their dead. He exchanged souvenirs with the Ottomans in no man’s land. He recalled:
Our troops carried the dead Turkish bodies over the dividing line and the Turkish troops did the same for our dead. We also handed their rifles back to them. These rifles were lying around the ground, but we first removed their bolts. The armistice lasted until approximately 6pm, and almost immediately the Turks opened fire on our parapets. We were once again enemies.
The regiment spent the next three months in the trenches, holding the line. In August, Livingstone was admitted to hospital with enteritis, returning to Gallipoli in early October.
After the evacuation, the 6th Light Horse decamped to Egypt, where they spent the next year training and carrying out armed reconnaissance into enemy territory.
A constant issue for the mounted regiments was securing a good supply of fresh water for both men and horses. Living in the desert and being subjected to extreme temperatures, there were times when obtaining water became a matter of life or death. Livingstone recounted:
…one night during our stay… we set out for Davada which was held by the Turks. The only water we carried was in our water bottles (not more than a pint). It turned out to be extremely hot, and by morning most of the water had been drunk. Next day the temperature rose to 121 degrees, and by the time we reached Davada men were falling off their horses – fortunately for me I was situated in the centre of the troop. We saw the Turks disappearing over the sand dunes and when the wells were examined they were practically empty… I easily climbed down the well with a dixie and a canvas bucket which, when filled, were hauled up for the men around us to quench their thirst. The troops on the flanks had no water and we lost many men that day from heat exhaustion.
We knew of a good well some 6 miles on the way back and of course were anticipating a good supply of water. We had no luck there either. A New Zealand reserve regiment had been enjoying the water, showering themselves and even their horses, consequently very little water was left. I climbed down the well as before to get water for those mostly in need. Some of the men tried to rush the well, but Major White stood firm and soon had the troops in order again. He told those of us able to ride back to Katia to do so, as Abraham’s well had a plentiful supply of water.
It was wonderful to reward our faithful horses with a drink, and to be able to boil the billy over a fire made of palm branches. After that terrible experience we were issued with an extra water bottle, and better still, with a water bag which was carried around the horse’s neck. The water in these bags was kept cool by evaporation.
In late October 1917, the 6th Light Horse Regiment was sent to Esani, in Palestine. From here, Livingstone was given orders to ride out to cut off the Hebron Road which led to Beersheba, before the famous charge which captured the town.
Listen to Livingstone’s account of the critical action at Hebron Road.
In early 1918, the allies were gradually driving the Ottomans back. Livingstone and the 6th Australian Light Horse moved on through Jerusalem and then down to Jericho in the Jordan Valley. The objective was to surround a large party of Ottomans in the town of Es Salt. The road was cut between Amman and Es Salt and the town was captured, the Ottomans retreating. By capturing Es Salt, the main road back into the Jordan Valley was re-opened.
The Jordan River offered the chance to swim, providing relief from the hot weather and dusty conditions that saw them constantly covered in a fine layer of white dust. They could also catch fish to supplement their usual diet of hard biscuits and bully beef. Being a religious man, Livingstone somehow managed to convince a monk to baptise him in the River Jordan.
Work primarily consisted of patrols to locate the enemy front line. They were often being fired on by German planes overhead, and under shell-fire, they would ‘right wheel gallop’ in a zig-zagging movement to avoid being hit. Livingstone felt he was living a charmed life, because despite being sent on dangerous missions, he had some narrow escapes. Prior to an attack on Amman, he had been ordered to collect rations for the squadron. On return, he found the attack had taken place with disastrous consequences; all except one man had been killed or wounded, and the wounded had been taken prisoner after dark.
Following this action, a large offensive was planned, and Livingstone witnessed what he believed to be the last charge on horseback, when a squadron of light horsemen charged the Ottoman redoubt and forced their surrender. The capture of Amman was the end of the war in Jordan for the light horse. The 6th Australian Light Horse moved back to the camp near Jaffa, and later occupied Damascus. Unfortunately the ranks of the light horse were severely hit by the Spanish Flu while in Damascus.
Having enlisted in 1914, Livingstone was given special veteran’s leave and the choice to return to England or Australia. He opted for Australia as it was winter in England; however, before he had landed back home the war was over.
Livingstone returned to Australia on Christmas Day 1918. Almost immediately he was taken to Caulfield Hospital with a high temperature and a cough. He spent several days in hospital and was released to spend two weeks with his stepfather’s family at Castlemaine. He was discharged with the rank of corporal in January 1919. Soon after, he travelled to Perth to meet his mother and half-sisters. They were now young women; he had not seen them for more than eight years. He also met his five-year-old half-brother for the first time on his return to Harvey.
After years in the desert, Livingstone was experiencing problems with his eyes from the glare off the sand. Doctors at Fremantle Hospital operated on both eyes, and after two weeks he was discharged. He fought for reimbursement for the time spent in the hospital, but was told that as he had already been paid for leave, he would not be paid again. Years later, he received a cheque for the time he had spent in the hospital.
After returning to Harvey, Livingstone injured his back while tossing the caber at the local sports. The injuries meant that heavy lifting or digging for prolonged periods were painful, and put paid to his plans to become a farmer. He decided to return to Sydney. He worked as a tram driver for a short time before establishing a car hire service with two other returned soldiers. They set up a garage in Penny Lane, Kings Cross and bought two Studebakers. The small company struggled against competition from bigger companies, getting business only for weddings and christenings. The three men decided to fold the company and Livingstone returned to driving trams.
Livingstone met his wife, Vera, in Sydney, when she was visiting to welcome her brother back from war. He and Vera lived in Elliot Street, North Bondi, in a three-bedroom house with a small garden. Livingstone had a green thumb and packed the garden with fruit trees, grafting one type of fruit to another. He and Vera raised four children: Charles, Terrence, Maree and Betty. They were married for 60 years, had 14 grandchildren and 24 great grandchildren.
At the age of 92, Livingstone went to live with his son Terrence in Tasmania. He died the following year on 14 May 1985.
Berrie, G 1919, Under Furred Hats, The Naval & Military Press with Imperial War Museum, London
Bou, J 2010, Light Horse: A History of Australia’s Mounted Arm, Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne
Livingstone, C 1984, Some Memories of an A.N.Z.A.C., unpublished memoir
National Archives of Australia: Australian Imperial Force, Base Records Office;
B2455, Trooper Charles Henry Livingstone’s First Australian Imperial Force personnel dossier, 1914-1920; LIVINGSTONE, C H, 1914-1920