76 Lieutenant Melville Orchard FARMER – killed in action 30 April 1918
Melville Orchard Farmer was born on 29 June 1888 at Wallaroo, South Australia, the youngest child of Henry Farmer and Louisa Margaret Farmer (nee Orchard). Henry Farmer, a policeman, was stationed at various towns in the State before being transferred to Victor Harbor in 1911. After leaving school Melville worked as an insurance clerk for the AMP Society Ltd in Adelaide. On 4 August 1914 Britain entered the First World War when it declared war on Germany. And soon after, on 20 September, Melville enlisted in the AIF. He was 26.
Given the serial number 76, he was posted to ‘A’ Squadron of the 9th Light Horse Regiment, which was still being formed in Adelaide. Trooper Farmer was promoted to corporal on 1 November and soon after, to squadron quartermaster sergeant. Later that month the Regiment travelled to Melbourne to continue training at the Broadmeadows Camp before heading overseas. ‘A’ Squadron boarded HMAT A26 Armadale at Victoria Dock on 12 February 1915. Two other transport vessels carried the remainder of the Regiment. They all arrived in Egypt in mid-March 1915.
The Light Horse was considered unsuitable for the initial operations at Gallipoli and the Regiment was subsequently deployed without its horses. The 3rd Light Horse Brigade, of which the 9th Light Horse Regiment was part, landed at Gallipoli in late May 1915 and was attached to the Australian and New Zealand Division. Sgt Farmer was evacuated from Gallipoli on 28 June with dysentery but returned ten days later. He was evacuated again two days after his return and rejoined his unit a few days later. The Regiment was fortunate to be in reserve for the Brigade’s disastrous attack on the Nek on 7 August, but suffered 50 per cent casualties attacking Hill 60 on 27 August. Sgt Farmer was again evacuated, this time with fever, on 5 September. He never returned to Gallipoli.
Back in Egypt, the 3rd Light Horse Brigade became part of the ANZAC Mounted Division. Sgt Farmer was promoted to regimental quartermaster sergeant (RQMS) in February 1916. In March 1916, the Regiment joined the forces defending the Suez Canal from a Turkish drive across the Sinai Desert. The Turks were turned at Romani. Although it did not take part in the actual battle, the 9th Light Horse was involved in the advance that followed the Turks back across the desert. On 29 July 1916, Melville Farmer married Miss Ruby E. Adams in the officers’ mess at Port Said. Miss Adams had travelled from Adelaide. The Reverend A. M. Thorn and the British Consul performed the ceremony.
By December 1916, the Regiment’s advance had reached the Palestine frontier and the 9th was involved in the fighting to secure the Turkish outposts of Maghdaba (23 December) and Rafa (9 January 1917), both of which were captured at bayonet point. On 2 February 1917, RQMS Farmer was commissioned as a second lieutenant and on 15 May, he was promoted to lieutenant.
The next Turkish stronghold to be encountered was Gaza. The 3rd Light Horse Brigade, now part of the Imperial Mounted Division (later re-named the Australian Mounted Division), was involved in two abortive battles to capture Gaza directly (27 March and 19 April 1917) and then the operation that ultimately led to its fall – a wide outflanking move via Beersheba that began on 31 October. With the fall of Gaza on 7 November 1917, the Turkish position in southern Palestine collapsed.
The 9th Light Horse joined the pursuit that followed and led to the capture of Jerusalem in December. The focus of British operations then moved to the Jordan Valley. On 30 April 1918 commencing at 0445 hours, the Regiment advanced against Turkish positions near Es Salt. During the day they encountered artillery and machine gun fire and enemy cavalry. The battle continued throughout the day and 200 enemy were captured and an unknown number killed. Lt Farmer was one of two of the Regiment’s soldiers killed in the action. He was buried in the field but his grave has never been found.
A Norfolk Island pine in Victor Harbor’s Soldiers’ Memorial Gardens bore a plaque with Melville Farmer’s name on it to commemorate his sacrifice. It was removed, along with other memorial plaques due to the concerns of theft. They are now stored in the RSL Clubrooms.
Service file of 76 Melville Orchard FARMER from the National Archives of Australia ( www.naa.org.au ).
Australian War Memorial data base ( www.awm.gov.au ).