“Western Australian Rhodes Scholar, practising Solicitor Perth, WA prior to enlistment, killed at The Nek, Gallipoli “
Alexander Phipps TURNBULL ( commonly known as Phipps ) was born at Princep Park, Dardanup, WA on 18 July 1888 to father Alec and mother Marian ( nee LEE-STEERE ). His parents were married in Bunbury on 21 September, 1887.
Alec was the Estate Manager at Princep Park at the time , having been born in Melbourne and educated at Wesley College. He was passionate about horse racing and had acquired a thoroughbred “ First Prince “ from Victoria for new owner Alexander FORREST which was duly successful in winning the inaugural Perth Cup. In the following year, Alec TURNBULL owned and trained the winner of the inaugural Perth Derby. He had joined the exclusive Weld Club and co-founded the Exchange Club ( later the Western Australia Club ). Alec regarded himself primarily as a Grazier and early in the new Century, he took over Lynburn Station, primarily a sheep station, with wheat cultivated, 80 miles East of Esperance.
In 1898 , ten year old Phipps was sent to be educated at Perth High School ( later known as Hale School ). Phipps TURNBULL’s grandfather was Sir James LEE-STEERE ( Speaker in the W.A. Parliament, both in the Legislative Council from 1886-1890 and the Legislative Assembly from 1890-1903 ). The stately LEE-STEERE residence, “ Elderslie” , in St. Georges Terrace, Perth, became the Perth base for Phipps. He quickly formed a strong bond with his LEE-STEERE Aunts and his Grandmother, in particular.
Sir James LEE-STEERE had served on the School’s Board of Governors for more than 20 years and one of Phipps Aunties was married to the School’s Headmaster. Phipps had an excellent academic record at Perth High School, where he won a series of prizes and exhibitions , including First in Latin, Greek, French and English, in 1906. He was elected Captain of the School, as well as being the Dux. He also excelled as a sportsman in the School’s First Eleven Cricket Team for 3 years, as well as being a capable defender in the School’s Soccer Team. Phipps also rowed in the School Crew and distinguished himself in Athletics.
An article in the “ West Australian “ during this period , described Phipps as having “ high character “ , was “ very popular “ and had inherited his father’s prowess as a fine horseman and bushman. In 1907 he was convinced to apply for a Rhodes Scholarship, with the assessing panel awarding him the honour of selection as Western Australia’s fourth Rhodes Scholar.
One of Phipp’s Uncles, William ELGEE, a prominent and widely admired Doctor, who was the Mayor of Midland Junction, died suddenly around the time of Phipp’s Award, severely dampening the family spirits of the day. Phipps had bestowed inspiring kindness to his cousin Evelyn ( the nine year old daughter of his deceased Uncle ) during the bereavement period and he became and remained her hero.
Phipps TURNBULL left Western Australia in August 1907 to take up his Rhodes Scholarship at Merton College, Oxford University in England. He had firmly decided on Law being his ultimate career, selecting Jurisprudence as a feature of his Arts Course. During his studies, he was also very active in representing the Merton College Rowing and Soccer Teams. He had befriended Prescott HARPER, an earlier W.A. Rhodes Scholar, who was in his last year at Oxford in 1908. They both served in the Kings Colonials cavalry Regiment ( which had an Australian Squadron ) for most of the time they were in England.
Phipps completed his Degree with remarkable success, being one of only 3 students to achieve First Class Honours in Jurisprudence, from a class of 60 students. This achievement was a remarkable feat by TURNBULL, with the “ Guide to Oxford Examinations” clearly stating the underlying magnitude of any student achieving First Class Honours. Phipps “ great distinction “ was enthusiastically acclaimed at Perth High School and throughout the family and his network of friends.
