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Part II: The Romance of the White Guard

Chapter I: The March over a Thousand Miles

THE deliverance of the Commonwealth depended entirely on material force. But a century of peaceful development based on legislation had modified profoundly the character of the people. There existed, particularly in the more settled parts where politics had been raised to the level of a fine art, an almost superstitious belief in the power of law. Though it may sound strange, it is a fact nevertheless that the ordinary citizen was firmly convinced that restrictive enactments, duly sanctioned by Parliament, formed an unsurmountable bar against coloured invasion. This respect before the law is certainly the best proof of the high standard of civilization to which the Australians had risen. Unfortunately, though well aware that the crowded millions of Asia were impelled by instinct or necessity without regard for codified reason, they had neglected to draw the correct conclusions from their knowledge. Only very slowly did they recognize that force, brutal force, alone could save them. The unquestioning confidence in the efficiency of moral pressure can be traced right through the first period after the invasion, up to the refusal


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of Royal Assent to the Coloured Inhabitants' Registration Act. Then came a period of doubt and anxiety, followed at last by the violent reaction of repentant disillusion as expressed in the anti-colour riots.

Far removed from the law-bewitched nerve-centres of population, there lived a more aggressive type of Australian. Away out in the backblocks in the borderland of savagery, the skin-hunters, drovers, station-hands, prospectors and other adventurous vagrants heard the rumours of the invasion which spread like wild-fire to the loneliest camps. Many set out for the coast, eager for closer information which promised stronger excitement. Nothing more seems to have come of this spontaneous movement in the southern parts. But in North Queensland, the near neighbour of the invaded territory, it led to important developments. As the travellers met, they began, of course, to discuss the news: reaching the more settled districts, they exchanged ideas of revenge and retribution with kindred spirits. And in this casual manner was evolved the bold project of a raid against the Japanese. It was a tremendous enterprise, considering the distance and hardships which had to be overcome. But the daring bushmen made little of natural obstacles in those feverish days. Everybody was acquainted intimately with the terrors of the wilderness and had braved them often before. Everybody could ride and thought nothing of sitting a horse day after day, week after week. Everybody bore in his heart undying hatred against an enemy who contested the white supremacy and who was doubly loathed because of his inferiority of race, environment and ideals. Probably it will never be known to whom honour is due for having originated the patriotic conception. Before it matured and was


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put into execution it was possibly influenced by outside suggestions.

At any rate, it was not long before the project met with official encouragement. The State of Queensland, with Federal sanction, proclaimed the formation of an irregular defence corps, ostensibly for the purpose of guarding the western frontier which travels for its whole length with that of the Northern Territory. For the Commonwealth Government, who controlled, under the terms of the constitution, the regular army, preferred to have nothing to do officially with a volunteer force. In this way a greater freedom of movement was ensured to the latter and immediate Federal responsibility for its actions was evaded. Secretly, however, they furnished arms and advanced money. But though the local and central authorities worked hand in hand at first, their interests soon began to clash. Queensland, of course, wished to launch its best manhood against the enemy in a supreme effort. On the other hand, the officers of the regular army claimed all the able-bodied men included in Class I of the militia for service. Their demands were upheld by the Federal Executive, which, perceiving the first ominous signs of civic disruption, desired to increase the power of the Commonwealth against separatist tendencies of which the Northern State was suspected at this early time. The only means to defeat the insatiable zeal of the regular officers consisted in rushing the liable men out of their reach, and the local organizers were not slow to act accordingly, with the result that the preparations were hurried very much. Still, a great deal of energy and thoroughness was devoted to the cause. Rifles, ammunition, horses and stores were despatched to Bourketown, which became the centre of the enterprise. Several able and strenuous patriots


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proceeded by sea to Port Darwin, where they founded a secret league of active sympathizers and arranged a system of support. This place, being the solitary white stronghold near the scene of operations, was, indeed, the only base from which some help might be rendered once the campaign had begun properly. At the outset, it was planned to transport the raiders by steamer across the Gulf of Carpentaria and to land them within easy striking distance of the enemy. But the idea was abandoned owing to the fear of Japanese cruisers, which were supposed to hover round the coast.

Tokio received probably early information of the new danger menacing the Japanese settlement. There is the fact that Downing Street made inquiries—which it would hardly have done without prompting—in Melbourne and afterwards in Brisbane with regard to the object of the irregular armament. The artful reply was to the effect that it was merely intended to protect the stations and the stock route within the possible zone of the activity of the immigrants, in short, to safeguard the recognized property of white people in those parts. As it was not likely, however, that the Imperial authorities and the pushful ally behind them would accept such an explanation as final, the organizers decided to baffle any further restrictive attempts by coming to the point at once. Without waiting for reinforcements, the first company of the irregular corps entered upon its famous ride over a thousand miles of desert and jungle against an enemy whose numbers and resources were absolutely unknown.

A finer body of men never took the field to do battle for Aryan ideals. It was composed of the sturdy sons of the Australian bush set off by just a dash of a more refined cosmopolitan element made


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up of a few Americans, Canadians and Australian city bred. All the members were in the prime of manhood and health. None were frightened by the prospects of hardships and isolation. The latter was indeed necessary to the success of their sombre mission, the import of which they realized instinctively, though perhaps nobody cared as yet to define it in plain words. But they felt that nothing less was expected of them than the extermination of the invaders. That was, after all was said, the only way to punish and to end the intrusion of the alien race on Commonwealth soil. Mercy had not—could not have—a place in this tremendous enterprise born of mortal hatred and big with the certainty of terrible privations. Neither would mercy be pleaded for. Away in the silent wilderness, in the fight against a determined foe who had had leisure to acquire a good deal of bush-knowledge and whose martial qualities were above suspicion, there would be no room for sentiment. The gallant volunteers were convinced from the beginning that victory alone could save them from the only other alternative—death. But they did not worry much about fears of failure. In the midst of the unbroken solitudes, their thoughts were fully occupied with preparations for the task before them.

Tokio, again, seems to have been informed almost immediately of the departure of the first company. At any rate, it addressed another appeal to London reiterating the willingness of its former subjects to become British citizens, and adding a warning that the advisers of the Mikado could not accept responsibility for the tranquillity of the nation, if harmless settlers of their own race should be treated with violence. The Imperial Government communicated this intimation to the Federal Executive and demanded guarantees that the peace would


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not be broken. Melbourne retorted that it had nothing to do with the irregular force, which was regarded as a special State constabulary, and that it must disclaim all liability for the actions of the latter. This was the last official reference to the volunteers: soon afterwards, international anxiety was monopolized by the anti-colour riots in the south. But probably there was some connexion between the evasiveness of the Commonwealth attitude and the closure by Great Britain of the Northern Territory coast.

It seems that the Japanese had not reckoned with the volunteer movement in spite of their characteristic thoroughness. There are many good reasons, however, which would account for the oversight. In the first place, the project to carry war into the settlement across an unknown wilderness, barren of any resources upon which the aggressors might fall back, was so audacious, even quixotic, that the methodical Japanese mind may well have refused to consider it seriously. Moreover, though the emissaries of the Mikado had no doubt studied the Commonwealth with a perspicacity similar to that displayed elsewhere in the past, they had naturally turned their attention to the centres of population and national power. Japanese squadrons visited the big ports frequently, almost regularly. Tourists had travelled over the pleasure resorts, merchants had looked over the country in all directions in ostensible pursuit of business, and a more intensive research had been carried on by pseudo-Chinese or frankly Japanese domestics, artisans and gardeners, by Asiatic delegates of Christian religious sects, and in every other practicable way. But all these moved, or drifted, into the more settled parts or at least into the households of the great landholders. And they found there all the symptoms of indolent culture,


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love of play, indulgence in luxuries and careless national pride, which seemed so real though they were, after all, merely the result of imitation, by a section of the young community, of the economic excrescences of old Europe. The Japanese agents may have reported all they saw. But apparently they did not penetrate under the surface and overlooked the typical Australians: the hardy pioneers who wrestled with and conquered hostile nature in the arid heart of the Continent, the selectors, stockmen, miners, drovers, carriers and other bushworkers who loved an uncrowded life on the borderline of civilization. And such spies as gave them a passing glance may have been deceived by the peculiarities of the men of the vast interior. For the solitude, monotony and sadness of the bush breed, as a natural protection against its oppressive influence, a picturesque emphasis and descriptive exaggeration of the language of its dwellers, which conveys to the superficial observer an impression of irresponsibility on their part. This is especially the case if the language takes the form of boastful carelessness or disdainful blasphemy, which serves—and often is meant to serve—as a cloak for the true sentiments—pride of battle and triumph in the face of disheartening difficulties; fierce devotion to the boundless sweep of virgin country which every bushman regards as the priceless inheritance of his race; and an unconquerable love of freedom as the pre-requisite of life. The rough outside had hidden these sterling qualities from the prying eyes of the Asiatics, and the threatening concentration of the bushmen came as a surprise to Tokio.

The first company of volunteers left Bourketown on a Sunday, June 16, 1912, after divine service, and was escorted to the boundary of the township by an immense concourse of people. The bells


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of all the little churches and chapels rang, volley after volley was fired, and cheer on cheer went up. It was an outburst of wild enthusiam and patriotic rejoicings. They called themselves the “White Guard,” a name as appropriate as it was happy and inspiring. The White Guard departed 615 members strong, all well armed and mounted. There were 200 reserve horses, most of them carrying stores. The advance was rapid in the first stages. They rode into Woolagarang, 140 miles away on the Northern Territory border, on the third day after sunset. Progress became more difficult now, for they had to pass through almost unknown country to reach the McArthur River. But they pushed on without delay and arrived on June 24 at Booraloola, where they crossed the stream.

So far their route had skirted the jungle for the most part and the enervating charm of this Lotosland had tired the men. Though its tortuous formation, full of fantastic vegetation and animal life, offered so much variety, it seemed always the same kind of change, lulling to rest and forgetfulness. Above all, the slow silvery trickle of water like mocking voices of wood sprites beneath the impenetrable, luxuriant undergrowth, imparted to the parched-out, sun-baked riders a tantalizing yearning after dreamful ease. True, there were dangers everywhere. The jungle was alive with gliding, running, jumping, gloom-loving things. Snakes, centipedes and large spiders abounded. Some men had been bitten; they had been driven mad for the time being either by excruciating pain or by the horror of the thing; two had died. Mosquitoes and ants swarmed in places, and though every measure of protection was taken, some would find an opportunity for inflicting their tortures. But the memory of hardships on the march faded away in the strange


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drowsiness borne on the cool night-air. When on an open patch high up the creek bank the camp fires had been lit and evening had turned the sky of burning blue into ethereal green and gold, a forlorn enchantment began to weave its meshes round the weary adventurers. Dark shadows indicated the tangled undergrowth below. The tops of the higher trees rose over them like a grey mist rolling upwards. Much more distinct in the clear atmosphere above these swam the proud fronds of palms, the slender stems of which could be rather imagined than perceived. The sky paled rapidly, pierced by the leisurely steadying flicker of stars like pleasing fancies slowly embodying themselves into clear thought. A noisy chorus of parrots and other birds filled the woods. Bats began to circle. Some kangaroos might bound across the line of sight, or the patter of a troop of emus would be heard. Long after dark, sleepless listeners could often distinguish, above the many rustlings, whisperings and cracklings of night life in the tropical jungle, the heavy wing-flappings of geese as they flew on in ghostly files changing from pool to pool. Early in the morning the air was sparkling fresh and the green looked many degrees brighter in the first slanting rays of the sun. The sombre undergrowth dissolved into quaintly shaped, delicately leaved shrubs bearing gorgeous blooms or luscious berries or into dainty tree-ferns and dwarf-palms. Graceful garlands of creepers linked majestic trees, and even above their mighty crowns the palms reared their heads in effortless supremacy. Setting, colour scheme and scale of vegetation seemed to be conceived always in the superlative. Human energies could not resist for long the voluptuous invitation to forget that there was such a thing as purpose in life. The jungle breeds slavery. It will have to go if the


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white race wants to people the Northern Territory.

After the crossing of the McArthur River the real hardships of the enterprise commenced. The White Guard had determined to attempt a short cut across the interior to Katherine, a mining camp situated about sixty miles south of Pine Creek, the terminus of the railway from Port Darwin. Four hundred miles stretched before them, never yet traversed by white men. Nevertheless, general relief was felt when the jungle was exchanged for the dry plains. The members were by no means too well under control, and there had been signs of impending demoralization. But this would have to give way now to strict discipline, for the only chance of overcoming the dangers of the desert ride lay in mutual loyalty and prompt obedience to the leaders. The contrast between the creek country and the interior plains is unsurpassed in the world. The blazing sun cracks the grassy surface. No shadow offers anywhere; the patches of sparingly foliaged gum trees afford none, neither do they give any shelter against the clouds of fine dust sweeping along before the steady breeze. The outlook is bounded only by the horizon, apart from an occasional sandstone ridge, often intersected by quartz bands of blinding whiteness, and rising above the level like a petrified wave of desolation. From its summit the eye roams over dismal views of weird melancholy. The rugged patches of forest below consist of trees huddled together so closely that their tops of dull, drab, contracted leaves, thus seen from above, give them the appearance of thick scrub. And the belts of real scrub are frequent too, which can be traced for long distances by the lines of glistening sand-hills driven up by the wind against the living barrier of invincible growth. All over the plains depressions occur suggesting creek beds, in


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which, however, no water can have run for ages, for ancient gum trees grow in them, besides acacias and shrubs. But it is at the bottom of such depressions that water is found, sometimes in a deep hole difficult of access, sometimes in a pond or in a chain of ponds, surrounded by swamp gums. Unfortunately, these abound also in many low-lying spots without surface water, and their deceitful presence adds thus to the tortures of the thirsty.

Still, the White Guard managed to push forward. Often the endurance of the horses had to be taxed to the utmost on the long stages intervening between waterholes. The men had to fall back largely on the provisions which they were carrying. For fresh meat they depended on rock wallabies, and now and then on a kangaroo. Plump pigeons furnished a welcome variety of diet. These were the only birds thriving on the plains, with the exception of uneatable kites living on grasshoppers. Mere good intentions were not sufficient to sustain the men on this march of privation. The weaklings of the force did not survive the test. Some died outright from exhaustion; others, maddened by the exertions, by heat and thirst, stole away into the desert to perish. And others again committed suicide by bullet or blade. Their comrades had no time to mourn them. On they rode, and the dust soon blew over their tracks and obliterated all traces of the heroic venture. And the dingoes, the haunting, sad howls of which resound over the plains in still nights, cleared away the remains of the fallen. All the men were unanimous on two points: that there was no possibility of retreat by the road they had come, if they should be beaten or weakened, and that it was not probable that many reinforcements would reach them by the same route. The White Guard emerged at last from the Unknown at All Saint's Well, on the overland


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telegraph lines. Three days later (July 11) it camped eighteen miles north-east of Katherine, on a pond in the bed of the river of that name. It had lost eighteen men and over sixty horses during the passage across the interior.

