By Peter Lalor Philp
It was still the morning on 25 April 1915 – the first day of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli. The Australian 12th Battalion was gallantly attempting to fight its way up the steep slopes of Baby 700 from the beach below.
Reaching the top of the cliff the Australians discovered that their commanding officer, Colonel L F Clark had been killed and a major from Western Australia was badly wounded. Captain Joseph Peter Lalor then took command of the 12th Battalion, G Company.
However by noon that day another commanding officer – the grandson of Peter Lalor of Eureka Stockade fame was also dead. Joseph Lalor was only 31.
The Lalor clan from County Laois in Ireland has an extensive bloodline of fierce warriors many of whom fought Queen Elizabeth’s and Cromwell’s forces defending the mighty fortress of Dunamaise close by the Lalor homelands of Dysart and Enos.
Along with the celebrated Joseph O’Lawlor (Captain Joseph’s cousin), a general in the Spanish Army who fought alongside the Duke of Wellington against Napoleon, there is probably none more remarkable military member of the Lalor clan than Captain Joseph Peter Lalor, known to his comrades as ‘Little Jimmy’.
An obituary for Joseph stated
Wherever trouble and fighting were in evidence, Captain Lalor was to be found.
Grandson of the Eureka leader and the eldest son of Dr Joseph and Agnes Lalor of Richmond, Joe was educated at Xavier College, Kew, choosing disciplined adventure rather than following his father into medicine. He joined the British Navy, but found it not to his liking (maybe the spirit of his forebears had something to do with it).
Instead of retracing his steps home, he found his way to South America and joined a rebel force engaged in battle against a military backed dictatorship in Argentina. A people’s army fighting a repressive regime was better suited to his Lalor heritage.
For three months according a newspaper report his life was ‘fighting, starving and excitement.’ However the rebels were crushed and when it came time for revenge executions, Lalor made a daring escape from Argentina without his promised pay packet.
He hitched a ride on a British merchant ship headed for Britain but somehow landed in France. His thirst for adventure had not been quenched in Argentina so Lalor enlisted in the French Foreign Legion and was quickly dispatched to Algiers with the 2nd Foreign Regiment.
During his three years in the legion, he undertook study and became a corporal. With the outbreak of hostilities he was sent to Morocco, where he engaged in frontline battles. He received the rank of sergeant before being invalided out to France.
Speaking of those days, Joseph Lalor told the Melbourne Argus:
It was fine. One’s companions were the best on earth. It is considered bad form to ask a fellow where he had come from in the legion. While the pay was a half penny a day, you could buy wine at a half penny a bottle and tobacco and four-pence halfpenny.
After returning to Australia, Lalor went to Western Australia and became a Brigade Major of the 22nd Brigade and Administrator and Instructional Military Staff Officer. He soon came under the notice of military command and a memo to his senior officer stated:
The Commander of General Staff is pleased to see the good work carried out during the Infantry School under Joseph Lalor.
Later to become Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener of Khartoum fame had an unexpected meeting with the young Lalor. The West Australian press reported:
Lalor was singled out at the last encampment for special notice. Kitchener was tootling along in his motor car when a body of cadets passed. Kitchener sprang out and asked the youth to step out and shook hands with him and complimented Lalor.
After a high society wedding at the Catholic Cathedral at Subiaco, Lalor took his bride on an unconventional honeymoon: a sequestered stretch of sandy beach at Melville Water, where tents were pitched in strict military style.
On the 26 August 1914, as a member of the 12th Battalion, G Company, Captain Joseph Lalor sailed aboard Transport A7 Medic from Fremantle for overseas duty.
Eight months later on 25 April 1915 he was a member of one of the first detachments of ANZACs in the dawn landing at Gallipoli.
The key objective of the first wave of attacking troops was Baby 700 about 180 metres above sea level. Although comparatively low, it commanded an extensive view of the surrounding ground and was strategically essential. It connected Russell’s Top with Battleship Hill, part of the Sari Bair Range and was reached by small parties of the 11th and 12th Battalions a few hours after landing.
It was 8:30 am when Joseph Lalor led his men up Baby 700. Breaking all army regulations, he carried a sword, believe to have been owned by his grandfather. The weapon was wrapped in khaki to prevent it glistening in the sun. Lalor dropped it at one stage but it was retrieved by one of his corporals but then lost again.
Lieutenant E Y Butler told the Melbourne Herald how one sniper shot four Australians, including a number of officers in five minutes:
Word was sent along to us for a counter attack and Captain Lalor, who took command, decided to hold a spur just ahead of us. We got to it, when the Turks were seen coming over some rising ground on our left front. Captain Lalor instructed me to advance and hold them back while he dug in.
As nearly as I can estimate about midday we got the order to retire by threes from the right. We were under heavy shrapnel fire, and the shells were bursting right over our heads. By this time I felt pretty well exhausted – had been up all night, and had been going at high pressure all day from 4am – my legs simply refused to carry me any further. When I got back to Captain Lalor he was just about as dead-beat as I was and we decided to spell for a few minutes.
The official history of the 12th Battalion states: ‘Lalor then moved forward on to the seaward slopes of Baby 700 where the fighting was thickest. Although the mental strain and anxiety, which he had experienced since landing early in the morning had been enormous, he nevertheless rallied his men and waving his arms, shouted ‘Come on, the 12th!’ The words had hardly passed his lips when he fell dead and ‘the 12th’ lost one of its most gallant and capable officers.
That day, Baby 700 was won and lost twice. Joseph Peter Lalor was buried at Baby 700 Cemetery, the most northerly of the old ANZAC cemeteries. Ten special memorials were erected to men known to be buried there. His Latin epitaph is a quote from the Roman poet Horace and it reads in English: ‘It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country. Thou Lord Knowest Best’.
An unnamed author penned ‘The Lalor Line’, for the Melbourne Herald linking the Eureka Leader with his grandson. It opens:
Lalor! Truly art Thou worthy of the name by grandsire made –
Soldier of the Foreign Legion, Captain of the Third Brigade:
Never yet was Freedom’s standard raised but Irish hearts were there.
Lying wounded on Eureka, lying dead on Sari Bair.
As grandsire, so the grandson!
When for each the task was set.
Captain Joseph Lalor’s only son, Peter Bernard Lalor joined the British Army in 1939 and was killed in action on 11 September 1943 in Italy.
Peter Lalor Philp is the great-great-grandson of Eureka’s Peter Lalor. Captain Joseph Lalor was his grand-uncle.
The Christian Brothers’ College St Kilda invited the Lalor family to join it in remembering the fallen, including Captain Joseph Peter Lalor, at the CBC ANZAC Memorial Service on 24 April. The family was represented by Peter Lalor Philp and Captain Lalor’s three great-great-great-grand nieces, Akaysha, Sarah and Anya Lalor Philp.
First published in eurekastreet.com.au on 22/04/2015