Phipps stayed on in England after his graduation in 1910 to work for a London legal firm for twelve months. He qualified to practice as a Lawyer in 1911, by passing his final Inns of Court Examinations. He was formally “ Called to the Bar “ on 28 June 1911, as a Member of the Inner Temple. He then travelled through America and Canada, before returning to Australia on Christmas Day, 1911. On arrival back in Perth, he joined leading Perth Solicitors, Parker & Parker, who had substantial Banking and Farming clients. Principle, Sir Henry PARKER held notable cultural events at his grand home in St Georges Terrace, not far from the LEE-STEERE residence “ Elderslie “, where Phipps had again taken up residence. The firm’s headquarters were also located conveniently nearby in Howard Street Perth, just a short stroll to the Supreme Court.
Phipps TURNBULL was admitted onto the roll of practising Western Australian Lawyers in September, 1912 and became a Commissioner for taking affidavits of the Supreme Court in 1913. He did exceptionally well in cases including divorce, commercial litigation and compulsory land acquisition. In August 1914, he became the first partner in Parker & Parker, who was not a relative of the firm’s founder. Away from work, Phipps was particularly active in the West Australian Rowing Club, on the water, and as an office bearer, being appointed Captain of the Club in 1914. He was also actively involved in the affairs of Perth High School, representing the Old Boys in Cricket and Rowing, and elected as the Secretary of the School’s Old Boys Association.
Phipps had established a busy social life with Molly MARMION as his constant companion. Her father had developed the thriving enterprise, W.E. MARMION & Co. in Fremantle, concentrated in the pastoral, pearling, maritime and mining industries. Mr. MARMION’s sudden death in 1896, resulted in widespread grief and his funeral was the largest ever seen in Perth to that time. Molly was well-travelled , having spent years in England at Boarding School, then educated in a convent in Belgium, followed by 6 months in Dresden, learning German, music and singing. She was a stylish writer and a melodious singer. Phipps responded most favourably to her engaging personality. They had known each other for many years , being from notable families with mutual friends and with a mutual heritage. Early in 1914 they had become engaged to be married.
Phipps TURNBULL enlisted for War Service on 5 October, 1914, as did two of his close mates, Brothers Gresley and Wilfred HARPER. Phipps was quickly appointed to the rank of Corporal, and the 3 of them were allocated to “ A “ Squadron of the 10th Light Horse Regiment. The men began drills and exercises at Guildford WA, with “ B “ and “C “ Squadrons of the 10th Light Horse united with “ A “ Squadron from 28 October, 1914. Arduous training continued in ever warmer weather. On 5 November, 1914, Phipps was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.
Large crowds gathered in Perth on 18 December, 1914, when the 10th Light Horse marched through the City. Home Leave was granted for Christmas, then the Regiment re-assembled at Claremont in early 1915. Troops were taken by ship to Rockingham, for a further month’s training before departure , bound for Egypt. In early February, 1915, Phipps made his will with his employers Parker & Parker , his Executor being his friend John FORREST Jnr. In his Will, Phipps bequeathed 200 Pounds to Molly MARMION, and gave the rest of his Estate to be shared equally between his parents and younger brother, Hubert.
Phipps TURNBULL embarked from Fremantle, WA at 5.00pm on 8 February, 1915, aboard the “ Mashobra “, being farewelled by the largest crowd ever gathered on the wharf. The troops had a busy life on board, in transit, as they were responsible for grooming, feeding and exercising the horses, whilst keeping the stables as clean as the decks. The “ Mashobra “ berthed at Colombo, Ceylon, on 21 February, 1915, where the men enjoyed a short respite ashore. The LightHorsemen subsequently disembarked at Alexandria, Egypt on 8 March, 1915.
Shortly after arrival at Mena Camp, Cairo, Phipps wrote a letter to his Grandmother, Lady Catherine LEE-STEERE, in which he stated:- “ We thought we were in a sandy spot at Rockingham, but this place beats any I have seen, we are right on the edge of the desert and can see nothing but a sandy waste as far as the eye can reach on one side; there is not a vestige of growth or tree of any kind growing on it, and when the wind blows from the desert quarter, it is hard to see for the drifting sand and it makes one’s eyes very sore. It is exactly similar to being camped on one of the sand patches like we have at Lynburn, and the only blessing about it, is that the sand is white and clean “.