When the White Guard left Bourketown, the bonds of discipline were very loose. A leader had been chosen, by name McPartoch. He was a robust Scot, member of the League of Frontiersmen, and had seen much fighting in the British Colonies before he settled down to a small cattle run near the Gregory River. From the outset of the panic, he had thrown himself with enthusiasm into the movement for resistance by force, and the rapid formation of the first corps was due partly to his endeavours. His experience, patriotism, straightforwardness and Scotch common sense marked him for its command. But his appointment was the only approach to a military system, and the White Guard had to evolve its organization on the march.

There was much in this method to recommend it. The aspirants to leadership underwent the most rigorous practical test imaginable. They had to prove not only their circumspection and resourcefulness, but also that they had the gift of handling men. So, after a week's march, a mere handful of serious candidates remained. As befitted such a democratic set of volunteers their foremen were finally selected by the equal vote of all. McPartoch refrained carefully from showing favour for any one—a well-considered impartiality which increased his influence and popularity immensely. But on his suggestion it was decided to fix the number of sub-leaders at six, which left each one in command of about a hundred men, and to confer upon them the title of lieutenant. Every member of the corps pledged himself beforehand to strict obedience. The men who were chosen to the responsible posts


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proved themselves worthy of the confidence bestowed on them by their comrades by their behaviour in the subsequent campaign. Among them them was Thomas Burt, who, after the trial of the Japanese delegates at Port Darwin, had proceeded by sea to North Queensland and had interested himself at once in the volunteer movement. His accurately kept diary is the only reliable source of information about the evolution, the march and the first campaign of the White Guard. (His friend, the Yorkshireman, had had enough of colonial experience and had just escaped compulsory enlistment by taking first steamer from Port Darwin to Hong Kong.) Of the other five lieutenants two were Queenslanders; New South Wales, Tasmania and Canada supplied one each.

In the apportionment of duties which followed the appointments, Thomas Burt was entrusted with the commissariat. This service was without doubt the most difficult to render satisfactorily. For it had been agreed upon on all sides that the stores should be kept in reserve for emergencies. Meanwhile the White Guard depended chiefly on the results of the hunt for sustenance. As long as it marched through the jungle game was plentiful. Nevertheless, in the beginning the best part of a day was wasted several times to procure a sufficiency. It was evident that a better system would have to be organized and with this end in view the commissariat was created; 120 men were placed under Thomas Burt's command. All the surplus horses and stores were entrusted to their care. And the best bushmen, to the number of fifty, were formed into a sub-company of hunters. They travelled in advance until they reached a spot where good sport might be expected. Then they fell to work, until often the sombre forest and jungle re-echoed the


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shots as if a great battle was already in progress. The spoil was piled up to be bagged by the comrades, while the marksmen would ride on to the next promising hunting-ground.

Later this arduous task was simplified with the help of natives. Some genuine tribes still roamed at that time the vast interior, shy of either white or yellow men, and thus free of the depravity of the coastal blacks. They lived entirely by the chase, and in periods of starvation were supposed to resort to cannibalism. Withal, they were not considered treacherous, and not so lazy and abandoned as those aboriginals who have mixed with higher races, but rather gay, healthy and active. McPartoch was diplomatic enough to overcome their initial suspicions that the whites intended to drive them out. Once confidence was established by just treatment and presents of tobacco and small silver coins, the volunteers reaped many benefits. The natives possessed an intimate knowledge of the plains and were most valuable guides to the waterholes. Moreover, they could indicate the richest haunts of game and were skilful to secure it with less noise than a shotgun made, a method which would be of enormous advantage as soon as the White Guard should be in touch with the enemy, to whom random shots might betray its whereabouts. McPartoch, therefore, determined to enlist a number of the blacks. Their services were bought readily by little gifts. Great, however, were the lamentations of their chiefs who protested against the desertion of their choicest warriors; they had to be propitiated, too, for the White Guard could not afford to leave enemies in its back. Forty picked aboriginals accompanied the volunteers. They were, of course, supplied with horses and learnt quickly to manage their animals and to get pace out of them. It was partly due to


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their assistance that the White Guard crossed the interior without suffering worse losses.

In camp on the Katherine River the White Guard was joined by twenty-seven volunteers from the Palmerston district who brought several hundred reserve rifles and much ammunition smuggled in from Queensland as well as some luxuries in the shape of tabacco and liquor, and thirty spare horses. The latest news and rumours current in Port Darwin about events in the South cheered the weary patriots, as they heard for the first time of the overthrow of the Moderates and of the uncompromising attitude of the Commonwealth Government. But the information that the Imperial authorities had just ordered the closure of the Northern Territory coast caused profound consternation. At Port Darwin a strict control had already been established; all firearms had been seized by the naval commander as far as it was possible for him; those who wished to retain the use had to take out a licence and to sign a guarantee. The volunteers from Palmerston district were even afraid that a naval detachment might be sent after them once the reason of their departure and their whereabouts became known. To ward off surprises on the part of compatriots of the second degree, the White Guard shifted camp about fifty miles further north-east to a chain of waterholes in a creek bed known as Snowdrop Creek, and scouts were posted to guard the approach from the railway line.




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Chapter II: In Touch with the Enemy

THE White Guard decided to make the camp in Snowdrop Creek the base of all further operations. Part of the stores and ammunition were hidden away thereabouts. A large shelter shed was constructed, with the idea that it might serve as a hospital some day. A paddock was fenced in for the horses. And to the north a track was blazed, marked for many miles in such a fashion that no true bushman could miss his way back to camp. Several parties of scouts had gone in that direction, accompanied by natives. The country which they had to traverse forms the backbone of Arnhem Land and rivals in barren desolation the arid plains over which the adventurers had come.

Nearly a week elapsed before the first parties of scouts returned. They had discovered Japanese villages much further inland than had been expected. On the high plains, in fact. How far it was from there to the sea they could not tell. For afraid of surprises, they had not penetrated far beyond the foremost lines of the enemy. They had a good reason for this display of caution. The settlements, two of which they had located at a distance of about eighteen miles from each other, were linked up by telegraph, and other wires had been detected stretching away into the unknown North. Other signs of intelligent management and organization abounded.


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Cultivation paddocks extended round the villages, the bush had been cleared away and the timber had been used in the construction of neat little houses.

The failure of the scouts to explore the Japanese position thoroughly was redeemed somewhat by their activity in another direction. They had made a searching survey of the intervening country and had found a convenient locality which could serve as a stage of the impending campaign, being in much closer proximity to the enemy. Thomas Burt refers to the matter in his diary as follows:— “Our scouts urged that the present base was very suitable as a final refuge, but not within reasonable striking distance, particularly because the hill district was too awful to be crossed more than once except in case of direst need. They recommended that we should move about ninety miles to the north-east to a gully where fresh water was plentiful and whence the Japanese outposts could be reached in an easy ride of two days.” The suggestion was acted upon at once. Nearly all the spare rifles and ammunition, and half the stores were taken to the new camping-ground, which, as subsequent exploration has proved beyond doubt, was situated in one of the head gullies of Liverpool River. And for greater security of retreat two different routes were marked from there to Snowdrop Creek.

Everything was avoided which might convey a premature warning to the enemy. McPartoch never ceased to impress this necessity upon his men, which may account for the want of push exhibited by some of the scouts. But all precautions were in vain, as was shown when two bolder pioneers, who had relied on the fleetness of their horses and good fortune to carry them right to the seaboard, returned to the new base in company of a Japanese


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dignitary attended by two servants. It was altogether a curious incident. The two whites had come unexpectedly upon a number of Japanese working in a depression in the forest, who did not give them time to escape unnoticed, but, throwing away their implements, rushed forward to meet them with all the signs of pleasurable excitement. It was, for representatives of the ruling race, too late then to run away from unarmed Asiatics. So they allowed themselves to be escorted to the nearest village, where to their great surprise they were welcomed by an English-speaking, polite headman, who gave a dinner in their honour. Under cover of his hospitality, he questioned them closely on the motives of their presence in those parts, and even alluded, in an easy, confidential way, to the White Guard. But the Australians remained perfectly cool, as if they did not know what he was talking about. They played the part of tourists on an excursion from Port Darwin. After dinner, the dignitary arrived on horseback and was introduced by their host. He, too, proved to be a good linguist and interesting gossip and did not forget to refer to the Queensland irregulars also. At last he said: “I have been entrusted with a mission to the commander of the White Guard. As you, gentlemen, have come to enlarge your knowledge of the Northern Territory, you would surely like to make the acquaintance of this distinguished officer; if so, I shall be glad to show you the way in the morning.” Enraged at the manner in which they were made the dupes of the wily Asiatics, the Australians agreed on condition that he would guide them back if he failed. They stayed for the night with their host and were made quite comfortable. The Japanese dignitary kept his promise. Starting at sunrise, he conducted them back to camp without going


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wrong once, and he did so, moreover, in record time, arriving in the middle of the second day. The two whites noticed that he was guided by minute signs on tree stems and rocks. It was proof that the enemy, on his part, had explored the country well.

The Japanese dignitary did not beat about the bush. He requested the honour of an interview with McPartoch, and told him that the headmen of the settlement had been warned—by the Imperial authorities at Port Darwin, he pretended—that a large number of Queenslanders were moving against them in no friendly spirit. For some days the outposts had reported their presence. So it had been decided that he should hasten to meet the whites to assure them that his race stood for peace and progress. As the white friends who accompanied him and whom he had encountered in the zone of settlement could confirm, the only war his compatriots were waging was against vermin and wilderness. In doing so they were fighting for the cause of humanity and civilization, and they would allow nothing to stand in the path to hinder them. Therefore he had come to implore the whites that they might not break in suddenly and without notice upon the refugees, because the latter, in their ignorance, might take alarm and might, if thrown into a state of excitement, inflict very serious harm upon incautious, unannounced visitors.

The menace, lurking beneath the calm courtesy of this emissary, aroused the anger of the white leaders. They regarded him as a spy. Some demanded that he should be treated as such with all severity, and a good many others were in favour of his retention as prisoner. But he never flinched when McPartoch told him plainly that he had a good mind not to permit him to go back. The Japanese dignitary


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wanted to know what he had done to deserve punishment. He had placed himself in their power, trusting to the principle accepted by all civilized people, that voluntary negotiators should be immune, whatever the quarrel might be. And he added that, if he should remain away for long without any satisfactory explanation, his compatriots would lose confidence in the fairness of the whites. For which reason he recommended strict adherence to international custom and to the highest standard of fair dealing in all relations between the two races, as a matter of the greatest interest to the Australians, who were in a minority in these parts and should, therefore, for their own sake, be the champions of law and order.

After a short deliberation, it was decided that the dignitary should be allowed to return to his own people, together with his servants. But he was asked to understand that the White Guard did not recognize him officially, and that he would not be looked upon and treated as a messenger of peace if he should be overtaken after a period of grace of twenty-four hours had elapsed. It seems that his dauntless bearing and cool audacity gave rise to some anxious discussions among the volunteers about the chances of the expedition, though it is most unlikely that anybody should have proposed the abandonment of their task. Probably the bushmen indulged merely in that inveterate habit of theirs to “argue a point,” to dissect sportively the pros and cons of their chances. There must have been some dispute, because without some reason McPartoch would not have delivered the following address, which has been written down in Thomas Burt's diary:

“Australians! Comrades!” he said, “was our cause just when we set out, or were we fools to come


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all this way? If the latter is the case, it behoves us to finally expose our true character by applying for board and lodging to the British authorities at Port Darwin. For back we cannot go. Apart from a worse repetition of the hardships which have cost already the lives of so many brave friends, how could we dare to show our faces again anywhere among upright sons of the Commonwealth after a ghastly failure through cowardice? If we were right in the beginning, I do not see that our risks have become heavier meanwhile. We came to make war on the invaders and we did not count on any help from outside. Some may say that the Empire must have forsaken us, judging by the impertinence of the enemy. Let it be so, or otherwise. It cannot make our sight keener, our aim surer, our rifles carry any further. And it is on these matters our own cause, the cause of Australia, depends for success. If the people of the Commonwealth seem to hesitate and to be slow of action, it must be because they are not fully awake to their danger, or because they do not yet trust firmly their own strength. It is for you to decide if by our example we could inspire our nation with this confidence, if we could impel her to get rid of doubt and doubters, to rally to our side in the fight for our common destiny. I believe we could. Let us but maintain our position, and we shall not stand alone for long. Six hundred willing whites should be able to render the soil of their country too hot for brown or yellow mongrels to camp on. And should defeat be our lot, all I can say is this: let the survivor remember that Australia is big and full of harbours of refuge where patroits need not fear betrayal.”

This manly speech brushed away all scruples, if such had really existed. Loud shouts of applause


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rewarded the brave commander. The dice had been cast. A handful of bold bushmen had declared war to the knife against the subjects of a great power. Camp was broken immediately afterwards as a precaution against a possible Japanese surprise, and was re-formed at a point about fifteen miles further north under different conditions. For now, so near the enemy, concentration of the whole force in one spot would have been courting disaster. It was never done again over the entire period of which records are left. Instead, an ever varying number of sub-camps became the rule, mostly three or four, but as many as six or seven in dangerous localities, and the number was never the same for two nights running, for the purpose of confusing the scouts of the enemy. The camps were arranged now in a straight line, now in some simple geometrical figure, as suggested by the nature of the ground. Sentries kept up the connexion between the sub-camps, which were strictly guarded. The night was divided into three parts, and one third of the inmates watched while the others were sleeping.

During the stay on the Katherine River the organization had been perfected. The leaders had recognized that the nature of the country and the disposition of the men made pitched battles an improbability. The White Guard was, indeed, best fitted to guerilla warfare, which would set free every man to act according to his own ideas and to exploit his own knowledge of the bush to the greatest advantage. Under such circumstances the course of contest would be sure to become most intricate. In desultory action it is necessary to specialize the management, so that individual impulse may be given a wide field, while timely checks are ever in readiness to be applied at the right moment in the


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proper place. It was evident that six lieutenants would be unable to exercise such intimate control. This consideration led to further incisures. Each company was divided into three sections which were entrusted to sub-lieutenants; each section was broken up into three files under the command of sergeants. Thus responsible leadership was created for every file of ten men. The entire staff was selected by equal votes; each company and each section picking its own favourites. But once the choice had been made, stern discipline was exacted. Yet so devoted were the men to the cause, or so little leisure for quarrel was left them by the vigilant enemy, that there are actually no records of insubordination in Thomas Burt's diary. The sub-lieutenants were distinguished by a thin red ribbon, the sergeants by a thin black ribbon worn on the left sleeve. For the democratic spirit of the force did not permit the use of more pronounced badges, which, besides, would have given a cue to the Japanese marksmen. Perhaps for this reason the Commander-in-Chief and his six lieutenants did without any decoration, relying wholly on their well-known identities.

