Article by Jack McRoberts, 2013

Much of the above article was based on research available at;

The Australian Light Horse Study Centre –

The Australian War Memorial (the 1st Australian Armoured Car Section War Diaries and the oral history furnished by CAPT E.H. James – AWM 224 MSS 209)

The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 – Vol 7 (The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine 1914-1918, by H.S. Gullett

History of the 1st Australian Light Car Patrol (LCP)

The Light Patrol Car story began as soon as news of the War reached Australia, with the commencement of a plan by a small group of motor enthusiasts, to furnish armoured cars to the Australian Imperial Force. They experimented with armour plate and weaponry and finally produced what they believed to be three suitable vehicles, a 50hp Daimler (named Gentle Annie), a 60 HP Mercedes and a 60 HP Minerva unarmoured tender, together with a 6HP motorcycle and side car.

With these vehicles, the 1st Australian Armoured Car Section (later to become the 1st Australian Light Car Patrol) sailed from Port Melbourne on 20 June 1916 aboard HMAT Katuna, bound for Port Tewfik, at the southern end of the Suez Canal.

The three original 1st Australian Armoured Car Section vehicles in Egypt. They were armed with the 1895 Colt “potato digger” machine gun.

Available accounts indicate that these initial vehicles were not well suited to the conditions in the theatre and that there were better vehicles available. The result was, as the original commander of the Section, CAPT E.H. James observed;

“On the 3rd December (1916), orders were received by the unit for all cars, guns, and vehicles, to be returned to G.H.Q. Cairo and the unit to proceed South and take over the Ford Light Cars and Lewis guns of a Light Car Patrol and the Australian unit was to take the name of No. 1 Light Car Patrol.”

These first Model Ts were of the “brass radiator” type, so they were probably 1915 or 1916 models. As you will see from the first few photos in this article, the bodywork was rudimentary and many of the external fittings such as mudguards and engine covers, were simply removed. Generally a Lewis gun was mounted on the rear, with various boxes being added for stowage of the kit required.

This photo shows three of the second hand Ford Model Ts of the 1st Australian LCP, issued to the AIF in Dec 16. Note that these have had most of the external body fittings removed. A Lewis gun has been mounted on the rear tray.

These Model Ts were equipped with a low tension magneto, built into the transmission and that, together with the mass of metal in the vehicle body, created problems:

“We travelled mostly by the aid of the compass, but discovered that the instrument was very much affected by the Magnetos of the motors and consequently had continually to be checked by stopping the cars and taken some distance away from the engine for bearings to be taken. Cairns of stones were erected in prominent positions and empty petrol tins placed on top of these to mark routes. These cairns would be seen for many miles as the sun would be reflected off the shiny tin. In some cases we could see these tins as fur as 20 miles away.

Unlike the extensive modifications made to civilian equipment used by the military these days, it seems little was necessary to adapt these vehicles to the desert. CAPT James only records one additional feature being incorporated to improve the reliability of the Model Ts:

Water & petrol would be the governing factors of the journey and in order not to waste any of the precious liquid in the radiators of the cars, we fitted condensers to the radiator caps and closed up the overflow pipes. The condensed water being caught in a 2 gallon patrol can and returned tat intervals to the radiator again. By this means we saved fully 75 % of the water generally lost through boiling.”

An early “brass radiator” Model T (LC 385) with a condenser mounted at an angle on the LH mudguard. Though this is not a Light Car Patrol vehicle, it does show the condenser modification.

A year or two ago, I was provided with some related photos and the one below is of a 1st Australian LCP member, Driver R.W. McGibbon. His name is in the War Diary as one of the originals, who departed Australia on 20 Jun 1916.

Driver Robert Wilson McGibbon

The colour patch on his upper sleeves indicates he was a member of 11 LH Regt.
The “winged wheel” on his right upper arm, is the trade qualification for a driver of that era. The lettering on either side of the wheel is probably M G (indicating he was from a MG Section)
The goggles were an issued item from the British Army, typically for use in the desert by the Light Horse and the Camel Corps, as well as the Australian Flying Corps.

A well loaded 1916 Model T with Driver R. McGibbon, in the driver’s seat. The relatively flimsy drive trains of these vehicles would have been under significant stress, but there are only a few cases of major breakdowns, recorded in the War Diary.

By the end of 1917, the originally issued Model Ts, which were not new when issued to 1 LCP, were overdue for replacement and in the words of CAPT James
“The 11th December 1917 was a red letter day for the patrol. Instructions were received to hand in the old derelicts of cars that had served us so well over thousands of miles of all sorts of country and under all sorts of conditions.
We accordingly took them (with the mud of three continents and scars from many battles) to the headquarters of 956 M.T. Company who handed us out six new Fords in their place. The old buses had done their work nobly and it gave the drivers quite a pang to part with them when it came to the point. The drivers carefully removed the name plates before handing the machines in. Each car had been carefully named by its original crews and they were always known by their names in movements.
There was ANZAC (so named because it was supposed to have been used on the peninsula at Gallipoli) and was the oldest car in the patrol. Then came BILLZAC which was generally the companion to ANZAC. OTASEL received its name from its tendency to warm the feet of its occupants and SILENT SUE because it was the quietest car in the fleet. IMSHI was so named on account of its speed capabilities. (IMSHI being the Egyptian word for clear out.) No. 6 car was generally known as BUNG. This car carried the spare ammunition and some said that this was the reason for its name, but some held that there were other reasons.
Anyhow the old ones were gone and we now had to transfer our love to the new. For a couple of days we spent our time oiling, greasing and testing the mechanical parts, tuning up engine, fitting up the machine gun mountings, also our ration and ammunition containers to the best advantage. We were now able to dispense with the condensers as owing to the cooler climate and harder ground these were not necessary for the radiators. The first job of the new vehicles was to distribute voting papers for the conscription referendum which was done on the 13th December.”

(AWM B00054) One of the new 1917 Model Ts issued to the 1st Australian Light Car patrol. The vehicle had a crew of three, with the Lewis mounted forward. The badge on the radiator, is of the Australian Coat of Arms incorporating a centralised palm tree. This same vehicle and badge is also seen in another photo with the remaining cars of the 1st LCP, outside the Aleppo Railway Station (see AWM B00707).

Regardless of the type of vehicle, the various LCPs were used mostly in the reconnaissance role, but the War Dairy also mentions a number of occasions when they were tasked to mark the route of advances, cover withdrawals and assist attacks including the assault on Beersheba in early Nov 17, when 1st LCP was attached to 2LH Brigade.

An excerpt from the Australian Official History of WW1 summarises most of their activities

“The 1st Australian Light Car Patrol was at this time (Jan 17) engaged under Captain E. H. James on the Western Desert, but was afterwards brought to Palestine. The two patrols (1st and 7th) which in reconnaissance and other operations often advanced considerably ahead of the mounted troops, and constantly engaged in sporting little fights against great odds, became heroes in the eyes of the Australians and New Zealanders. They were in the thick of many open fights, and also served the army in other capacities. After the fall of Rafa, (Lt) McKenzie (7th LCP) removed his guns and assisted in the transport of the wounded; they frequently succoured stranded airmen. Later they became the favourite escort of General Allenby in his many advanced and thorough reconnaissances of enemy positions.”

The Model T was used extensively by the British Army and its Allies during the Great War and a Google search indicates that over 19,000 of them were in use during the War