Sgt. TURNBULL found the squalor and degradation of Cairo repugnant, however, appreciated the contrasting ambience of Heliopolis. Unfortunately, Phipps contracted measles and spent a few days in Hospital, whilst in Heliopolis. Shortly before leaving for the Gallipoli Peninsula, he wrote:- “ The wounded have been pouring in here in hundreds, some a good deal battered. The piteous sight of our wounded comrades has made us all anxious to get away and have a smack at the Turks “.
Col. BRAZIER asked his Western Australian Light Horsemen whether they would be prepared to assist as Infantry Reinforcements, without their horses; he reported that the 10th Light Horse Regiment had volunteered “ to a man “.
Sgt. Phipps TURNBULL travelled with Tom “ Pompey “ ELLIOTT and the HARPER Brothers, to the Gallipoli Peninsula aboard the “ Lutzow “. On 18 May, 1915, they neared Cape Helles and sighted active aeroplanes and battleships bombarding the shore. The thunder of the guns was indescribable. Sleep was near impossible. The “ Lutzow “ arrived at Anzac Cove to find an immense Turkish offensive in full swing. The 10th Light Horse Regiment disembarked on the late afternoon of 21 May, 1915. Turkish gunners had been shelling the “ Lutzow “ throughout the day. The men were conveyed by a destroyer, then barge and pinnace to form up on the beach at Anzac Cove at dusk. The 10th LHR were then guided to a spot near Plugge’s Plateau, where they excavated habitable holes for their first night ashore.
On 22 May, 1915, the 10th LHR were directed to proceed along Shrapnel Gully to Monash Valley, where they dug themselves in , along both sides of the Valley. They spent the 9 hour Armistice on 24 May, 1915, amongst the rotting corpses of their comrades and the Turks, during the time that bodies were buried. When the truce ended , part of the Regiment was sent to Quinns Post on the same day. On 26 May, 1915, “ C “ Squadron was transferred to nearby Popes Hill.
The 10th Light Horse Regiment became part of a reinforced defence at Quinns following an immense explosion of a detonated Turkish mine at 3.20am on 29 May, 2015. The Turkish fire was intense , with Phipps, the Harper Brothers and their comrades acquitting themselves well in their support role to the AIF 4th Brigade counter-attackers. Turks were repulsed, with the 10LHR emerging from their first fight with 25 non-fatal casualties , including 6 Officers. The parties of the 10LHR were ordered to attack the Turkish line at Quinns, by dashing forward in bright sunlight after a short artillery salvo. Lieut. KIDD had already believed this enterprise had appeared to be like a forlorn hope. Prior to the raid he had given his will and a special letter addressed to his wife, to the Regiment’s Doctor. The raid was a success and all men made it back to the Australian line . Only 2 of the 23 raiders were not wounded.
On 1st June, 1915, the 10LHR were released from the cauldron at Quinns Post to move to Monash Valley and dug in. The Regiment was then sent to Walkers Ridge , an elevated position on the left of the Anzac Sector. It was a steep climb, with a full pack. The 10LHR was transferred again on 26 June, 1915, to the No. 1 Outpost, further on the left, becoming the new home for “ A “ Squadron. June and July were largely periods of stalemate, with the Squadron putting in immense efforts to strengthen existing trenches and creating new positions.
On 16 July, 1915, Phipps was promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant, and during this time had made the following observations:-
“ It is a terribly monotonous game, this trench fighting “, and “ We are all getting terribly thin, our diet is the same from one day to another “.
The 10LHR were then plagued with an epidemic of Diarrhoea and Dysentry ( said to be caused by a combination of exposure to rotting dead bodies, repetitive rations, oppressively hot weather, inadequate sanitation and the nauseating swarm of flies ). Intermittently, on every day , shrapnel pored down , causing men to scuttle into their dugouts.