All the search parties had returned. Only in one further instance the enemy had taken notice. It happened to a file led by a daring Queenslander, who was bent on a flying trip right through the invaded territory. Skirting a village the file was called upon to halt. They rode on, until a hail of bullets, whistling over their heads, stopped them. There was a shout. On all sides Japanese broke cover, waving white handkerchiefs in sign of peace. One of them advanced smiling, asking in very good English whether the visitors had a permit. “Australians do not carry permits on journeys in their own country,” was the cold reply.




  ― 166 ―

“It is indispensable these times to prevent misunderstandings. I believe you can get them on application to the Imperial authorities at Port Darwin,” the Japanese said. “With a permit, I shall be glad to show you over our little settlement myself,” he added. “Without one, your way lies there.” He pointed south.

“You're wrong. To the north, to the sea,” the Queenslander cried, with a curse. “I'll see who can stop me.”

His interviewer turned to give an order. Quick as lightning, the Japanese disappeared behind trees and rocks. But the muzzle of their guns showed threateningly. The spokesman changed his tone, “Don't be a fool,” he exclaimed, in a stern voice. “Within fifty yards round about, you are outmatched ten to one. One signal from me—or one insult,” he cried, for the Queenslander raised his whip, “and you will be wiped out. I act on my orders, I warn you. We don't want bloodshed. Our race is strong and proud enough not to wish to fight with odds on our side.”

The white men had to accept the position. They had no orders to open hostilities. Of course, they might have feigned retreat, and might have continued their advance afterwards. But such a course would have exposed them to similar, or worse, insults at any time. So they turned back, vowing vengence under more favourable circumstances.

The humiliation was felt deeply by their comrades. Nevertheless the occurrence lifted a weight off their minds. There had been harassing doubt about the method of opening hostilities. The idea of marching into the Japanese zone of settlement and beginning to shoot people on sight right and left without proper warning, had always seemed


  ― 167 ―
hateful. All qualms of conscience or chivalrous objections were set at rest now. For it was the enemy who had committed the first act of war by stopping the advance of white Australians with bullets. If their own rifles rang out, it would be in reply to a challenge and in retribution. Every man yearned for the moment when first blood would be drawn. Realities were wanted to give relief from ever-increasing nervousness which, apart from the influence of isolation and uncertainty, was fostered by the anxiety of the returned scouts, many of whom seemed to scent spies everywhere. That the Japanese had a splendid intelligence service and followed closely every movement of the White Guard, was proved, indeed, by the events of the immediate past. Obviously, the best defence against their tactics was a rapid blow at the heart of their organization, strong enough to crumple up the artfully woven net in which they evidently thought to enmesh the Australians.

High spirits, gaiety even, marked the last day of the great march which brought the White Guard right up against the enemy. It camped at night less than fourteen miles from the nearest Japanese village. The men were in fine condition, and so were their horses, after the interval of rest. Australian horsemen have no peers the world over. They relied on their extreme mobility. Fear was far from their hearts. Like a hailstorm they hoped to sweep over the Turanians, beating to the ground all resistance, and vanishing into bush and jungle before the enemy would have time to collect his wits. The volunteers knew well that their opponents, whose military virtues they respected otherwise, did not excel mounted. That was the great advantage of the White Guard, as long as it did not permit itself to be drawn into a pitched


  ― 168 ―
battle, where its superior agility would be neutralized. McPartoch and the more thoughtful leaders never ceased to warn their men against mock heroics.

And their persuasion counted for something. So stern, so bent on success were these six hundred Australians, that they even agreed in solemn council that night to sacrifice their wounded rather than to make a stand under unfavourable conditions. Rescue work was to be strictly limited. If a man fell, a comrade might help him on to his horse, or might get a sound horse, if handy. But if the man was too badly wounded to maintain himself in the saddle, and the enemy was pressing hard, then he should be left to his fate. For the attempt to assist a dangerously wounded comrade would soon gather about him more or less stationary and exposed groups of his mates, who would form a welcome target for the hostile marksmen under cover. The weal or woe of incapacitated individuals could not be allowed to threaten the cause with ruin. Even if one or the other might be saved temporarily he had not much chance to survive the tear and wear of the campaign, without the slightest hospital comforts. He would be a drag on the force, his sufferings would propably depress the spirits of his comrades, and there would be no equivalent for all this trouble. It was better not to try. If the wounded man had energy to scorn the mercy of aliens, the last shot from his revolver would place him beyond their reach.

Such were the merciless yet necessary rules formulated by the gallant volunteers, before whom there was no other alternative but victory or death. In practice the rigour abated somewhat. Within each file the promptings of natural friendship drew together little clans of two or three or four members,


  ― 169 ―
and it soon became customary among these to bind themselves solemnly that, whatever might befall until the end of the war, they would live and die together. Friends thus linked always rode and fought side by side. As only a few men were involved in each case, and this system served to restrain outsiders, the leaders tolerated it. It was, of course, understood that, where duty demanded such heroic self-sacrifice, there could be no room for Asiatic prisoners. That logical conclusion required no official proclamation.

On July 20, 1912, early in the morning, the White Guard advanced to the assault. Every man knew that the first clash could not be delayed for many hours longer, for the line of march led straight upon the southernmost Japanese village. They rode in a very open formation. The rifles of the vanguard, composed of one company, extended over a wide stretch of country. Two more companies protected the flanks, a fourth the rear, while the other two companies occupied the centre. Spare horses were divided among the groups to provide against losses, but the reserve animals and the stores, which had been re-packed on the quieter steeds, remained with Thomas Burt's commissariat company in the middle column. Altogether, the few hundred men covered, from the scouts of the extreme front to the last rear file, about five miles in length and three miles in width. Though very often lost to each other's sight, the divisions remained in perfect touch by means of a simple code of signals—animal cries, in the striking imitation of which bushmen are adept. As they developed their lines in halts and dashes, it would not have been possible even for a careful observer to estimate correctly the strength of each unit or of the entire force. This was another measure of protective deception well thought out.




  ― 170 ―

The scouts had advanced about eight miles when they were challenged suddenly by a small detachment of Japanese who pushed forward boldly within talking distance, waving white handkerchiefs. McPartoch had ridden immediately behind the vanguard and hurried to the spot, curtly asking what they wanted. The Japanese, meanwhile, had thrown down their ensigns of peace and raised a long pole, on which they unfurled a Union Jack. Then they solemnly bared their heads to the flag. The Australians looked on in stony silence. McPartoch repeated his question. In reply the flag was pushed under his nose, as if it was expected that the white man should salute it. He pushed it disdainfully aside, among shouts of derision from the volunteers. Next, the Japanese covered themselves before the spokesman, addressed him in these words: “In the name of His Britannic Majesty! why do you come here in martial array? We are peaceful subjects of His Imperial Majesty. You are welcome, but first lay down your arms!”

A roar went up. All the pent-up fury, all the mortal hatred against the impudent invader who dared to dictate to Australians on Australian soil, found vent in it. A hundred muzzles were lowered—the answer came in a flash. From the bodies of the fallen Japanese, dark blood oozed, staining the Union Jack which had tumbled in between them. McPartoch dashed forward and seized the flag. The van wavered for a second or two, then swept back in wild stampede, fleeing instinctively from a prepared trap. And the whole White Guard was engulfed in the panic-like retreat. It saved them from loss. For immediately afterwards, from thickets on the left flank and from a ridge in front the enemy discharged volley after volley. Some miles back the fugutives eased their pace. As the men of the


  ― 171 ―
different companies met, pale, dishevelled, they broke out, all at once, in a great shout of laughter. It ran right through the ranks. The tension was relieved. They were now committed irrevocably. Swiftly and resolutely they faced round again. Order was restored. The scouts plodded on tenaciously, and soon the firing began quite lively. At last the death struggle between the two races had begun in earnest.




  ― 172 ―

Chapter III: The First Campaign

McPARTOCH determined to dislodge the enemy. The nature of the country favoured the display of Australian bush craft. A shallow, densely wooded depression was in front of the strong ridge occupied by the Japanese and a belt of scrub bent round its flank. They were soon expelled from the forest and scrub, but made a stubborn defence of the hill, whence they made frequent sallies against the Australian vanguard which had dismounted and crept forward steadily. But the position was too strong to be taken by frontal attack without disproportionate sacrifice. At length the white commander tried a ruse. He ordered his rear company, which was out of sight of the enemy, to the back of the ridge under cover of the scrub belt. Then the vanguard fell back, feigning exhaustion. This stratagem proved successful. The defenders, noticing the front attack was weakening, dashed out in great force, flinging aside the scouts. They found, however, their further advance stopped by terrible volleys from the Australian's main lines and were driven back again. Before they could regain their orginal position, it was carried from flank and rear by the ambuscade, and they were surrounded by a ring of fire. Only a few escaped. About 300 Japanese corpses were counted in the bush. Twenty-one Australians were missing.




  ― 173 ―

After all, McPartoch was only half satisfied. His own losses were considerable. But the worst was that here, at the outset of the campaign, the White Guard had been drawn into a pitched battle, in spite of all good intentions to the contrary. As it happened, fortune had smiled. If reinforcements could have been hurried up on the other side, victory might have been turned into disaster. And the Australians, elated with success, might now be tempted to try a similar game under less suspicious conditions without reflecting that even in this case surprise tactics had won the day. McPartoch addressed his men on the subject in great earnest, candidly blaming himself and warning them that, if any section should imitate his proceedings without special orders, it would be left to its fate, because he would not consent to ruin the cause for its safety.

The advance was resumed. About noon, the White Guard skirted the southernmost settlement of the Japanese. Scouts dismounted and approached cautiously. It was not long before they drew fire. But nothing could be seen of the defenders, who remained invisible throughout, though the Australians, enraged by the shooting of a comrade, tried every means to lure them from their haunts. This peaceful village was, in fact, a well-contrived fortification, like all the others which were subsequently discovered. It was surrounded by a breast-high earth rampart steadied with logs. The abutting huts were constructed of stout timber with narrow slits on the outside in place of window-openings. Each formed a separate stronghold and was so flanked by others that even if it should be carried by storm, a destructive crossfire could be concentrated upon it from the nearest buildings. Big logs, apparently thrown about carelessly, afforded in reality cover for free communication between the several points


  ― 174 ―
of importance within the settlements. Many strong trees and some patches of scrub had also been left standing within its confines and completed the almost bullet-proof screen behind which the inhabitants could move in comparative security. Outside, a large space had been cleared thoroughly from protecting vegetation, thus offering no scope for bushman tactics. The village stood on a gentle slope. No doubt wells had been dug inside providing for an independent water supply. A few hundred men could hold it against an army without artillery. They could only be dislodged by a general assault, and the White Guard was not strong enough to risk many lives in such a desperate venture.

After a close watch extending over several hours, enlivened by an occasional exchange of shots, the siege was raised. A mile outside, the telegraphic connexion was cut off by the removal of a long stretch of wire. As the search parties had reported already, a network of telegraphs linked up the Japanese settlements. Information of every movement of the Australians, therefore, was sure to be transmitted without delay to headquarters, wherever that might be. The White Guard was determined to find out. That night it camped ten miles to the rear of the first unconquered line of the enemy.

The Australians rode on all next day (July 21) without meeting with any traces of Japanese occupation. They had been compelled, on account of the advanced season, to swing round to the east, so that they might remain in the vicinity of water. Incidentally, they hoped to outflank in this way the foreworks of the enemy. For it was the aim of the White Guard to locate his headquarters or capital. McPartoch conjectured that it must be situated on or near the seaboard. Before accurate knowledge had been acquired of the Japanese centre


  ― 175 ―
of power, it was impossible to form a useful plan of campaign.

The night passed without disturbance. But on the following morning (July 22) the Australians became soon aware that they were being shadowed. Sometimes, they caught a glimpse of horsemen dashing across some far-off opening in the forest. It was the first intimation that the enemy had a cavalry force. A few were laid low with unerring aims, but, of course, the whites could not waste time in the pursuit of solitary foes. By noon, these scouts had disappeared entirely. An hour later, the Australian vanguard came unexpectedly upon a village. All at once it received fire from a point about a mile to the west of the settlement. The leading company rushed forward, under the impression that the inhabitants, working in their paddocks, had been cut off from their base. But McPartoch, old campaigner as he was, restrained his men and contented himself with concealing two sections in a patch of scrub whence their rifles commanded the settlement. Then he began to surround the locality from which the shots had been fired. He was soon satisfied that he was opposed by a force of several hundred men, evidently a military unit, and as eager for the fray as the White Guard. As they were in thick country, where bushman skill had a fair chance, he attacked them with two companies. The Japanese, impatient of battle, met his advance with a vigorous counterstroke, calculated to push the Australians back in the direction of the village. But the latter, experts at taking cover, withstood the blow. The struggle became very bitter. At its height, the villagers, who so far had given no sign of existence, suddenly dashed from behind their ramparts to take the White Guard in the rear. So they exposed themselves


  ― 176 ―
to the fire of the two sections hidden in the scrub, who poured volley after volley into them. They wavered, then turned and fled. To complete their defeat, a few mounted files swept down upon them, riding them under foot. But the mounted files were subjected to a severe fusillade by the defenders of the village who had not participated in the sally and who shot upon them without regard to the damage they might do to their own compatriots who were still outside.

The ambush of the Japanese had failed, their field force was enveloped and in danger of annihilation, when an unexpected noise of rifle discharges coming from the extreme rear induced McPartoch to break off the fight hurriedly. The commotion was caused by Japanese cavalry which was engaging, at this critical moment, the last lingering lines of Australian scouts. It was not numerous, and was quickly repulsed. But it had gained its end. The White Guard retreated in some confusion, which cost several valuable lives. Once more it had been impossible to restrain the ardour of individuals. Even the cautious commander had been carried away by his zeal. And again the result had been a pitched battle, with its corresponding neutralization of the one great Australian advantage of superior mobility. If there existed no possibility of preventing this, it was easy to foresee a day when the Japanese, improving in staying capacity as they became ingrained to guerilla warfare, would succeed to lure on the White Guard until they should be able to overwhelm it by force of numbers. What did it matter that the Australians would sell their lives dearly? The enemy could evidently afford huge losses, as was shown by his action of firing into a crowd of his own people to deal death to its pursuers.




