Light Horsemen ride again to meet the dawn

Anita Jaensch 23 April 2021

The clippity-clop of horses' hooves provides a unique accompaniment to Warwick’s Dawn Service, linking the present to the WWI history of the Darling Downs.

As the sky begins to lighten over the Warwick cenotaph, the 11th Warwick-Montrose Light Horse Troop rides in to the rhythmic clapping of the audience.

“You feel like you’re in a world of your own,” says Russell Brodrick. On ANZAC morning, he’ll have gotten up at 3am to round up his horse, don his uniform and make it to the cenotaph in time. The Troop will also participate in the March and Main Service later that day.

Russell Brodrick of the 11th Warwick-Montrose Light Horse Troop

Having lost four family members in World War I, Russell says being part of the commemoration is very special to him.

“You’re remembering those blokes who went over there, especially the young ones. They thought they were going on a big adventure, which didn’t turn out to be that way,” he says.

The 11th Warwick-Montrose Light Horse Troop traces its roots back to the 11th Light Horse Regiment, which was raised in Queensland in 1915, and served with distinction in Gallipoli, North Africa and the Middle East.

CONNECTIONS TO THE PAST

Warwick RSL Sub Branch President John Skinner says the Troop is a highlight of its ANZAC Day commemorations.

“The Troop really plays a significant part in our ANZAC Day. They usually form the lead – or vanguard – of our parades. They take part in just about everything; the people love to see them, and we want to involve them in everything we do.”

As an ex-serviceman, ANZAC Day is intensely personal to John. But he also has personal ties to the Light Horse.

Warwick RSL Sub Branch President John Skinner

“Even before I was in the military, ANZAC Day was a special day,” he explains. “My grandfather, my dad’s father, was a light horseman in World War I. Served in Palestine, was wounded. And so, it always meant something to me.

“But after I served and came home, the death of three very close friends – it brings me back to thinking about them as well. It is something really special that means a lot to me.”

Russell, too, feels the link to the past. “I remember all those blokes that didn’t come back,” he says. “I’ve been to Beersheba and done the re-enactment twice. We visited every war cemetery that was in Turkey and Jerusalem at that stage.

“And when you look at the ages of the young people that went, it brings a tear to your eye.”

BRINGING THE COMMUNITY TOGETHER

Warwick’s strong community spirit has contributed to a steady increase in attendance at the town’s Dawn Service.

“When I first came to Warwick 40 years ago, ANZAC Day was a big day, but the Dawn Service was small,” John says. “These days we’re getting up to 3,000 people at the Dawn Service.”

As well as the Light Horse Troop and veterans' groups, John says many schools and community groups, including the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades, Girl Guides, Scouts and SES, march in the ANZAC Day Parade.

“We have quite a big Parade, but we also get a good crowd to come along. And the crowd claps as the Diggers march past, which is something I’ve never experienced anywhere else.”

The 11th Warwick-Montrose Light Horse Troop

RETURNING TO TRADITION

John says he’s looking forward to commemorating ANZAC Day traditionally this year.

“Last year was very difficult for us, but we went out of our way to make sure that we did as much as we could," he says. "We stood at our gate with our flags and candles. We’re on a country road, so we did it just because it was important to us.

“But to be back with the people, with the community and with the Diggers. Yeah, we’re really looking forward to it.

Russell agrees. “We’re always excited to attend ANZAC Day as a troop,” he says. “It’s good to be able to get involved and see some of your friends who turn up every year, and the older people that come over. It will be special.”