Prior to 29 July , 1915, Major LOVE recommended that Phipps TURNBULL be promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and directed the 10LHR to move to Russell’s Top, an important feature to the left of the Anzac Line. On 5 August, 1915, the men received orders outlining their role in the upcoming August offensive. The 3rd Light Horse Brigade were to attack from Russell’s Top across a narrow hillcrest known as The Nek. The light horsemen were to seize the Turkish trenches at The Nek and continue up the slope to capture Baby 700. Brigade Headquarters decided the attack would be in 4 lines. The Turks had established trenches in multiple tiers, supported by a number of Machine Guns.
The 3rd and 4th line of troops were the 10th Light Horse, commanded by Liet-Col BRAZIER ( from Balingup WA ). The typical distance between opposition forces was only 50 yards. Our attackers were to converge onto a narrow strip between cliff edges that were formidably defended. Our men were assured that concurrent operations would quell the Machine Gun threat. The 10LHR soon realized that the Turks defences at The Nek would be a daunting obstacle , but they remained buoyantly optimistic. The men’s resolve had been reinforced by their vision of the Infantry’s dynamic assault at Lone Pine.
At 4.00am, preliminary bombardment escalated, however, ceased prematurely at 4.23am, instead of continuing until 4.30am, as planned. This outcome led to sloppy co-ordination and forfeit of the vital element of surprise. The Turks then had 7 minutes to assemble a line of riflemen in their front trench, to take aim along the parapet. Another row of Turks stood behind , assuming a firing position. They immediately began shooting and the Machine Gunners opened up as well. The first line of 8LHR went over the top to a continuous roar of rifle and machine gun fire. The whole line was obliterated before they had moved 6 yards. Two minutes later, the second line of men met a similar fate. Lieut-Col BRAZIER then refused to let the third line go, hurried away to Brigade Headquarters to recommend cancellation of the Operational Orders.
Lieut. Phipps TURNBULL was with a group of Officers and Sergeants , who were waiting near a trench junction, awaiting BRAZIER’s return, expecting the attack to be cancelled, as it was obviously pointless to continue. However , the Order remained to go. Lieut. TURNBULL and his companions consoled each other, shook hands and said goodbye. The 10LHR involvement at The Nek has been recorded in history as follows :- “ These were the moments that would make the charge at The Nek legendary. The Western Australians assumed that they would die, and accepted their fate. Those in the third line, when called on, rose together. They did so because they believed that their sacrificial contribution might help the greater cause, might enable other Anzacs in other attacks to make a success of the offensive. Their selfless bravery was astounding. Many of them were from the most prominent families in their State. Some had futures of exceptional potential. But they went over the top with the rest “.
Lieut. Phipps TURNBULL did not even make it out of the trench. He was hit straight away, while clambering up in the open, and fell back gravely wounded. Pte. Charlie HEPPINGSTONE ( from Brunswick Junction WA ), looked after Phipps in his final moments. Phipps was vitally more concerned about others at this time, than himself. He was pre-occupied with the terrible shock in store for his loved ones. He was especially concerned about his Mother. Charlie re-assured him , and managed to ease his angst about her. Lieut. Phipps TURNBULL died in the dirt on the floor of the trench. Only a few light horsemen reached proximity to the Turkish lines, two of being Gresley and Wilfred HARPER.
The remaining troops of the 10LHR were heavily impacted by the disastrous outcome at The Nek:-
“ The failure of the August offensive to meet its objectives led to an unavoidable bitter conclusion- the light horsemen’s lives had been thrown away. It had been an utterly futile charge, wonderfully brave but monstrously botched. The morale of numerous survivors plummeted, many struggled to cope, and were evacuated, with shock.”
On Monday, 23 August, 1915, the West Australian Newspaper reported:-
“ The sad tidings of the deaths of 3 well-known young Western Australians. A private cable just received by relatives, notifies that Mr. Gresley Tatlock HARPER, his brother Mr. Wilfred Lukin HARPER and Mr. Alexander Phipps TURNBULL have been killed in action. These three young men, each of them a native of the State, were so widely known and highly esteemed that the news of their tragic deaths at an age and time when life seemed possessed of such great possibilities for them, will be sad reading for many.”