  ― 177 ―

Sixteen Australians had been killed. A score was wounded. Among the latter was a young Tasmanian, who had been shot through the neck. He was a mere boy, about twenty years old, and very much liked. Often he had entertained the older comrades by exultant little stories of his sweetheart, a photograph of whom he cherished as his most precious possession. Now he was carried back from the battlefield in the arms of a herculean mate, his eyes closed, his face the pallor of death, while beside the pair his own horse cantered like a big, faithful dog. Not before the White Guard fixed camp for the night, many miles from the scene of bloodshed, could he get medical attention. Then it was too late. The young fellow died under the hands of the doctor. His comrades stood by silently, while the doctor, who seemed strangely interested, made a post-mortem examination. Suddenly he jumped up. “By God,” he cried, “I had my suspicions before. This settles them. Boys, they are using dum-dums against us as if we were niggers. This wound would not have been mortal if it had been caused by a Christian bullet. It was a dum-dum did the work.”

He showed the men the jagged sides of the egress hole, the torn, widened channel of the projectile. For the moment they were too stupefied to say much. The poor boy was buried under a big tree, with the picture of his sweetheart upon his breast.

Then the necessities of the living demanded their right. As it had been impossible the last few days to secure a sufficiency of game, and as it was prudent to reserve the tinned provisions for a real emergency, the Australians had been forced to rely for food mainly on the superfluous horse of their dead. It was not a time to cultivate an over-dainty taste, and once the prejudice had been overcome,


  ― 178 ―
the flesh of young horse became recognized as a toothsome diet and as the great stand-by for men who, being in the saddle all their waking hours, required strong, sustaining meat. The horse of the fallen Tasmanian was selected for the evening repast. But in this case, the simple act of killing an animal for food was transformed into a rite of terrible significance.

Thomas Burt, in his diary, has left a suggestive description: “How the idea originated,” he writes, “I can't explain. Several men of his section ran into the bush and returned with some flowery creepers and bright-leaved boughs. With these they garlanded the horse as if for sacrifice. He was shot, and after the jugular vein had been opened for bleeding, they dipped their fingers into the gore, whereupon they joined bloodstained hands and swore a frightful oath, calling on the name of the dead boy, that they would never spare the life of a Japanese, war or peace. This example had a hypnotic effect. Men rushed in from all sides to imitate it. Everywhere groups formed of bloodsmeared comrades, the camp-fires playing gruesomely on their inflamed faces and eyes reflecting a paroxysm of rage, who took the vow in the same words, often in low, strained voices which imparted to it the character of some ghastly incantation.”

The manufacture of dum-dums by means of removing or cutting the tops of bullets became at once the established industry in the Australian camp. Their employment by the enemy had silenced for ever the last lingering misgivings prompted by humanitarian considerations. The Japanese had revealed their secret thoughts: that for the white vermin infesting the tropical wilderness dum-dums were the correct thing.

Benefiting by the experience of the last two days,


  ― 179 ―
McPartoch again subdivided his force by halving the files into squads, doubling the number of sergeants. This measure resulted in a more perfect scouting service and a still looser formation, which permitted a more rapid withdrawal from action of the units. So, under the pressure of circumstances, a wonderfully agile and elastic organization had been evolved. Some further adjustments were made calculated to increase the efficiency. Till then, rests on the march had been ill regulated, and particularly the breaking of camp in the morning had often been somewhat disorderly. It was now ordained that breakfast should always be finished before sunrise and that a general halt should be the rule during the hottest hours of the day, provided that the safety of the corps should allow it.

Early next day (July 23) there was no sign of the enemy. Everything seemed favourable to a swift advance. The changing character of the vegetation left no doubt that the coast was not very distant. Surface water was met with more often, and the White Guard was now able to travel right across country in a north-westerly direction. It passed one village during the morning, and later two artificial clearings in the forest. Had these latter been abandoned as places for habitation, or were they being prepared for new settlers? In the second case, where would the settlers come from? Would they be drafted from older villages or from concentration camps on the sea board? Or would new imports arrive from oversea? So early, according to an entry in Thomas Burt's diary, the white men were struck by this idea of a steady inpour of invaders.

But, after all, progress was not so rapid as had been hoped for. The country became more difficult. In places the high plains dipped steeply into


  ― 180 ―
creek valleys, which were covered half-way up with dense jungle and formed ideal hiding nooks for ambuscades. Further north the network of water-courses, dry channels, headlands, jungle, forest and rock became ever more intricate. It was impossible to explore thoroughly over such ground. Several times the intrepid Australians had to turn back in their tracks, confronted by insurmountable obstacles. These happenings caused much anxiety. For if ever their advance should be barred by natural impediments while the enemy was so close in pursuit that they would have to fight a retreat through his ranks, terrible disaster might follow. But apparently the enemy had lost touch again, for they did not see a single Japanese scout that day, and the inhabitants of the solitary village passed by them did not venture outside their ramparts.

Next morning (July 24) the White Guard was crossing the head of a gully when it received fire from a narrow neck on the further side. Its march, of course, was delayed while its scouts pushed forward to reconnoitre the hostile position. The enemy seemed to have counted upon this hesitation. Suddenly, a strong division of Japanese cavalry attacked the Australians in front and from the left flank. It had abandoned the Fabian tactics for which it had been distinguished hitherto. Instead, it dashed in at a tremendous pace, and so wild and well-directed was its charge that the foremost squads of the White Guard were cut to pieces. Reinforcements rode up quickly, throwing themselves into the battle with enthusiasm. They belonged to Thomas Burt's company, which now shared in the struggle for the first time. The famous diarist himself led his men, whose dexterity on horseback soon outclassed the Turanians. Still, the latter resisted stoutly. Though overwhelmed on all sides,


  ― 181 ―
they preferred to die rather than to give way. And those who fell mortally wounded took a parting shot at the horses of their opponents if they felt their sight growing too dim to hit the men, or they killed their own animals. There was a grim significance in that act. For the White Guard, unhorsed, would be doomed to speedy extermination in the hands of their relentless enemies.

The cavalry contest had diverted the attention of the Australians from the Japanese infantry in front, which had had time to develop long lines of marksmen in the scrub. And these now made a furious assault on their part. At the same time, a desultory fusillade came from the rear and left flank. It proceeded in rapid succession from several places and led McPartoch to the belief that more cavalry was approaching from that quarter. He apprehended another rush, with the result that his force would be caught between two fires. He also recognized that the infantry, extended in a thin line followed by two more lines, could not be repulsed without great loss on his part. Already men and horses were falling under their deadly volleys. Instantly, he gave the order to retreat. The signal ran along his ranks and next moment the White Guard was racing away, bearing to the left, and over-riding the Japanese horsemen, who had survived the encounter with Thomas Burt's company, in their flight. Once more the volunteers had escaped with honour, but not unscathed. Forty-one comrades were missing. Six more were so badly wounded that, though they had contrived to save themselves from the battlefield, they were unable to ride on any longer.

Here was a new problem. Men were in the ranks who had been wounded lightly—on this


  ― 182 ―
occasion there were about two score of them—and who had been able to look after themselves, when the surgeons, who numbered four in all, had dressed their injuries. Two or three, indeed, had committed suicide, when they felt worse and did not wish to become drags. But not everybody possessed strength of mind to emulate this heroic example, though there was none unwilling to sacrifice his life in honest fight. As mercy was neither expected nor conceded, the possibility that men struck within an ace of death should escape only to collapse in utter helplessness a little later had not been thought of previously. Instinct revolted against the idea that disabled comrades, still warm with life, should be left behind to perish in the wilderness or by the hands of loathsome aliens. It did not matter that a solemn covenant existed approving of such a course—the thing could not be done. On the other hand, the safety of all demanded that the mobility of the White Guard should not be lessened.

A handy bush carpenter solved the difficulty by devising a combination of stretcher and chair, made of stout sticks and a wicker work of pliable boughs, and provided with uprights at the back which would keep the occupant in a half-sitting position with his legs stretched level before him. The whole was well secured with telegraph wire and covered with blankets and clothing to ease its roughness. Each stretcher was mounted on a quiet horse. Then the wounded man was lifted into it. By means of a long bridle, he could control the animal himself, if he felt well enough, otherwise, a comrade would lead it. Ingenious as this moving field hospital had been arranged, the ordeal, which the sufferers had to undergo during the swift march of the White Guard over rocky ground or through forests where the horses


  ― 183 ―
stumbled over roots and creepers, was terrible and killed most. Still, the best had been done for them under the circumstances, and a few were saved, and were spared ultimately for a kinder fate than was in store for their hale mates.

The best part of the afternoon was spent in caring for the wounded; so that not much progress could be made during the remainder of the day. But the scouts discovered two telegraph lines running parallel to each other at a distance of about three miles and in an almost straight northerly direction. There could be no doubt that these wires connected outlying villages with the Japanese capital and that the White Guard was now right in the centre of the zone of settlement. The lines were not cut, so that the enemy might receive no warning of the whereabouts of the Australians. The night passed without disturbance.

In the morning (July 25,) it was found that two of the badly wounded men had died. Some others, who had been reported as slightly hurt and had been present after the battle, did not respond to the roll call. Everybody knew what this meant: a few more brave hearts had felt unable to keep up the pace any longer and had retired to some quiet nook to make an end, so that they might not become a burden and an impediment. Gloom began to spread among the patriotic rough-riders and grew ever more supreme. The gaiety and high spirits so natural to the children of sun-kissed Australia, which had marked the commencement of the enterprise, vanished bit by bit, as the terrible odds against which they were fighting were more clearly realized. None, of course, had believed that they were marching against famishing weaklings. All the same, none had expected such fierce opposition. The majority had not troubled themselves much


  ― 184 ―
about the details of the impending campaign. It had been sufficient for them to know that the Commonwealth was invaded and that every good Australian was bound to revenge the insult. Still, at the back of the mind of nearly every one traditions of the colonial exploits in the Boer war had survived and made him look forward to something like it: a series of raids on farms and ill-defended settlements, a continual harassing of the enemy, sudden surprises, a never-ending guerilla war in which the mounted bushmen had imagined themselves as appearing, phantom-like, now here, now miles away, but always aggressive and vanishing before the adversary should have recovered breath to strike back. And this game was to be continued until the Turanians should be reduced to such despair that they should have to appeal to Great Britain for protection, which would never be granted, or else to land armies, and thus to reveal their real designs, when the Empire, for its own sake, would have to rally to the side of the Commonwealth.

It was a beautiful dream, but the disillusion came after the first few days of the campaign. Then the Australians began to understand the haughty bearing of the Japanese dignitary who had warned and vexed them. He had an army at his back, perfectly organized, splendidly equipped, under a subtle leadership undaunted by disaster and losses. The latter had been enormous, but it seemed that the enemy looked upon them as fair payment for experience. Possessed of such spirit, he might bring about a complete reversal any day. Already the Japanese were not content to defend themselves; they had taken the offensive and had thus touched the weakest spot of the White Guard. For a corps of horsemen, with no stronghold to fall back upon, without reserves, living from hand to mouth, must


  ― 185 ―
become demoralized in the end if they were made the hares instead of being the hounds. The enemy had the advantage of the inner line of well-placed fortifications in telegraphic inter-communication and, consequently, of a reliable intelligence service. His scouts rivalled the Australians in daring. And the latter noticed resentfully that the brown men looked spick and span in prime condition, while they themselves began to have a rather tattered appearance.

Possibly this contrast of drab raggedness fast losing the faintest vestige of smartness was more than anything else responsible for the depression ruling in the ranks of the White Guard. The influence of the natural surroundings was another dispiriting factor. Thomas Burt's diary gives, in itself, a very good indication of the progress in intensity of the sombre moodiness which cast an ever-darkening shadow over the gallant band. At first all sorts of little traits are noted down in it, personal items and even humorous snapshots such as a man might write who had gone on an excursion of pleasurable excitement. As the days passed, the purely human interest grows steadily weaker, until it gives way entirely to military records, of councils of war, of moves and counter-moves, of battle, pursuit and plans, of privations and losses, in short, to records of the technicalities of the campaign. Towards the end, the clearness of the depositions suffers under an intrusion of speculation about the enemy and about the chances of success, and the accents of the hopelessness of it all became dominant. Then men, even the leaders, appear puny, mere drifts on the implacable course of events, even as in the moment of an earthquake the whole surface, hills, rivers, houses, trees, people, everything, seems insignificant in the sway of the all-enfolding tremor-waves.




  ― 186 ―

There is a remark in the diary to the effect that the author could not turn his thoughts upon any other subject but the enemy. Others confessed the same. They were strangely fascinated by the stealthiness of his methods, so much so that the bravest would run all sorts of unnecessary risks to investigate more closely. Scouts pushed on and on, fancying that they had picked up some thread of special information, until they had lost all connexion with the main force, though they knew that they were infringing discipline by their action. Something unfathomable seemed to lurk in the silent bush and to lure them on. There was monstrous deliberation, an impassive stolidity foreign to white men, something vague and fantastic like a troubled dream about this menacing settlement of an Asiatic race separated from them by a mutual gulf of incomprehensibility. It was as if a monster had made the wilderness its lair and was lying in wait there, playing its warriors like pawns in a game of chess, without compassion, without fear, and planning all the time the destruction of White Australia. Men unconsciously lowered their voices discussing it. Often in the stillness of night, men would suddenly cry out in their sleep and jump to their feet, startled by a nightmare of the unutterable horror they were fighting against.

The supposed proximity of the Japanese main settlement induced McPartoch to exercise the greatest carefulness. But an incident happened after a ride of some hours which convinced him that for once the enemy had lost touch entirely or had miscalculated the whereabouts of the Australians. For the White Guard overtook a Japanese detachment of about 200 men marching north, which allowed itself to be attacked unawares. Here, at last, the volunteers had a chance to spring a


  ― 187 ―
surprise in the style which should have been the rule of the campaign as once imagined by them. And they acquitted themselves handsomely. Only a few Japanese escaped into the bush. As a military force, they were wiped out completely, at a cost to the Australians of but two men killed and three slightly wounded.

After this exploit, McPartoch turned to the north-east. He suspected that the noise of the battle might have been heard in the capital of the enemy, which could not be distant, as the White Guard had crossed several telegraph lines in rapid succession which were no longer running parallel to each other, but converging upon a point farther north. And he concluded that on the spot where they would intersect the Japanese headquarters must be situated. He was leaving the straight direction because he wished to evade the reinforcements which the enemy, alarmed by the shooting, might hurry up.

