15 July 2016

John 'The Bullant' Antill

The vast majority of medals that we return are the standard entitlement that servicemen received. Every now and then something exceptional comes our way. The 1914/15 Star awarded to Samuel Steele is one example where a common medal has real historical significance. We have also returned the medals awarded to a Major General and several gallantry medals. However, this particular case is undoubtedly the most important I think we have dealt with. Students of Australian military history will recognise this man's name and most Australians will probably recognise the individual I'll soon describe.
John Macquarie Antill CB, CMG (known and Jack) was a predominant figure in colonial military circles and a minor hero in the Boer War. These links detail his service with A Sqn, NSW Mounted Rifles and the 2nd NSW Mounted Rifles. However, it is the role he played at The Nek on 7 August 1915 that he will be remembered for.
Peter Weir's 1981 film Gallipoli tells the story of the Western Australian based 10th Light Horse Regiment and the tragic charge at The Nek. Even when it was obvious that the preceding waves of attack by the 8th Light Horse Regiment had failed and that to continue was futile, the 10th were ordered to 'push on'. In the film this order was given by a British officer by the name of Robertson. This is historically incorrect. The order to 'push on' was given by LTCOL John Macquarie Antill. This link debunks five myths about Gallipoli and Antill features in myth 4.
This episode has also been the subject of many academic papers and books. One recent popular book is Goodbye Cobber, God Bless You by John Hamilton (published by Pan Macmillian Australia 2004). Using many public and private source document, John provides great detail about the individuals involved in the charge. He also deals with the open hostility between Antill and three regimental Commanding Officers who made up the 3rd Light Horse Brigade. The bitterness between Antill and the CO of 10LH, LTCOL Noel Brazier was the most pronounced. Brazier wrote that he considered himself to be fighting two wars. I think that is is worth quoting an extract from Goodbye Cobber, God Bless You:
'Lieutenant Colonel Antill had received news at brigade headquarters that one of the red-and-yellow flags had been seen on the enemy's trench.....Now the Bullant had his old friend from Perth to content with.'
'Brazier found Antill alone in the dugout, 'with his back to the wall'. The scene was set for an immediate confrontation between the two men who loathed each other. There was no mediator and no commanding officer to step in, but unfortunately there was also no independent witness as to what was said between the two'.
'Brazier told the brigade major [Antill's appointment] that most of the 8th Regiment had not advanced 10 meters beyond their own trenches and were possibly all killed, and that the machine-gun fire of the Turks had already cut the scrub level with the top of the trenches. Would the acting brigadier [Antill in the absence of the actual Brigade Commander] now confirm the order to advance?'
'According to the 10th CO, Antill informed him of he report he'd received - that the 8th had reached the Turkish trenches and placed a flag there - so the West Australians were to 'push on'. Brazier then insisted that not only was there no such flag, but 'it was murder to push on', to which the Bullant 'simply roared - "Push on".' 

This biography provides far better back ground than I can succinctly write. It is obvious that he was a strict disciplinarian and this trait is probably one of the reasons he earned the nick name of Bull Antill or The Bullant.
Following WWI, Antill held several appointments including as the Commandant 4th Military District. His name appears in several newspapers but unfortunately he was usually associated with some form of scandal. The one article that was positive and tells the story of Antill's life is from the Sydney Mail of March 1937 and titled the Antills of Jarvisfield.
The chain of events that led to this piece of research falling my way is a story in itself. Two months ago a contact I have in Honours and Awards forwarded an email from the manager of the National Australia Bank branch in Bowral NSW. A recent audit of the branch safe custody area exposed several items that had not been accessed for decades. These included a set of medal. I communicated with the Manager who gave me the name Antill. I immediately knew who he was referring to. Even though the Antills were a large family it was a bit difficult to draw a line to the current generation. I knew that Jack had had two daughters but neither married. Two of his brothers, Guy and Edward did have families. It was Edward's descendants who I located and to my very pleasant surprise the middle name of Macquarie is still being used. Edward also served in the Boer War.
Knowing the value of the medals as well as the historical significance I thought it best to deliver these medals in person. I recently drove to Bowral and collected the medals from the NAB branch. However, the medals wasn't all that they had. There was a large security box with several times with Guy's initials on them as well as other valuables. Also was a copy of the Sydney Mail with the 'Antills of Jarvisfield' story. All these are pictured below.
Yesterday I met the Antill family in Sydney and was able to return the family collection to them.
 I would really like to thank Kim for NAB Bowral for his trust in me and wanting to see this collection returned.
The returned medal tally is now 1853.

The following photos are the contents of the security box and others I found of John Macquarie Antill.
Antill's medal including Companion of the Order of the Bath, Companion of Order of St Michael and St George, the Queen's South Africa Medal with 7 clasps, 1914/15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.
 Companion of the Order of the Bath
 Companion of Order of St Michael and St George
 Companion of Order of St Michael and St George
 Queen's South Africa Medal with 7 clasps
 Naming on Queen's South Africa Medal
  Naming on Queen's South Africa Medal
   Naming on Queen's South Africa Medal
 1914/15 Star
Naming on 1914/15 Star
 British War Medal
Naming on  British War Medal
 Victory Medal
  Naming on Victory Medal
Naming on Victory Medal

 Antill at Gallipoli
 Antill as Commandant 4th Military District
 Portrait photo of Antill
This obituary from 1937 provides a contemporary summary of Antill's life.
 Antill's security trunk
 Antill's security trunk contents

 Antill's wrist watch
 Pocket watch and match box with the initials GFA (Guy Francis Antill)

 The Sydney Mail from March 1937 with the story of the Antills of Jarvisfield

1 comment:

  1. What an honour Glyn ... and as you so rightly say, a big thank you to NAB for wanting to return the collection to the family.
    Having followed your work in returning the medals, almost from the beginning, this would be the most memorable.