Major Nat Barton mentioned in despatches

Name: Nat Barton
Date: 1914-1918
Unit: 7th Light Horse Regiment
Location: Gallipoli, France, Belgium

Nat Barton was born at Wellington in 1894, the third son of Charles and Annie Barton. He spent most of his life growing up on their property, Nanima, close to Wellington, which his parents had bought in 1894.

His father Charles died in 1912. Nat's later education was at The Kings School, Parramatta, where he became Head boy and a Sergeant in the Cadets. He was in his first year of medical studies at Sydney University when the war broke out.

While at university he had held the rank of 2nd Lieutenant with the 34th Infantry Battalion, CNT. Putting on hold his medical studies he enlisted on 20 November 1914. He retained his rank of 2nd Lieutenant and was given a command in C Squadron, 7th Light Horse Regiment.

On 17 December 1914, C Squadron and the Machine Gun Section moved from Holsworthy and bivouacked in the grounds of Lt-Col Arnott's residence at Homebush, prior to embarkation on the HMT Ajana early the next morning. Nat's older brother Brian was a Trooper in the 6th Light Horse Regiment. He sailed in the same convoy aboard the Suevic. The convoy arrived at Alexandria on 1 February 1915. As the Infantry landed on Anzac Cove the Light Horse continued to train. On 1 May, Nat received his promotion to Lieutenant.

By mid-May the 7th Light Horse Regiment was sent to fight on Gallipoli, but as dismounted troops. The 7th landed on 20 May and moved into positions in Death Gully. They were involved in establishing Ryries Post and spent much of their time on the Cove there but they were also involved with the Lone Pine attacks. While on Anzac Cove, Nat received a slight wound to his nose, which although requiring evacuation to Mudros, did not keep him away from his Regiment for long.

Nat was promoted to Temporary Captain on 15 October. A short break to Imbros to command the General's Bodyguard in late October also followed. Nat was back with the 7th when they were amongst the last to evacuate Anzac Cove, on 19 December 1915.

Back in the Middle East, Nat was promoted to Captain on 12 March 1916. As the Infantry re-organised ready for a move to the Western Front the 7th Light Horse Regiment prepared to fight the Turks in Palestine and Sinai.

He was promoted to Major in September 1916. Nat's favourite mount Cossack received a shrapnel wound, but after treatment was soon back with his master. Nat's second mount Macquarie also served with the Squadron. In all, Nat at various times had four mounts, however, Cossack remained his most loyal companion.

In the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 Volume VII - The AIF in Sinai and Palestine by H.S.Gullett (page 361) reference is made to a 'little expedition', presumably organised to promote adventure in the men. The assignment involved the 7th Light Horse placing a bomb under the rails of the Gaza-Beersheba railway line, 14 miles inside enemy territory. The expedition took place on 14 August 1917. Two squadrons acted as covering troops whilst the third, under the command of Major Barton, marching by the stars, reached the railway in the early hours of the morning.

The Engineers accompanying the squadron found the ground very hard and considerable time was lost. Before they could place the bomb a party of six Turks discovered them and opened fire. The Australians were under orders not to fire unless in trouble. Corporal Moore killed one Turk with his bayonet but was himself badly wounded. The Australians then opened fire and wounded and captured the remaining Turks.

With the sound of additional enemy troops approaching, Major Barton withdrew his men taking the bomb with them. This incident is referred to as 'a fine example of light horse marching over a strange, rough country in the dark'

The AIF in Sinai and Palestine, Pages 501-502 again mentions Major Barton and part of his Squadron for 29 and 30 November 1917, when his Regiment was involved in heavy clashes along the Auja river.

These attacks were a prelude to the forthcoming capture of Jerusalem. Attacks were frequent and the days and nights were very active. Major Barton's party occupied a small entrenched position on Hill 330. In front was a wide garden of almond trees, crossed by cactus hedges, sloping down steeply to the valley of the Auja.

One night, his party of 19 men heard Turks talking behind a cactus hedge. The Turks began firing on the post but the Australians were very familiar with the terrain and despite having only 15 rifles and two Hotchkiss guns, still managed to maul the Turks severely as they came up the slope. The Hotchkiss guns jammed, but the Australians held the Turks at bay until dawn.

In the morning, with the assistance of other posts positioned near the river, the four Turkish officers and 194 men, with four machine guns, rifles and bombs, surrendered to one of Major Barton's men. Major Barton was mentioned in despatches for his part in the Auja attack.

During an attack by C Squadron, 6th Light Horse on a feature known as the Ypres Salient, Nat's brother Brian was killed and another Wellington lad Billy Bassett received a Military Medal for his actions as a stretcher bearer.

In January 1918, Nat's younger brother Denie, was then in the Middle East training at Ismalia, ready to join his new unit. Denie had chosen and was accepted into the 6th Light Horse Regiment. Nat and Denie were both with their respective regiments on 27 and 28 March 1918, during the first Battle of Amman in which the 6th and 7th Light Horse Regiments suffered heavy casualties.

Due to mountainous terrain and an almost impassable 'goat track', limbers and carts had to be left behind. Cold wet boggy conditions prevailed and after three nights of marching, with the enemy holding higher advantageous positions, the Anzac Mounted Division finally was ordered to retire. During the attack Nat was struck just above the knee by a bullet. Finding he could still walk he kept going only to be struck again, this time in the thigh.

Nat had to be stretchered back to the supporting Field Ambulance where he was initially treated. What followed was an uncomfortable trip in the cacolets (beds for the wounded, tied to either side of a camel for transportation), and then a sand cart. His companion in the sand cart, suffering from an abdominal wound fared badly during the trip to the Casualty Clearing Station and died the next day.

In the same battle, Denie was struck by shrapnel in his left upper arm. Casualties in the Anzac Mounted Division during the battle totalled 117 killed, 551 wounded and 55 missing.

The trip back to hospital was a slow one. First, he was taken from the Casualty Clearing Station to Jerusalem by motor ambulance. The next stage was to Enab staying overnight, then on to Ludd next day. From there he was taken by train to El Arish, next day to Kantara, where he stayed two nights, finally boarding a steamer next day for Port Said.

The evacuation procedure took 10 days for him to reach the General Hospital at Port Said. Although his wounds healed cleanly his leg had been badly broken and when fit enough to travel Nat was invalided back to Australia.

By the signing of the Peace Armistice in November 1918, Nat was back on Nanima continuing his recovery. He proudly led a Peace Demonstration March through the streets of Wellington on 13 November 1918, two days after the official signing of the Armistice. Unfortunately Nat was not riding his favourite mount Cossack, which had remained with the 7th Light Horse in the Middle East and as with the other light horse mounts did not return to Australia.

Nat resumed his medical studies in 1919 qualifying as a doctor in 1923.

Information for this article came predominantly from the limited edition book Nat D. Barton's Letters Home 1914-1918 War, a copy of which is held by the Wellington Historical Society where it was prepared by Trevor Munro.

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Major Nat Barton mentioned in despatches, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 12 July 2024,
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