It was about three o'clock in the afternoon when some vanguard scouts on the left wing reported that they had had a glimpse of a large river, or inlet of the sea, and of a big settlement on its far side. Half an hour later, McPartoch and his leading officers were scanning the scene through their glasses. There lay, on the western shore of a sheltered inlet about two miles wide, a town or rather a group of four villages, sharply divided like the quarters of a mediaeval city, round a central fort. The fort stood on a gentle rise and consisted of several wooden sheds or barracks surrounded by an inner wall and outer rampart and ditch. All the telegraph wires ended in a small watch-tower on top of the biggest building, thus marking it as the headquarters. Sentinels paced to and fro, and several hundred men were being drilled in the grounds of the fort. It was evident that considerable excitement prevailed.


  ― 188 ―
Messengers on horseback arrived and departed frequently. A large cavalry force left town. The men of the White Guard knew the reason for the activity. It was they who were being searched for.

They were separated only by a sheet of water from the goal of their endeavours. Yet they saw that it was unattainable. The Japanese capital was impregnable. Thousands were guarding it. Thousands more were doubtless scouring the country to take revenge for the massacre of the morning. It did not seem to enter the mind of the enemy that the Australians were on the opposite bank. Half a dozen boats and a steam launch were anchored in the inlet, but nobody came to use them for investigation. McPartoch, on his part, was careful not to betray the whereabouts of the White Guard. Of course, the men could not be restrained from having a peep. But they had to dismount in the bush and to creep up softly by twos and threes. Night was falling while they were still thus engaged. And under the sunset sky of gold and green the settlement and the cultivation paddocks around it looked indescribably peaceful. But the Australians could not permit themselves to be deceived by appearances. The leaders recognized now that they had located the headquarters of the enemy, that their hope of success did not lie at its gate. Its neighbourhood was fraught with danger of annihilation to them. Their only chance lay in the open country against the isolated villages. Perhaps they might yet achieve something there, after having gained a thorough knowledge of the Japanese methods.

Above all, the White Guard required a reasonable rest of a few days after the unbroken excitement of the first week's campaign to recuperate its moral balance and to prepare a sensible plan of further


  ― 189 ―
activity. But no respite could be had as long as the Australians remained within a short distance from the enemy's centre of power. The leaders, indeed, looked forward with grave anxiety to the night which of necessity had to be spent so near to it. Tinned provisions were served out, no fires were allowed. Retreat was the password for the morning.




  ― 190 ―

Chapter IV: Retreat and Reinforcement

THE ignorance which the movements of the enemy on the previous day seemed to imply regarding the whereabouts of the White Guard, was either another strategic trick from the outset to lull into a false security the watchfulness of the volunteers, or it had been dispelled very quickly. Even before dawn the Japanese scouts began to attack the outposts. Probably the former had marched throughout the night, guided by the light of the full moon. The Australians broke camp hurriedly and rode to the east, partly with a view of outflanking the pursuers and partly because they were afraid of being surrounded on the land side and driven back upon the inlet of the sea, if they made a stand in this unfavourable position. The country was not at all suitable for the full development of cavalry. It was flat, covered with thick jungle and permeated with a tortuous network of channels, mostly dried out, but forming veritable pitfalls among the dense vegetation. Apparently the Japanese had limited their pioneer efforts of civilization to the districts further west over the water, for there were no traces of settlement here. But that they had explored and charted this wilderness was evident from the rapidity with which their own forces moved. Moreover, they had pressed the local natives into service as guides.

The aboriginals of the interior accompanying the


  ― 191 ―
White Guard were nearly as much at a loss in the coastal jungle as their masters. They were, however, ahead of the latter in their ability to make themselves invisible during critical periods. This trait had been noticed from the first. Every time a battle waxed hot, they had vanished mysteriously, rejoining the volunteers when the air was clear again. During the whole course of the campaign, they had lost so far less than half a dozen of their number, which fact was the best proof of their sagacity in taking care of themselves. The White Guard did not resent their caution. It had never been intended to make them fight for the cause of White Australia. That was the sacred privilege of the ruling race. The blacks were employed as hunters and scouts, and in this capacity they had proved serviceable and willing enough. When the first shots were exchanged that morning (July 26) they had all stolen away quietly, and their prolonged disappearance was accepted as a sure sign that serious trouble with the enemy was brewing.

The Australian van and right flank suffered heavily under the fire of Japanese marksmen concealed in the thick growth. After a ride of about two hours, the foremost squads came to a bare patch, a kind of spur of the high plains. Here they were charged by hostile cavalry. A fierce battle raged for half an hour until the aggressors, cut to pieces and much reduced in numbers, fled back. But the delay enabled Japanese infantry to concentrate behind their gallant horsemen in such strength that the further progress of the White Guard was effectively barred. It turned north, towards the sea. Again the cavalry attacked, to gain time, so that the infantry might push on in that direction. Though decimated, the mounted Turanians had lost nothing of their energy. But the exasperated Australians


  ― 192 ―
were now determined to make an end of them, regardless of cost. After a terrible struggle they succeeded. The Japanese cavalry was annihilated and all its surviving horses captured. Nevertheless, the purpose for which it had sacrificed itself, had been attained. Long lines of infantry hemmed in the van and both flanks of the White Guard.

At last, the genius of the invading race had invented a method of counteracting the superior mobility of the raiders. It consisted in the employment of thin files of infantry, no longer stationary, but hurling themselves against the horsemen, taking advantage of every tree and rock for cover, yet ever advancing and followed by other files like successive waves of destruction. Horsemen had no chance against such rushes. They could not override them. They might fling them aside, only to be confronted by the second and third lines, while the first one, which had been broken through, would re-form and pour a deadly fire into the rear of the advancing cavalry.

This method was tried for the first time on this occasion with very satisfactory results. Before order had been restored fully in the ranks of the White Guard after the cavalry contest, an infantry rush occurred. It increased the confusion, and after a short stand the Australians were repulsed. Some daring scouts of the enemy had got into the rear already. About eleven o'clock the squads of the extreme western flank touched the inlet again and had another glimpse of the capital. In the blinding noon glare of the sun the impression was no longer peaceful. Even as they looked, troops were hurrying over the cleared cultivation paddocks, no doubt sent to help in the work of destruction. The fort, in its inaccessibility, seemed to represent the embodiment of the deep Oriental disdain against the Whites


  ― 193 ―
whose Star Cross was to pale in the Northern Territory before the victorious rays of the Rising Sun.

The position of the Australians was desperate. Behind them the river; to the east, and bending north and south, superior hostile forces. Everything had remained quiet so far to the south-west, but this silence was really disquieting, because the connexion between the Japanese headquarters and their eastern army lay across that line, and it was natural, therefore, to assume that strong reserves were massed in that neighbourhood. McPartoch held a hurried consultation with his lieutenants, in which it was decided to strike out straight to the south, in the hope that the enemy might be compelled to disclose his plans more fully by a diversion in this direction.

Fortune favoured the White Guard. As it happened, the Japanese had concentrated the bulk of their army in the east in their eagerness to block its progress. Their southern outposts, commanding every opening in the jungle, every neck between creeks, had thus been denuded temporarily of defenders. When the volunteers were falling back, the defect had been noticed and reinforcements were despatched. But it was too late. The Australians, wheeling south with great rapidity, ousted their opponents in a series of magnificent charges. To delay them, the last remnant of cavalry at hand was thrown against them. But they had learnt from their experience of the morning. They wasted no more precious time in a pitched battle. Cutting a way through the cavalry and overriding the van of the infantry reinforcements before they were able to develop their new tactics, the White Guard at last escaped into the open. It continued its ride all the afternoon, unpursued, and fixed camp for the night well out of the enemy's reach.




  ― 194 ―

The death list of the battle was enormous. Two lieutenants, five sub-lieutenants, a surgeon, fourteen sergeants and sixty-eight men were missing. Moreover, forty reserve-horses had been killed and some stores were lost with them. This latter calamity was relieved somewhat by the seizure of over sixty Japanese horses, which were mostly Australian-bred. There was irony in this. Commonwealth citizens had reared the stock, had realized a profit on it, and now it was employed to defeat their compatriots. For without efficient cavalry, the enemy would hardly have been able to take the offensive against the White Guard. More stretchers were constructed for the transport of the badly wounded. Of the first batch, only two were still surviving. Eleven others were added that night.

Burdened with this further impediment, the leaders were compelled to come to a clear understanding about the further course of the campaign. They conferred during the evening, and before sunrise next morning (July 27), they placed the results of their deliberations before a general council of war, which had been called together originally for the purpose of rearranging the decimated units and electing subordinates for the fallen officers. McPartoch, in another manly speech, pointed out the insurmountable difficulties in their path. It could not be denied, he said, that the White Guard had been thrown upon the defensive owing to the overwhelming numerical superiority of the invaders, and that it could not hope for victory under the circumstances. He regretted that it should have been his advice, in the last instance, which had persuaded them to carry through the desperate venture at a loss, so far, of almost a third of their comrades. Here the brave fellows interrupted him with cheers and passed a resolution by acclamation, thanking him for his unselfish


  ― 195 ―
leadership and assuring him that he continued to possess their full confidence. His proposals were warmly debated. But in the end they were carried with practical unanimity. Retreat, as speedy as possible, to the base in Snowdrop Creek was determined on, so that the wounded might receive proper care. And a thorough consideration and final decision regarding future action was to be postponed until after that. It was a touching attempt at self-delusion. For in his heart every man felt convinced that a handful of white fighters could not defeat the organization created by the enemy, though every one be a hero. Yet they tried to evade that last bitterness, the open acknowledgement of failure to each other, as long as there was a chance.

The march was resumed. They were still within the danger zone, in the circle of outlying villages. One they passed before noon, but its inhabitants did not seem to take any notice of them. McPartoch had decided to travel straight south to avoid the jungle with its rank vegetation, which would have delayed progress, and with its animal pests, which would have tormented the wounded. In the afternoon they skirted another village. They kept always to a rough track cleared by the enemy. Shortly before sunset they came to a waterhole in a depression, about twelve miles further on, and camped there for the night. It was by no means an ideal spot strategically, being surrounded on three sides by a wide sweep of hill country and on the fourth to the north, by a belt of thick scrub and patches of acacias which restricted the outlook. But the volunteers knew that the Japanese main force could not have kept pace with them on their retreat and they did not particularly fear attack from the isolated settlements, because according to all previous observations, these did not contain more than


  ― 196 ―
one hundred, or at most two hundred, men each. Of course, the usual watch was kept.

But the White Guard had underrated the resources and tenacity of the enemy, who again took advantage of the moonlight to creep up to its position. This time the Japanese scouts penetrated silently the line of outposts and with the dawn, a furious infantry assault was directed against the two most exposed sub-camps of the Australians. Fortunately, some confusion ensued among the enemy in the dim light. His own scouts shot upon mounted reinforcements hurrying to their help, apparently taking them for the withdrawing volunteer outposts whom they had passed under the cover of the scrub. Thus the occupants of the sub-camps were enabled to escape, leaving tents, blankets and other belongings behind them. These were secured, however, in a successful counter-attack immediately afterwards. Day had now broken fully and revealed a large force of Japanese infantry approaching from the high ground to the west. Already they were forming the long thin files preparatory to one of their characteristic rushes. McPartoch had just time to sound the signal for retreat, when the first line hurled itself against the Australians, coiling about their flanks like a poisonous breath before which men and animals staggered and fell. The rear of the White Guard resisted for a moment, then followed the others in headlong flight eastwards. They were pursued by cavalry.

For an hour the volunteers rode on without lessening their speed appreciably. And still the Japanese horsemen doggedly stuck to them. Their presence was a disagreeable surprise to the Australians, who had flattered themselves that they had exterminated the mounted service of the enemy, and who were now running away from an inferior number of that


  ― 197 ―
arm. McPartoch had to yield at last to their entreaties to make a stand. The rear faced round. But the shock of the outset proved too much for it. It had to give way, and the hostile cavalry, still about 150 strong, fell upon the centre of the White Guard, commanded by McPartoch in person. Here the advance was arrested. The Japanese, surrounded, were shot down in numbers. The survivors, however, never wavered. Their leader, a man on a splendid horse, gave them a wonderful example of heroism. Riding into the thick of the fight, he brought down man after man, seemingly invulnerable himself. He came within ten yards of the Commander-in-Chief when suddenly a member of the Port Darwin contingent cried out: “Ah Ting!” At the exclamation, the Japanese leader half turned, and found himself face to face with McPartoch. Two pistols were levelled at the same moment, two shots rang out in one. Ah Ting threw up his arms and fell to the ground, dead. McPartoch's mare staggered and broke down, throwing her rider. Some men ran to his assistance and lifted him on to Ah Ting's horse. The fall of the leader decided the fate of the Japanese, hemmed in on all sides. They perished manfully.

The contest had reduced the number of the White Guard to about four hundred, counting in the badly wounded. To make matters worse, McPartoch was half-dazed in consequence of his accident. He surrendered the command to Thomas Burt until he should have fully recovered. Under the pressure of their misfortune, the volunteers did not have leisure to ponder over the fact that such a large force, independent of the main army of the enemy, should have been away in the open country. If they could have done so, the truth might have dawned upon them, and thus warned, their ultimate fate


  ― 198 ―
might have been different. For it is most likely that this force had been despatched, even before the rout of the White Guard near the capital, with a view to cut off its retreat. Of course, the truth will never be known until the Japanese choose to publish it. But appearances seem to show that they made this attempt thus early, the repetition of which was to be so terribly successful afterwards. Ah Ting, no doubt, had been entrusted with the execution of the task. He failed because the Australians retreated too quickly. And rather than return a beaten man, he sought death. It is impossible to explain in any other way his fool-hardy pursuit of a superior number of superior horsemen.

Next day (July 30) the White Guard passed the southernmost village, where the parting shots of the campaign were exchanged. It was noticed that the telegraph lines had been repaired already. On the following evening (July 31) the Australians camped again upon the old spot at the head of Liverpool River. They spent a day there recovering vigour after their exertions and afterwards continued their retreat to the base in Snowdrop Creek, arriving on August 2. The seven badly wounded comrades who still survived were then removed with infinite care to Katherine and distributed among trusted friends. So well was the secret kept that the Imperial authorities at Port Darwin remained in ignorance of these happenings. But perhaps they did not wish to know anything.

