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John Macquarie Antill
Colonel Antill on Rhododendron Spur during the Gallipoli Campaign.
Nickname "Bull", "Bullant"
Born (1866-01-26)26 January 1866
Died 1 March 1937(1937-03-01) (aged 71)
Place of birth Jarvisfield, Picton, New South Wales
Allegiance Australian Army
Years of service 1887–1924
Rank Major General
Commands held
Other work Co-authored play The Emancipist

Major General John Macquarie Antill, Jr. CB, CMG (26 January 1866 – 1 March 1937) was a senior Colonial Army officer in the New South Wales Mounted Rifles and the Second Boer War, and an Australian Army and general in World War I. He retired from the army in 1924 as an honorary Major General. In retirement he co-authored a play with his daughter about the life of William Redfern, called The Emancipist.

Mainly due to Peter Weir's 1981 film Gallipoli, Antill is best known for not stopping the waves of suicidal charges on the Turkish lines at The Nek in the Gallipoli Campaign; there are a variety of interpretations of the command circumstances, including much criticism of the story portrayed in the film. However, there is no doubt that all four waves of the charges barely got "over the top" before being cut down by Turkish fire. The ANZAC forces suffered a 60% casualty rate, most having been cut down en masse just feet from their own trenches.

To quote Rex Clark in the Australian Dictionary of Biography:

"Tall, spare and wiry, brusque in manner and speech, Antill was recognized throughout his career as a courageous soldier, an able leader, a stern disciplinarian and a shrewd judge of men, with a flair for moulding those under his command to his ideal of what a soldier should be. This ideal was in the traditional British pattern."[1]

However, to quote Ross Mallett's excellent "General Officers of the First AIF":

"Brusque of manner and speech, Antill was a courageous soldier, an able leader and above all a stern disciplinarian. Many British officers considered him the very model of what a soldier should be. But in Australia he never escaped his role in those terrible hours at the Nek that became a byword for senseless self-sacrifice and probably never will."[2]

Early life and career[edit | edit source]

Antill was born at Jarvisfield, Picton, New South Wales, the second surviving son of John Macquarie Antill (1822–1900)[3] and Jessie Hassall Campbell (1834–1917).[4] Antill was educated at Sydney Grammar where he served in the school cadet unit, and became a surveyor. His sister was Elisabeth Ann Antill (1871–1927) who married Major General Harry Lassetter in 1891 and survived the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915.

Antill joined the local militia in 1887. In 1889, he raised a squadron of mounted infantry in Picton. The squadron later became part of the New South Wales Mounted Rifles, the unit into which Antill was commissioned as a captain on 19 January 1889. The commander of the New South Wales military forces, Major General Edward Hutton, arranged for Antill to do a tour of duty with the British army in India in 1893, where he served with the 1st Battalion, Devonshire Regiment and the 2nd Dragoon Guards. On his return to Australia in 1894, Antill was commissioned into the state's regular forces as a captain.

Boer War[edit | edit source]

In late 1899, Antill was promoted to the rank of Major and given command of 'A' Squadron of the New South Wales Mounted Rifles, 'A' Squadron was raised specially for service in the Boer War. Antill saw only limited action during the war, but he was present during the Battle of Paardeberg on 18 February 1900. Antill returned to Australia in January 1901, but returned to South Africa in March as second in command of the 2nd New South Wales Mounted Rifles, taking part in the capture of Potgier's convoy on the River Vaal. For service in South Africa, Antill was twice Mentioned in Despatches, was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1901,[5] and was made a brevet lieutenant colonel.

From 1904 to 1906, Antill filled the position of aide de camp to the Governor General, Henry Northcote. After this, he retired from the army and returned to Picton. Antill returned to the Army in 1911 as Commandant of the Instructional Staff Schools.

World War I[edit | edit source]

In October 1914, Antill was appointed to the AIF as Brigade Major of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade, under the command of Colonel Frederic Hughes. Antill embarked for Egypt on 25 February 1915. In May, Antill and the brigade moved to Anzac Cove for dismounted action. During the fierce fighting at The Nek, Antill, now in temporary command of the Brigade, refused a request from the commander of the 10th Light Horse[Who?] to cancel the third wave. Colonel Hughes had gone forward to call off the attack, leaving Antill in charge. Due to a communications breakdown, Antill believed Hughes had gone forward to lead the Brigade forward and therefore ordered the attack to continue. Hughes reached the line in time to call off the fourth wave. Antill took over command of the brigade in September 1915 when Hughes was evacuated due to illness. Antill remained with the brigade until the end of the campaign, though the brigade never took part in another major battle.

On 1 January 1916, Antill was promoted to colonel and temporary brigadier general and confirmed in command of 3rd Light Horse. The brigade was placed in the rear and for a time took over part of the defence of No. 2 Section of the Suez Canal defences. Only in August was the brigade released to join the ANZAC Mounted Division at Romani, too late to be decisive, and nearly too late to join the battle at all. Antill's only major action during the battle was at Bir el Abd on 5 August 1916. Antill began by piercing the Turkish flank and overrunning the Turkish position at Hamisah, taking some 425 prisoners. While reforming after the engagement his regiments came under light shell fire, and Antill decided to fall back. He appeared to have lost his nerve.[citation needed] Antlll's actions cost Major General Harry Chauvel vital hours and led to the removal of 3rd Light Horse from the line.[citation needed]

Only days after Romani, General William Birdwood sent a message requesting Antill take command of an infantry brigade on the Western Front. Antill elected to go and handed over command of his brigade on 9 August. He was immediately given command over the 2nd Infantry Brigade. Antill became ill and was evacuated sick to England in November 1916. He returned to France on 20 March 1917 and took command of the 16th Infantry Brigade which was forming in England as part of the new 6th Division. During this time Antill's health deteriorated and the medical review board refused to clear him for active duty. After failing his final medical examination he relinquished command of the brigade on 20 September 1917 and returned to Australia, where his AIF appointment was terminated in December 1917. For his service during World War I, Antill was created a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1916.[6]

Post-war[edit | edit source]

In 1918, Antill became Assistant Adjutant General. Later that year he became Commandant of the 5th Military District (South Australia). In 1921–1922 he was Chief Instructor at the Training Depot in Liverpool, New South Wales. He retired again on 26 January 1924 with the honorary rank of major general. In retirement he co-authored a play with his daughter about the life of William Redfern, called The Emancipist. At the age of 71, John Macquarie Antill finally lost a three-year battle against cancer on 1 March 1937.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Rex Clark, 'Antill, John Macquarie (1866–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, Melbourne University Press, 1979, pp 81–82.
  2. Ross Mallett, John Antill Biography, "General Officers of the First AIF", adfa.edu.au.
  3. "Antill, John Macquarie (1822–1900) - obituary". Obituaries Australia. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/antill-john-macquarie-16332. 
  4. "Antill, Jessie Hassall (1831–1917) - obituary". Obituaries Australia. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/antill-jessie-hassall-13547. 
  5. London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 27306, page 2697, 19 April 1901
  6. London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29608, page 5560, 2 June 1916

External links[edit | edit source]

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