The devastating news of Phipps death was conveyed to his parents and younger brother, Hubert , at Lynburn Station, near Esperance, WA at 5.00pm on 21 August, 1915.
To highlight the standing of the Battle at The Nek in the annals of History, the following quote from Charles BEAN was published in the West Australian newspaper on 27 August , 1915:- “ For sheer self-sacrifice and heroism, this charge of the Australian Light Horse is unsurpassed in History.”
Western Australians marked the first anniversary of Anzac Day with numerous commemorations, with a significant memorial service held at St. Georges Cathedral on 25 April, 1916. The substantial attendance included Sir John and Lady FORREST, the Mayor of Perth and numerous other dignitaries. According to the West Australian newspaper, the Cathedral’s accommodation was ‘ taxed to its utmost’. A feature of the service was a tribute to Phipps TURNBULL by Sir Harry BARRON, governor of Western Australia ( and a retired British Major General ), who unveiled a plaque . It had been installed at the Cathedral as a permanent commemoration ‘ in loving memory of our dear son Alexander Phipps Turnbull’. A biblical inscription on the plaque was appropriate “ Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends “. The Governor emphasised how special Phipps was, and said he ‘ had died fighting for his country in a righteous and just cause’.
Archbishop RILEY added that TURNBULL ‘ had set a fine example to the young men of the State and to everywhere else’. Phipps TURNBULL was also named on a memorial marble tablet in the Cathedral.
The State and our Nation were experiencing the burden of a lost generation, with the quality of those who died sharpening the legacy. The backgrounds, calibre and potential of the Western Australians killed at The Nek guaranteed that the repercussions of the loss in such a lightly populated State, would be disproportionately severe. Lieut-Col BRAZIER recognized and commented accordingly:- “ The flower of the Regiment in education, intelligence and pedigree. What happened at The Nek left Western Australia desolate . It cast a gloom over the homes of many old Western Australians”. Referring to the aftermath of the War , Bill GAMMAGE stated “ Dreams abandoned, lives without purpose, women without husbands, families without family life, one long funeral for a Generation and more after 1918 “.
Phipps TURNBULL bereaved fiancé Molly MARMION wrote “ There is dignity in all this sorrow, it is true, for with it is mingled pride and heroism and self-sacrifice above all human reckoning “.
His Aunty, Bertha LEE-STEERE stated in 1918 ( 3 years after his death ) :- “ We all loved our dear good Phipps, he was a nephew to be proud of. His death to us is an everlasting sorrow, but a very proud sorrow”.
SERVICE MEDALS AWARDED
1914/1915 Star – No. 7561
British War Medal – No. 9180
Victory Medal – No. 9132
Commemorative Plaque/Scroll – No.356520
Ari Burnu Cemetery Anzac Gallipoli – Row E, Grave No. 16
Australian War Memorial, Canberra ACT – Panel No. 8
Esperance War Memorial WA
Dardanup War Memorial WA ( Awaiting addition/inscription )
Hale School Perth WA – Individual Plaque in Memorial Grove
Hale School Perth WA – Honour Board in Memorial Hall
Hale School Perth WA – Junior School named Turnbull House ( House Crest features 10LHR Insignia, pine trees representing Esperance, Merton College Badge Oxford and Scales of Justice ).
Hale School Perth WA – Aunt Evelyn LEE-STEERE donated Gallipoli Medal & Silver Salver to Chapel,
Hale School Perth WA – In 1984 the school received one of the biggest bequests that had been given to any Australian School, from his Aunty in memory of Phipps Turnbull.
St Georges Cathedral Perth – Memorial Plaque in memory of Alexander Phipps Turnbull
St Georges Cathedral Perth – Memorial Marble Tablet in his honour