A general council of war held in Snowdrop Creek decided that it would be madness to renew the fight. The only question under dispute was the manner in which the White Guard should be disbanded. Some adventurous members proposed that they should all return to Queensland by the route over


  ― 199 ―
which they had come. They had no doubt that reports of the campaign had transpired in Palmerston, and they were afraid of arrest if they should place themselves within reach of the British commander in that port. The overwhelming majority, however, justly dreaded the overland march mainly because the dry season was now far advanced. In the end, all agreed to send a deputation to Port Darwin to investigate the real state of affairs there and to arrange, if possible, for a quiet refuge and gradual absorption of the volunteers in that district, whence they might disperse by sea by and by.

Meanwhile the White Guard remained at Snowdrop Creek to await the result of the mission. And during this period an event occurred which changed the destiny of the corps. Quite unexpectedly, reinforcements from Queensland arrived at Katherine (August 7) and, in due course, were directed to the camp. The new-comers were in a pitiable state, having traversed the same overland route, conducted by aboriginals. They had lost thirty-two men on the march. According to their statements, the deficiency of water in the Interior precluded absolutely all further help by land until the end of the year. But they did not mention this to discourage the others. On the contrary, as soon as they had refreshed themselves by a few days' rest, they declared themselves quite ready for action. The relief force was certainly a fine body of men. It numbered 564 members, with 200 reserve horses and a vast quantity of stores. Cosmopolitan elements had entered into its composition to a much larger extent than in the case of the first corps. For before the date of its departure (July 16) from Bourketown there had been time to get to North Queensland for adventurers from all the states who objected to the drudgery of regular drill and were yet too


  ― 200 ―
patriotic to shirk the duty of defence. In addition there were over a hundred Canadians and Americans from the Western Slopes.

The views of the old campaigners—the heroes of the first campaign—were strongly modified by the fresh development. The optimists among them were inclined to bury the remembrance of the terrible experience of the recent past under a hope of revenge, now that the losses had not only been made good but the original fighting strength had been increased by one-half. Others, more cautious, pleaded that the Japanese had gained an intimate knowledge of Australian tactics and would be able, therefore, to meet all efforts with even deadlier effect than in the opening struggle. These warners reminded their comrades that the enemy thought nothing of sacrificing the life of his own warriors. They doubted if even the united white forces would be sufficient to expel or to exterminate the invaders. Anything less would not be worth the risk of so many lives valuable to the Commonwealth. Was it not better to wash their hands of a hopeless affair and to save themselves for another battle some day, in the regular army of Australia, where their experience would be of the highest importance?

But the reinforcements wanted war. Their leader offered to serve under McPartoch. They could certainly make out a good case. Having come all this way, they claimed the right to be given a show. It seemed unfair to desert them. No description of Japanese methods and the hardships of a campaign could cool their ardour. They still believed fondly in the immense superiority of their own race. Their point was that if the enemy had gained knowledge, so had the Australians, and that the imperfections natural to a first effort need not be repeated.

These remonstrances were not wasted. Yet more


  ― 201 ―
than by anything else the old campaigners were influenced by a singular circumstance. The mission returned from Port Darwin to camp on August 14. It brought all the news of the anti-colour and election riots, from which one fact could be gathered plainly—that no support could be expected from the Federal authorities, whose energies were absorbed fully by civic disruption in the centres of population. But the mission had to tell of something much stranger. Nothing at all was known in Port Darwin of the doings of the White Guard. Its sympathizers, indeed, had become quite anxious about it. Was it loafing? Had it no courage to come to blows? These were the questions which assailed the members of the deputation, whose replies were received with incredulity. There could be no doubt that the Japanese had been absolutely silent on the subject, that they had lodged neither protests nor appeals. It seemed that they regarded the White Guard with calm contempt and officially ignored its existence.

No intelligence ever caused a more profound sensation or more violent indignation. With feelings akin to consternation the heroes of the first campaign asked one another what might be the policy of Japan that it did not seize the opportunity to condemn publicly a raid of irregulars which could not have cost it less than a thousand lives. It drove the blood from the heart of the brave men who had fought so hard and borne so much, to contemplate how their exertions were stifled in studied silence. Were they of so little importance? So they had not made themselves dreaded enough? Had all the sacrifices, the deeds of mates now dead and rotting in the interminable bush no worse effect on the enemy than so many flea-bites, scratched casually and dismissed from memory? Ah, they had not done yet! The


  ― 202 ―
brown horror would yet squeal at the top of its voice for protection against the intrepid sons of Australia! The lofty disdain displayed by the Japanese so incensed the old campaigners that the resentment practically decided the issue. A vote taken exclusively among them, which every man bound himself beforehand to stand by, resulted in favour of a second campaign by a twelve to one majority.

Although the leader of the reinforcements—a Canadian named Grimpan—had announced his willingness to serve under McPartoch, he objected to being reduced to mere lieutenant, while others previously under his command were elevated to the same level. A regrettable element of jealousy, foreign to the old campaigners, was thus introduced. The matter was compromised by forming two companies of 150 men each, with five sub-lieutenants, and by appointing the Canadian to the command of one of these. It was also arranged that the supreme leadership should revert to him in the event of McPartoch being killed or disabled. All the old campaigners regarded the second concession as an affront, for they looked upon Thomas Burt as the rightful heir-presumptive to the honour, as his stewardship during the last stage of his retreat had won their entire confidence. For the moment the settlement was accepted, but the slight rankled nevertheless.

The command of the other increased company was entrusted to Thomas Burt, who again received that most responsible office, the commissariat. He would have preferred a place in the fighting line, but he bowed to the pleading of McPartoch, who knew only too well that the very existence of the White Guard depended on the safety of the stores and particularly the horses, and that it was to be feared just for this reason that the Japanese would try to gain possession of or to destroy


  ― 203 ―
them. In the commissariat was also vested the supervision of the aboriginals. The old band seemed to have sustained some loss, after all, in the final stage; about a fourth of their number was missing. Now the blacks brought by the reinforcements were added. The total, then, amounted to about eighty. On the whole, the second instalment was not up to the former level. It had not been treated with so much consideration by its masters, and sulked rather. A close watch was very necessary.

Among the old campaigners there were several of the lighter wounded who had not quite recovered. Some of them were, for the purpose of war, no better than cripples. Yet they craved permission to share in the new venture. But McPartoch would have none of them. He even refused to move while they were present. So these brave fellows, twenty-three altogether, had to return to Katherine, thence to Port Darwin and civilization. To one of them Thomas Burt entrusted his diary—all that is left of it. And this foresight has preserved to white humanity the only strictly contemporary record of the first campaign of the White Guard—one of the most unselfish and tragic sacrifices of all times.




  ― 204 ―

Chapter V: The Second Campaign

OF the second campaign, no well-ordered written record of an eye-witness exists, nothing indeed, at all comparable to Thomas Burt's diary. That able patriot perished in the unknown. Some survivors have given their versions of different phases of the disastrous enterprise, though not always quite as lucidly as could be wished, and their reports have been pieced together as well as possible in this account, which therefore cannot be regarded as absolutely correct in every detail. Even the dates cannot be ascertained exactly. It is known, however, that the White Guard left the base in Snowdrop Creek on August 17, 1912.

The volunteers then numbered about 900 men, with 250 reserve horses, and were accompanied by 80 aboriginals. Two companies, led by the Canadian Grimpan and by Thomas Burt, consisted of 150 men each. It seems that in every other particular the organization evolved and well tried during the first campaign was adhered to. The force reoccupied the camp at the head of Liverpool River for one night. There some surplus stores were hidden away. Two days later, in the early afternoon, it arrived once more in the neighbourhood of the southern-most Japanese village. A few settlers, working in the cultivation paddocks, were cut off and


  ― 205 ―
killed. But though the enemy appeared to be surprised, he gave no chance. The vanguard, rushing forward in the hope of carrying the village before the inhabitants should have time to think of the defence, found itself exposed to a severe fire and had to retreat. No further attempt was made; the main corps passed by at a safe distance, as if it was not thought worth while to risk lives in an attack upon a fortified outpost.

If McPartoch had wished to convey this impression, of which there can be no doubt, his ruse proved successful for once. The Japanese seem to have allowed themselves to be inveigled into a false sense of security. They did not keep in touch with the White Guard, which, in reality, came to a stop only eight miles further on in a dense bush, awaiting the night. For it had been decided to assault the hostile position after dark. The idea was to employ fire as well as the sword against the invaders; it is, indeed, already mentioned in Thomas Burt's diary. Then it came to nothing. But now more careful preparations had been made. A supply of kerosene and torches had been drawn from Port Darwin, and thus the execution of incendiary plans had become feasible.

The moon, past the first quarter, facilitated the task. About 11 p.m. the village was surrounded by strong detachments. Apart from these, a storming party had been formed, consisting of fifty picked volunteers. At midnight, when the moon was sinking in the west, the charge was delivered. The Japanese sentries were on their guard. But making their accustomed rounds, they had all been marked and were shot down. Before the inhabitants, startled by the noise, had time to fly to arms, the stormers jumped the low rampart, carrying light bags filled with dry twigs and grass and saturated


  ― 206 ―
with kerosene, which they piled against the walls of the nearest houses. In a moment the highly inflammable stuff blazed up. Among the settlers indescrible confusion reigned. Some dashed forward recklessly to fling the burning bundles aside, but they fell instantly under the massed volleys of a hundred crack shots. Within a few minutes, the sun-dried timber of the huts on the east side of the village was well alight and the inmates had to run for their lives, pursued by the bullets of the triumphant Australians. Their task was finished. They had now merely to look on while the fresh eastern breeze spread the flames to adjoining buildings and over the wooden defence works. Above the roar of the conflagration rose the frenzied cries of the victims, blinded by the glare and suffocated by the smoke, doomed to death within and without their perishing homes. As the assured success of their scheme of vengence calmed the wild excitement of the volunteers, they began to wonder why the Japanese did not try to escape. Suddenly somebody made a remark about the shouting. Next moment all the men about him found themselves listening attentively, all struck by one idea. They could now distinguish plainly above the throaty voices of men quite different treble shrieks of agony, as of women. The surviving inhabitants were by this time huddled together at the western extremity of the village. The flames, bursting through the clouds of smoke, threw a flickering light over the several groups working away desperately to clear a free zone which the fire should be unable to overleap. In their feverish haste, they exposed themselves recklessly within easy range of the Australian rifles. But an awful hush had fallen upon the volunteers. Hardly a shot was discharged now on their part. For in the uncertain illumination they had discerned, beside the well-known, squat


  ― 207 ―
shapes of their foemen, other more slender forms, some crouching in wild fear, others dashing about planlessly, rending the air with high-pitched yells. They were women. But how did they get there? The question passed from mouth to mouth, sending a thrill of horror through the ranks of the White Guard. Never before had the old campaigners set eyes upon them, or known of their presence in the hostile camps. They began to understand why the Japanese had not made a bold bid for escape at the outset. It was because their womenfolk were too panic-stricken and they would not leave them behind. Now it was too late. The flames had leapt the break before it was complete. Among the doomed inhabitants a command was given in a clear, firm voice. There was a last appealing cry, cut short by a great volley. The slender forms dropped to the ground, dead. In a flash, the squat shapes jumped the rampart and threw themselves upon the aggressors. For a minute or two the rattle of pistols and revolvers was audible above the roar of the conflagration. Then the surrounding darkness of the bush swallowed the surviving Japanese. This finish cost the White Guard five lives, and as many were wounded.

In the morning, one of the missing Australians was found in the bush, with only a slight hurt on his right arm, yet dead. A Japanese, twice shot through the chest, was clutching his throat with both hands; the cold, stiff fingers nearly met in the flesh, so savage his grasp had been. No truer expression could have been imagined of the mortal hatred which inspired the fighters of both races and of the grim determination of the Asiatics; the members of the new contingent were deeply moved by the sight.

Inspection of the ruined village, where the charred


  ― 208 ―
timber was still smouldering and a stench of burnt flesh filled the air, left no doubt that women had fallen victims. So many female bodies, disfigured by the blaze which had consumed their clothing, were discovered, that there was only one explanation for their presence; they had been the wives of the settlers. The enjoyment of victory was spoiled completely by this untoward incident. All white instincts rebelled against the slaughter of women. And horrible as it was, the Australians could not banish the thought that it would happen again, unless they were to abandon the struggle. For if they wished to retain the offensive and to prevent the enemy from always choosing his own battle ground, they would have to strike at other settlements in the same way, regardless of the possibility that both sexes might dwell within. From a patriotic point of view the White Guard had even the right to welcome the terrible complication, because it might divert the attention of the Japanese and loosen the bonds of discipline. No feelings of repugnance could absolve the Australians from the plain duty towards their country to exploit this temporary advantage. It might not last long. The enemy, who had fought well for the sake of the young colony and from race pride in the past, was sure to surpass himself in defence of the most sacred personal possession, as soon as he should have recovered from his initial surprise. The volunteers yearned for the clash of arms in the field. Unknowingly they had been made women-slayers. That stain would have to be washed out in more blood, the blood of men and foes. And thus the second campaign became from the outset what the refined savagery of the Japanese would have it as proved by their employment of dum-dums in attack and females in defence: a merciless scramble for mastery as between


  ― 209 ―
primeval beasts in the tropical wilderness which fitly surrounded them.

The White Guard rode on unmolested all day. The next village had been deserted by the enemy and was burnt down. But while the Japanese kept out of sight, the aboriginals of the force began to create trouble. As usual, they had remained invisible during the night attack. Now it was noticeable that they kept much more to themselves than formerly. Their sulkiness, which since the arrival of the second band accompanying Grimpan's corps had become more and more pronounced, caused some anxiety. The blacks of the interior were not considered to be naturally treacherous, but of course they had their price. And if the Japanese should see their way to offer better terms, larger presents of tobacco, silver, arms, and especially liquor, than were in the gifts of the White Guard, then it was conceivable that the natives might be seduced from their present loyalty. There was, however, the reassuring thought that it would not be easy for the enemy to gain the confidence of the aboriginals. Of themselves, the latter would not dare to make advances. The only danger was that the Japanese might use the coastal blacks for the purpose of establishing relations. But it was known that deadly enmity prevailed between the tribes of the interior and those of the coast. When they met, the stronger, according to all precedent, would make a meal off the weaker. Where such customs ruled, it was difficult to imagine where the chance of peaceful dealings could come in. With this consideration the Australians silenced their secret misgivings. For the natives had proved so useful in many respects that they did not view with equanimity the prospect of dispensing with their services. It seemed, however, that the blacks, with the instinct of primitive beings, felt the distrust


  ― 210 ―
with which they were regarded. Perhaps it was in consequence of this that their morosity increased steadily. Some of the boldest even ventured to complain that morning that their horses were no good, and to ask McPartoch that they should have the pick of the reserve horses. Needless to say, they did not get their will.

