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The First Australian General

The First Australian General/Istanbul (not Constantinople)

Lieutenant General Sir Harry Chauvel, Commander in Chief, who commanded the desert mounted troops in Palestine, leading the Australian Army Light Horse riding towards a parade through the city streets (G00794 and text courtesy of the Australian War Memorial).

General Sir Henry “Harry” Chauvel was the famous commander of the Australian Light Horse and eventually all the Imperial mounted units in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign.

Born in New South Wales in 1865, Chauvel’s parents were graziers and cattle breeders and he grew up working on his parents’ stations on the Clarence River and the Darling Downs in Queensland and became an expert horseman in the process. 

He wanted to join the British Army when he left school, but his parents could not afford a commission.  He instead became an officer in the Upper Clarence Light Horse in 1885, the Queensland Mounted Infantry in 1890 and Captain of the Moreton Regiment in 1896.  He fought in the Second South African (Boer) War from 1899-1901 with distinction and was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel at the end of the war.

On the eve of the First World War Chauvel had spent more than a decade organising and managing Australia’s militia forces, including compulsory military training and the establishment of Duntroon Military College in Canberra. 

In England at the outbreak of the war, he served in the War Office before being given command of the 1st Light Horse Brigade.  He commanded the Brigade in Gallipoli and then was given command of the 1st Division.  After the withdrawal from Gallipoli, Chauvel remained in Egypt and was given command of the Australian forces there, including the Australian Flying Corps. 

He became one of the most daring and successful commanders of the war and was hugely popular with his soldiers.  He was calm and courageous in battle and he often suffered the same hardships as his men, even sleeping on his greatcoat in the sand of the desert while in the field.

After the war he remained a central figure in the reorganisation of the Australian military forces in the 1920s and 30s.  In 1929 he was promoted to General, the first Australian to achieve the rank.  He died in 1945, Australia’s first General and one of its most celebrated soldiers.

Did you know….

Chauvel and the Allied forces at Gallipoli had, as their grand objective, the capture of Constantinople.  Except that is not what we call the city today.  It is now called Istanbul.

Istanbul is the capital of Turkey and it was the capital of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire.  Turkey renamed the city Istanbul in 1930.  The Ottomans had referred to Constantinople as ‘Istanbul’ even before they captured it in the 15th century CE.

However, for centuries it was called Constantinople after the Roman Emperor Constantine who established it as the capital of (Eastern) Roman Empire in the 4th century CE.

Even earlier than this the city was Byzantium, which is where we get the name of Byzantine Empire.  The Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453 CE, ending the Byzantine Empire, which was also the last remnant of the Roman Empire. Confusing!