Light Horse rides again

Major JF Thomas Riding Troop president Bruce Petrie at the Tabulam centenary.
Major JF Thomas Riding Troop president Bruce Petrie at the Tabulam centenary.

Local diehard Light Horse troop members continue to fly the flag for the iconic brigade whose accomplishments in battle come to the forefront as centenary anniversaries are celebrated.

Tenterfield’s JF Thomas Riding Troop currently operates under president Bruce Petrie, participating in re-enactments, parades and tent pegging demonstrations, and are a feature of the Tenterfield Show.

Acquiring Light Horse gear is the biggest challenge to the troop’s ongoing operations, particularly for today’s ‘larger-boned’ riders.

“The uniforms are all for small people,” Mr Petrie said.

“Apparently only short people went to war,” he said, tongue-in-cheek.

Most of the troop’s equipment cames from retirees, although many don’t wish to part with it for sentimental reasons. Currently it has eight members, and is affiliated with the Australian Light Horse Association. Mr Petrie welcomes more members and their mounts. He said members get a lot of personal satisfaction out of their involvement, with the troop invited to participate in some rather historic occasions.

Major JF THomas Riding Troop members Cliff Skinner and Bruce Petrie at Battle of Beersheba centenary commemorations in Tabulam earlier this year.

Major JF THomas Riding Troop members Cliff Skinner and Bruce Petrie at Battle of Beersheba centenary commemorations in Tabulam earlier this year.

As in Mr Petrie’s case there’s no necessity to have a family connection with the brigade, and he said prospective members shouldn’t be daunted by the prospect of joining the troop. The group does have some equipment to lend to riders, with more obtainable from a variety of sources.

Anyone interested can call Mr Petrie on 0402 663 773 for more information.

Harry Chauvel Memorial Ride

Members of the JF Thomas Riding Troop including Mr Petrie, Scott Rhodes, Jim Hamilton and others are planning to ride in the Harry Chauvel Memorial Ride taking place late in October, along with a back-up crew.

Organised by the Grafton RSL Sub Branch, the three-day event begin with a memorial services at the Light Horse Monument in Tabulam at 6pm on Tuesday, October 31.

The next morning riders will mount up and cross the Clarence River from the Tabulam Racecourse at 8am, proceeding on to Chauvel Road, and following Plains Station Road to their next camp, eventually arriving at Copmanhurst.

37-year history

The roots of the Major JF Thomas Troop Inc go back 37 years to a meeting held at the RSL Hall on February 25, 1981. According to the minutes book, FJ Dearden chaired the meeting which was also attended by Ian Clarke, Stan McColl, Arthur Smith, Harold Burke, Ted Pavel, Reg Smith, Bill Stalling and Rod Coffey.

That night Mr Dearden proposed the formation of a local branch of the 12/16th Hunter River Lancers and 24 Light Horse Regiment Association, which was duly carried. Mr Dearden became president of the fledgling club, to become known as the Major JF Thomas Riding Troop, with Mr Clark as vice-president and Mr Stalling as secretary/treasurer.

All those present became members of the committee, which moved to make every effort to gather 12 Light Horse members to march as a unit in the upcoming Anzac Day parade. The next meeting appears to have been held a year later, with Mr Pavel and Mr McColl reporting their participation in the Brisbane Anzac Day march, Inverell RSM Club 50 years celebrations and the opening of the Bundarra Bridge, as well as an invitation to ride in that year’s Sydney Anzac Day march.

Mr Pavel also undertook training of the tent pegging teams, and troop and section drills were held at Schiffman’s paddock.

Membership numbers had increased by 1985 when 25 were either present at the December meeting or apologies. Sadly this didn’t include troop leader Ted Pavel who had passed away.

That meeting also marked the the formation of an independent Light Horse troop, with new president Claude Haddock as troop leader.

A concerted push for the troop to accumulate equipment seems to have taken place the following May with John Ferguson reimbursed $150 for his purchase of three lances, GR Barrow reimbursed $111.90 for his purchase of hats, puggarees, chin straps, head ropes, stirrups and leathers, and moves to get a quote for 20 pairs of breeches.

The troop’s progress over the intervening years waxed and waned as did the strength of its numbers, participating in rides around the district and further afield and undertaking fundraising efforts to acquire and maintain equipment. Rod Johnson even donated the proceeds of $351.09 from the sale of a cow in 1988.

Its participation in the annual Tenterfield Show is legendary, with the troop taking out the Allgas and Border Plumbing Trophy for ‘best exhibit in the grand parade’ at the 1990 show.

Although numbers are now depleted, the troop is a welcome sight in Tenterfield’s Anzac Day marches and adds colour and character to other local events like Oracles of the Bush. Hopefully increased awareness of the troop through WWI centenary events will lead to more support for its endeavours, through membership or donations.

“And you get to ride in a parade,” Mr Petrie said.