At night a council of war was held. The more optimistic new members looked upon the fact that the enemy had abandoned one village as proof of his unpreparedness and surprise at the return of the White Guard. Accordingly, they recommended a rapid attack upon his capital. Though the old campaigners were less enthusiastic, they were not impervious to the pleadings of their inexperienced friends. If the Japanese headquarters should also be encumbered with womenfolk, as was probable, then the chances might not be so bad. After all, dash and daring was the life-blood of the hazardous enterprise. It was resolved to face the risks by attempting a night attack, or a day and night attack combined, against the capital. The fate of the White Guard was to be staked upon one throw of the dice. That, according to common report, was the project, the deliberate aim, the hope of the Australian leaders. Its boldness shows that the infusion of fresh blood had brought about a resurrection of high spirits. Or perhaps, as far as the old campaigners were concerned, the stage of mental depression, under the stimulating influence of the latest horrors, had been finally superseded by ferocious exultation.

About noon on the following day the vanguard approached another village. It was found to be strongly occupied. Moreover, a large detachment of the enemy had transformed a rocky ridge to the west of it into a fortification. McPartoch, foreseeing a pitched battle, gave orders to ignore


  ― 211 ―
the Japanese by passing to the east of the settlement. But the reinforcements, and even many of his old men, entreated him to attack the position. They proposed to repeat the strategy of incendiarism after nightfall and to make this possible, the enemy outside had to be dislodged first. He granted their request reluctantly and at 2 p.m. an action was begun. Progress was slow and its successful culmination was spoilt by a furious sally of the villagers, which rolled back the eastern enveloping lines and allowed the Japanese field force to slip through the opening into the settlement. This, too, was evacuated later in the evening and all the occupants got away. Ruddy flames, soon afterwards, informed them of the fate of their recent homesteads.

The White Guard pursued in the moonlight without much success. Four camps were formed at last, and, as usual, a full third of the force was put on watch service. Nevertheless, just before dawn some Japanese infantry managed to penetrate into the northernmost sub-camp, which was occupied by men of the reinforcements. A panic broke out among these and several were killed or wounded before relief arrived, and exterminated the aggressors. It was a most unfortunate affair, especially in its consequences.

For three men had been so badly hurt that they were unable to ride. Transport by stretcher was out of the question. The Australians could not storm the capital of the enemy and guard a hospital at the same time. That was so evident that the men, agreeing that the former should be attempted, had come to an understanding during the same council of war that the helpless wounded should kill themselves. As cases were conceivable where the energy of the doomed might not be equal to


  ― 212 ―
his duty, all the comrades of each squad had bound themselves that in such an extremity one of them should administer the coup de grâce. It was terrible, yet necessary. Death was the only manly way out. For such was the loathing of the coloured aliens that no member of the White Guard would have accepted mercy from their hands, even if it had been proffered. Nor would he allow his friends to do so. A sense of rough justice, perhaps, had also something to do with this determination; white men were too proud to accept from the enemy what they would not have granted him in return. And a lingering end in the wilderness, by starvation or vermin, was too cruel for contemplation. Two of the badly wounded were firm enough to shape their own destiny. But the third one faltered on the brink. He was shot through the right lung, near the heart, and could not possibly live. So a friend, drawn by lot from his squad, rendered him the merciful service which, in saner moments, he would not have refused to a comrade in his own hopeless condition. It was the first time that the stern measure had to be resorted to, and though the men had adopted the rule voluntarily and knew what it might mean to every one of them, its translation into reality had a depressing effect on all.

The advance was resumed. Again it was afternoon before the enemy was encountered. He was in great strength, at the edge of the jungle country, and employed new tactics. The country was very broken; gullies and ridges alternated. His infantry formed long, thin lines as usual, but they were stationary. The rushes were left to small detachments of cavalry, which, sweeping forward from a fold in the ground where they had been hidden, drove back the Australian scouts upon the main body,


  ― 213 ―
and then returned to shelter while the pursuit of the volunteers was stopped by the terrific fire of the infantry, which, moreover, drew its file steadily longer, enveloping the flanks of the White Guard. After a desultory fight of about on hour, the Australians, retreating somewhat, succeeding in luring the hostile cavalry further into the open and inflicted severe punishment upon it. A little later their scouts on the western wing outflanked the Japanese files and rolled them back. Shortly before sunset the enemy began to retreat in good order into the protective jungle.

Some Australians had concentrated their fire during the final struggle upon a diminutive cairn on a ridge, the defence of which had been well sustained. As they did not notice anybody leaving this sheltered spot in the general retreat, their curiosity was aroused. They crept up cautiously and their suspicion that the occupants had remained in possession was quickly verified by several volleys, resulting in the death of two comrades. About twenty Japanese issued from the neighbourhood of the cairn, running hard to escape. Finding themselves outmatched by the horsemen, a few returned to it and resisted stoutly every attempt to dislodge them. But the Australians were the better marksmen, and soon the last defender had fallen. Their pains were rewarded by a most important discovery. The cairn, which a short distance off looked like a natural feature of the country, was artificial and served as rampart of a circular cavity staved and planked with boards. On the floor were several sleeping places, and telegraphic apparatus was mounted on a rough table against the wall. From there a cable was laid along the ground, hidden in the rubble, for over a mile to a large tree on the slope. The wire ascended its stem and was thus continued overhead.


  ― 214 ―
The whole cunning contrivance made it most unlikely that the subterranean station should be found even by an unusually persistent white man who might have followed the wire and even traced the cable. There being no indication of its termination so near at hand, he would very probably get tired long before he reached the cairn. Thus accidentally these volunteers had stumbled upon the true explanation of the marvellous accuracy of Japanese information. For such pits, in telegraphic connexion with the nearest village or directly with headquarters, might—and undoubtedly did—exist all over the zone of settlement, and from them an incessant watch could be kept on every movement of the White Guard, which, though perhaps passing within close range, would not be aware of prying eyes.

The enemy fell back, undefeated, his cavalry guarding the rear and keeping in touch with the Australians, who camped on the battlefield, where, in a gully, a plentiful supply of fresh water had been discovered. Each company formed a separate camp, the two largest in the centre, and three on each side. The Japanese being so near, McPartoch expected a troubled night. Exactly for this reason he had stopped the march early. While the full moon shone brightly, his sentries could be trusted to ward off the prowling scouts of the enemy. In the small hours before the dawn, it might become necessary to have every man under arms. Rest for men and horses had to be snatched while it could be had.

McPartoch's fears were more than realized. About 3 a.m. fierce skirmishing began all along the lines of the furthest outposts. Through the dim light diffused by the moon, now low on the western horizon, lithe forms wriggled from cover to cover among the dark patches of thick scrub, a thousand times


  ― 215 ―
more deadly and hateful than reptiles. Steadily they moved forward against the white men, who had to gather in groups of two or three and to change places continually for protection. Not many years ago, comfortable Australians at cosy breakfast tables had been delightfully thrilled by stirring descriptions in the morning press of the patriotic daring of the little brown men, who in white Manchurian winter nights glided snakelike behind big lumbering Russian sentries and, jumping on their backs, slit open their throats or strangled them in noiseless death embrace. Perhaps none of the interested readers had thought for a moment that one day in the near future Australia's best and most unselfish sons would be exposed to all the horrors of this applauded artfulness. Now and then flames leapt out of some thicket, followed by rattling reports. Then there was the trampling of hoofs or a heavy fall. Silence afterwards, or as often, the guttural call, in the plaintive note of the wild swan's cry, of some Australian crouching behind the carcase of his horse and signalling for help. On the other side, the shrill whistle of the lucky Japanese marksman was heard, appealing to his mates to back him up so that his work might be finished thoroughly. A reckless abandon was over this nocturnal carnage. Life counted as nothing on both sides. Each fighter was like a tiger at bay, contemptuous of bullets, intent, with bared claws, on his chance of a murderous bound. Slowly the white scouts were driven back. After two hours they had suffered so heavily that the camps had to be alarmed. McPartoch gave orders not to prolong the skirmishing, and led his force into the jungle to the north before daylight. And the enemy was soon outdistanced.

Very early that morning some scouts on the


  ― 216 ―
extreme western wing made a strange discovery. They had a glimpse of a strong Japanese detachment on the march. But it did not proceed north, as might have been expected, while the White Guard was threatening the capital so closely, but actually hurried south as fast as due precaution against possible surprise permitted. Cavalry covered its advance. Apparently, McPartoch and his subleaders did not attach much importance to the reports. Perhaps they thought that it was a belated relief corps. At any rate, they refused to turn out of their way in pursuit of this isolated detachment and thus to waste time. Nevertheless the singular fact was talked about a good deal, as the survivors testify. Considered retrospectively, it throws a flood of light on subsequent events which have never been explained fully.

The Commander-in-Chief had really no leisure for abstract speculations on the meaning of some particular hostile move. He was kept busy attending to immediate difficulties. During the night skirmish, several coastal blacks, who had actively engaged in it on the side of their Japanese masters, had been killed. They, at least, had not vanished from the danger zone as was the habit of the natives of the interior, who were nowhere to be seen, as usual. But it seemed that the latter had been audible. Several Australians stated that they had heard a call peculiar to the loyal aboriginals, which had not been included in the signal code of the White Guard, and which, moreover, the coastal blacks had never been known to employ. This might mean that the loyal natives had merely warned each other. On the other hand, it might mean that they had been bought over. At any rate, on former occasions they had either not hovered round the battlefield or they had at least remained silent,


  ― 217 ―
for nobody had heard their call before under similar circumstances. The change of habit aroused the latent suspicions anew. Had they turned spies? No doubt the Japanese could offer better inducements. The only question was whether they had succeeded in establishing relations. But perhaps the blacks had met half-way. Even a black might see, as somebody remarked bitterly, that the White Guard was playing a losing game.

During the first hours of the march, and afterwards while the Australian had a hasty, belated breakfast near a small pond on the foot of a hill—for they had now entered the jungle country where water was met with throughout the year—a good many natives rejoined the force. They kept apart, however, showing pretty clearly that their temper had not improved much. Some were smoking. This was certainly uncommon, as the last dole of tobacco had been handed out to them more than twenty-four hours ago. Natives do not hoard their possessions in this way as a rule. One of the whites, struck by an idea, went up and managed to get a piece of tobacco from them. On comparison it was found to be different from any brand in the Australian stores. The blacks were examined, but they sheltered behind the sulkiness affected by them ever since the opening of the second campaign, and no explanation was coming forth. This untimely obstinacy settled their fate. Such subsidiaries could be tolerated no longer. They might make away at any moment with the horses they were riding, or they might even steal more horses. A few volunteers, remembering their good services in the past, advocated simple dismissal. But it was too risky to let these cunning aboriginals go forth as open foes; they knew too much of the organization and resources of the White


  ― 218 ―
Guard. Some sterner Australians, who had been through the war in South Africa, remembered how the Boers used to deal with Kaffir boys who had become dangerous or superfluous. Necessity demanded a similar course. The unfortunate blacks, whose horses had been watched closely during the discussion, were suddenly surrounded and shot down. And like punishment was meted out to every absconder who returned later.

After this act of red-handed justice, a roll-call was held, which revealed that the losses in battle had reduced the White Guard to 753 men. Though the percentage was enormous, it compared very favourably with the death-rate during the first campaign and the old hands were accordingly elated. Before the count-out had been finished, there came from the north, very faintly, yet very unmistakably, the sound of a steamer's siren. The effect was electric. The sea had wafted greetings to them on the breeze. It was near, the goal was at hand. All minds turned to the great task immediately before them. Every one agreed that the signal must have proceeded from a vessel in the inlet, probably a Japanese steamer, and that they were at most a dozen miles inland. If the Australians wished so, the decision must fall that night. And many powerful reasons urged them to strike the supreme blow at once. Behind them, large, unbeaten forces of the enemy were massed. But these had been outdistanced and were therefore useless for the defence of the capital. The slightest hesitation would give them a chance to come up, and then the outlook for the White Guard, caught between two fires, would be black indeed. It was true that failure of the attack would probably mean extinction, for in that case the White Guard, defeated and demoralized, would be driven right back


  ― 219 ―
upon the army in its rear. That terrible alternative, however, could not be evaded by Fabian tactics. The only way to escape from it was by a rapid diversion either to the east or west, in both of which directions the enemy did not seem to be in great strength yet. Instant advance or instant diversion—that was the real question before the volunteers. And there were not wanting voices who recommended the latter. A calm survey of the position could, indeed, only lead to one conclusion: that the odds against the success of a direct assault upon the Japanese headquarters were too tremendous to be faced. But the overwhelming majority regarded the suggestion to turn aside within sight of the goal as nothing less than disloyalty against the fallen comrades whose self-sacrifice had enabled the survivors to penetrate thus far. The worst that could befall them was to die as those heroes had died. To the everlasting glory of Australia, its White Guard scorned the counsels of cowardice at this frightful crisis and decided that the only alternative before it was Victory or Death.

The volunteers made every preparation during this halt. Two companies were appointed storming parties and two more for each of these were told off as special support, while the remaining two largest companies, under Grimpan and Thomas Burt, were to form the reserve under the direct command of McPartoch. Every stormer received two bags filled with dry twigs and grass, two tins of kerosene about half full, and a dozen torches. The surplus horses and stores were divided equally among the six companies, barring the storm parties. It was past midday when the march was resumed.

Of the great assault no detailed description can be rendered with any claim to accuracy. None of the survivors have been able to give more than a medley


  ― 220 ―
of personal recollections confined within narrow limits, owing to the fact that the main action was fought in the night and extended over a wide stretch of country. The White Guard followed a rough road leading straight north. Its advance was slow, with a very broad front, for scouts were pushed out for miles east and west on either wing. About 3 p.m. Japanese infantry contested further progress, but the Australians burst through its lines in a splendid dash. At sunset they reached the border of the jungle, within two miles of the capital, the buildings of which, dominated by the fort, could be discerned plainly across the cultivation paddocks. They remained under cover until it had grown quite dark. Then the scouts pushed forward: they were met by outposts of the enemy and the battle waxed fierce at once. The Japanese had drawn several lines of barbed wire across the paddocks, about a foot from the ground. These had to be cut, in spite of swarming multitudes of the brown men, before a general attack was possible. A company dismounted and went to the assistance of the scouts. Fighting with the courage of despair, they gained their end under terrible hardships and losses. By 9 p.m. the remnants were right in front of the rampart of the south-eastern quarter; a passage had been cleared for the storming parties. Just as the moon rose these advanced at a terrific pace. But a determined sally from the south-eastern quarter drove them back. For an hour the wildest struggle raged round that locality. For the Australians wanted to set fire to the settlement at the eastern end, whence the breeze would spread the flames. Again and again they tried, and always without success. The defenders of the western quarters left their fortifications in large numbers and pressed upon the flank of the White Guard. At last three companies had to turn against them to


  ― 221 ―
stop the enveloping movement. The western Japanese lines were broken and hurled back. Close behind them, and mixing with their rear, poured the aggressive volunteers, and among them a number of stormers. These, seizing the opportunity, penetrated into the eastern corner of the south-western settlement, piled their bags against the nearest buildings, and applied matches. Before the enemy was well aware of it the conflagration had made good headway. Every attempt to extinguish it failed. As the flames towered up, cheer after cheer rose from the decimated ranks of the White Guard. With renewed ardour the men returned to the attack upon the south-eastern quarter. But the enemy, recognizing the impossibility of saving the burning section, hastily withdrew the troops from there and used them for the defence of the other threatened position. At the same time the infantry, which had been scattered in the afternoon, opened fire upon the Australian reserve from the jungle. Front, flanks and rear of the White Guard were assailed simultaneously by overwhelming Japanese forces. It did no longer fight for victory, but for life. About midnight McPartoch gave the signal for retreat. By the light of the moon and the reflections of the conflagration, now at its height, the survivors cut their way through the opposing hordes. The supreme effort had been defeated.

The enemy did not pursue closely. Mutual exhaustion had the effect of a short truce. A few miles away in the jungle the Australians gathered once more. They snatched a short rest before dawn, and continued their retreat at sunrise. Their position was truly hopeless. They did not number over four hundred. All the leaders, with the exception of McPartoch, Thomas Burt and Grimpan, were missing. As the death of half the sub-lieutenants


  ― 222 ―
and sergeants had broken up the organization completely, and as there was no time to restore order, these three divided the command—Thomas Burt led the van, McPartoch the centre, Grimpan the rear. For about two hours the White Guard rode on swiftly. Only the most necessary scouting was done. Everybody knew that the Japanese forces, which had been outdistanced during the three previous days, would be encountered again. The one chance of the volunteers lay in their speed, which might yet carry them through the hostile lines, before the enemy to the south had been fully informed of the events of the night and had perfected his plans for the annihilation of the fugitives.

About 10 a.m. the first shots were exchanged. The Australian vanguard immediately headed off to the west, as had been arranged between the leaders. But it was subjected to a furious fire and fought to a standstill. Meanwhile, the centre, under the intrepid McPartoch, threw itself right forward and was soon at close quarters with Japanese infantry, the foremost lines of which it scattered. Already McPartoch had given the signal for the other divisions to follow him through the opening, when he noticed that some of the scouts broke down with their horses, while others parried theirs and turned back. The animals had become entangled in coils of twisted barbed wire, which had been hidden in the long dry grass. A little further on several lines of wire were stretched from tree to tree one above the other, thus forming an insurmountable obstacle, behind which the enemy lay in wait. And away to the north signals could be heard more and more plainly, leaving no doubt that the garrison of the capital had started in hot pursuit.

A New South Wales man, named Terry, who had been wounded in the night and was half dead from


  ― 223 ―
loss of blood, here sacrificed himself to save his comrades. Urging his horse forward at a terrible pace, he burst right through the iron fence. Man and horse tumbled to the ground on the far side, cut to the bones by the wires. But the end had been gained. The centre of the White Guard poured through the gap, riding down the astonished enemy. Immediately after it followed Thomas Burt's company. Unfortunately the rear, under Grimpan, had moved far to the east, where it was engaged in a fierce fight so deeply that it did not respond to the calls. Rather than leave it to its fate, some brave fellows volunteered to ride back. Meanwhile the main body hovered round the opening to prevent the enemy from repairing the breach.

An anxious quarter of an hour flew by, giving the Japanese time to recover from their surprise and to hurry reinforcements to the critical point. Before these were in position, however, Grimpan's company had come up. With cheers the march was resumed, among a thick hail of bullets. Suddenly McPartoch was seen to fall. A few comrades rode to his side to carry him off. He stumbled to his feet, only to collapse again in violent pain. A dumdum had struck him in the hip. His parting words were a command to his men to look after themselves and to follow Thomas Burt as the leader whose experience and circumspection might still save them. Then he drew his revolver and killed himself, true to the last to the rules of the White Guard.




  ― 224 ―

Chapter VI: The Death Ride

THE death of the beloved Commander-in-Chief electrified his troops. Far from discouraging them, it filled them with a supreme desire for vengeance. They fought like demons and inflicted tremendous losses upon the ever-increasing swarms of the Asiatics. Still, all this bravery was thrown away. Conquest was out of the question. Cavalry from the capital now entered into the contest. During a temporary lull, Thomas Burt, assisted by thoughtful friends, succeeded in reorganizing the retreat. But the enemy granted no respite yet. Japanese detachments held favourable positions for many miles along the western flanks, and action after action had to be fought, with the result that the White Guard was pressed more and more to the east. Late in the afternoon the pursuers were left behind. The night was spent with hardly a pretence of a watch service. But the camp was not harassed. The exhaustion seemed to be mutual.

At dawn the Australians, somewhat refreshed by the unbroken rest, continued the flight. Of the gallant nine hundred, only about two hundred and sixty survived now. All the proud hopes of two days ago had vanished. Instead, quarrel arose within the ranks. Grimpan, the leader of the reinforcements, claimed succession to the chief command, in accordance with the original arrangements. Every


  ― 225 ―
one of the old campaigners, and not a few of his own people, objected fiercely. It was he who had commanded the rear, the delay of which had led up to McPartoch's death. Probably he was not to blame, and there certainly seem to have been no allegations that he did not equal the bravest in courage. Yet the fact told against him. Besides, Thomas Burt enjoyed greater confidence; he was McPartoch's choice, and it had been entirely due to his efforts that order had been restored on the previous day. Thus he was already the supreme leader by reason of his merits. Still, Thomas Burt stood down for the sake of peace. But less than two hours later Grimpan was missing. Some personal partisans, fellow-Canadians, raised accusations of foul play.

Shortly afterwards the Japanese attacked again, near the place where the White Guard, but five days ago, had burnt down a village after driving back victoriously a detachment of the enemy. It seemed that the latter had waited patiently thereabouts for the return of the Australians. Thomas Burt now took command as a matter of course. All his skill and devotion, however, could not make up for numerical weakness. After a disastrous fight, the volunteers were thrown still further east, hotly pursued by a small body of cavalry. As on the previous day the Japanese had again attacked from the west and their horsemen did not so much pounce straight upon the White Guard as ride parallel to it on its western flank. There is a grim significance in this fact. It is just conceivable that Thomas Burt, who had explored the country before the invasion, might have resolved to retreat directly upon the Pine Creek. The successive attacks from the west may have given him the impression that large hostile settlements were situated in the intervening district, the present condition of which


  ― 226 ―
was totally unknown to the Australians who had entered upon both campaigns from Liverpool River and were therefore only acquainted with the eastern part of the zone of settlement. It is, indeed, probable that this cunning Japanese strategy induced Thomas Burt to avoid unknown risks by regaining his old base in Snowdrop Creek viâ the head of Liverpool River, every inch of which route the bushmen were familiar with. And thus, it appears, he played right into the hands of the enemy.

During the last struggle some Australian scouts on the extreme western wing had been cut off from all connexion with the main force. They, too, were hotly pursued by Japanese cavalry and at nightfall they had given up all hope to regain the others. There were eighteen of them, and one of the number was a volunteer from Port Darwin. This man suggested that they should try to reach the railway. Under the circumstances his advice was accepted. The little band had a final skirmish with the enemy next day and lost five comrades. The thirteen survivors arrived at Pine Creek a week later, utterly exhausted.

With the exception of the thirteen, who were separated from the remainder, not one member of the White Guard has ever returned to the haunts of civilized men so far as is known. Its fate is one of the unexplained mysteries of history. There is only one document in existence which, if genuine, may throw some light on the matter. It was found, in 1917, about a day's ride south from the site of the base at the head of Liverpool River in a hollow log, faintly marked, which had evidently been overlooked by the Japanese. The discovery was made by a party of English tourists, among whom, however, one of the wounded men of the first campaign had


  ― 227 ―
managed to get himself included. Being, therefore, familiar with that strange wilderness, he was the actual finder. The document was enclosed in a gun-metal watch-case. It was merely a crumpled slip of paper bearing the following pencil inscription—

“Again attacked this morning. Enemy occupied our base beforehand. Are still 116 strong. No surplus horses. No stores. Am slightly wounded.—T. B.”

The writing differs so much from that of the diary that some experts doubt if it was done by the same hand. But it must be remembered that the writer, according to his own statement, was wounded and probably in the last stage of despair and exhaustion.

Curiously enough, about the same time a Japanese, who had fled his country for some offence and was engaged in the household of a British merchant in Hong Kong, indulged in some indiscretions. When his stories began to attract attention he disappeared unaccountably, for which reason it has been impossible to verify the reports. This fellow seems to have boasted that he helped to conquer the Northern Territory. His version was that immediately after the burning of the first village a Japanese force, consisting of infantry and cavalry, set out to seize the Australian base (he meant the camp at the head of Liverpool River, no doubt). When the remnant of the White Guard returned, a series of severe struggles followed, in the first of which it had been completely surprised and had lost its baggage. The wounded men were “put to sleep” by the surgeons. All the dead, white or brown, were cremated. The end came one morning before dawn, when in the moonlight the last survivors were surrounded and destroyed. But the Japanese did not lose so many fighters as had been feared.

The statements of the talkative Japanese domestic


  ― 228 ―
are quite compatible with the shred of information on the tiny slip of paper. And his disappearance certainly does not disarm the suspicion that he spoke the truth. The few lines—or rather death cries—which have been recovered do not probably represent Thomas Burt's whole account of the second campaign; he must have continued his diary, for the survivors all agree that he wrote a good deal. This priceless manuscript may have perished in the flames together with the corpse of its author, or it may be hidden away in some secret archives in Tokio.

Though it may seem incredible, the fact is that the Japanese have never admitted, either officially or unofficially, any knowledge of the existence of the White Guard. Tokio simply sheltered behind the plea that there was no official connexion with the late subjects of the Mikado, who were considered, to all intents and purposes, as British citizens in an Imperial colony. The settlers themselves have remained marvellously silent with regard to this matter. It is easy to see why they should do so. If ever the people of the United Kingdom should wake to a clear understanding of the terrible treatment meted out to its kinsmen, before the affair has passed into ancient history, all the little peevishnesses and jealousies would vanish before the thunderclap of a national explosion, the consequences of which would be incalculable. That a bloody secret should be known to thousands of Orientals without ever being divulged to Europeans by one of them was by no means a unique occurrence. And in this case the Japanese had the advantage that, as a result of their refined diplomacy, the Australian nation was confronted with issues of such vastness that, for the moment, the guerilla war in the far north of the Commonwealth seemed to be of very little importance compared to them. The vanishment of twelve hundred men, who had never


  ― 229 ―
been prominently before the public eye, attracted hardly any attention. And the handful of survivors lay low in the Palmerston district, afraid of arrest by the Imperial authorities. Moreover, for several months afterwards, the fate of the main body of the White Guard remained uncertain. It might have been mad enough to attempt the overland retreat to Queensland. There is the possibility—and if ever the Japanese should be hard pressed for an explanation, they will probably fall back upon it—that this attempt was made. Possibly the bones of the volunteers are strewn about some dried-out waterhole, or buried in the sand-drifts of the interior.

But Australians do not believe it. And with due regard to Thomas Burt's last message, as well as to the Hong-Kong indiscretion, the main features of the final struggle, as it must have been, may be reconstructed without any special effort of the imagination. While the White Guard was still dreaming of conquest after the burning of the southernmost village and the annihilation of its inhabitants; while its members, thinking that they had struck terror into the hearts of the enemy, were pushing forward to deal a decisive blow at his nerve-centre of power; all the time a Japanese army marched southwards, patient, day after day, sure of ultimate revenge, leaving detachments in commanding positions, probably near the principal waterholes, and never resting until it had occupied the Australian base. The bulk of this force consisted, no doubt, of the garrison of the southern belt of outlying villages, some of which the volunteers had found deserted. If so, the distance which had to be traversed by it cannot have been over eighty miles and it must have had plenty of time to enter into possession and to prepare its future course of action before the White Guard returned. There is something fascinating about the tenacity, thoroughness and subtle


  ― 230 ―
leadership of the Japanese which compels admiration and places their conduct of this obscure bush campaign on a level with their world-famous exploits on the Manchurian plains. That must be admitted, though white men may regret the fact. It mattered nothing to the invaders that an Australian élite corps was threatening their capital. Not content to ward off the danger, they organized, simultaneously, a deadly counter-attack.

Their calculations proved correct. Crushed between overwhelming numbers, the White Guard fled for life. For two days Japanese detachments harassed its western flanks, driving it eastwards so that it might not escape from the prepared trap. Then, when it had passed out of the zone of hostile settlement to supposed security and was approaching the base, the enemy suddenly swept down upon it, causing a wild stampede in which the reserve horses and stores were left behind.

The last night. Utter exhaustion in the Australian camp. The leader wounded. The moon, proud and early on that triumphant night of fire and sword which marked the outset of the second campaign, rises late, waning. Her misty beams light the way for Asia's hordes, valuing life only as a means of destruction, who creep up steadily, steathily on all sides. A final roar of battle. At daybreak the Turanians look upon their completed work. Surgeons deftly move among the fallen volunteers, dispensing the crowning mercy where the suffering is not yet ended. Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. They are excellent men, though not Christians. The first rays of the morning sun glitter upon the metal and glass of cool little syringes, as, one by one, the wounded men are “put to sleep.” Meanwhile the Japanese troops have been busy heaping together dry wood. The corpses are flung on top, and soon the flames envelop


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them. It was an appropriate termination—the blazing funeral pyre; just the manner in which the old Norsemen, whose blood had rolled in the veins of many of the dead patriots, used to honour fallen heroes. That probably Turanian carcasses were consumed in the same fire did not lessen the grandeur of the end; these were merely additional fuel.

So it may have been. Some day the Japanese may tell a later generation their version of the racial struggle. Then the details will have to be modified most likely. But one thing is certain. The short and hitherto uneventful history of the youngest Continent has been ennobled by one sublime episode which ranks equal to the proudest traditions of Old World nations—the Death Ride of the White Guard.

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