In 1912, Jim and a couple of his mates decided to head west to the land of opportunity. One of their first jobs in Dumbleyung was with the Dumbleyung Road Board, planting pine trees on Absolon Street.
After saving their money, Jim and his business partner Stan Meredith, took up 1000 acres of land at Merilup, six miles south of Kukerin.
It was reported in the Argus that both these ex-Wangaratta boys were practical farmers, keen judges of horseflesh, and excellent horsemen. They shipped 22 draughts horses from Melbourne to Merilup.
When WWI broke out in 1914, many country lads joined up looking for adventure and a short-term break from their rural jobs. They were convinced they’d be home by Christmas.
A number of locals joined the 10th Light Horse and with their own horses sailed out of King George Sound, Albany, bound for Egypt.
The 10th Light Horse was a wholly Western Australian unit, and as Banjo Paterson said of the Australian Light Horsemen “You’ll know them by the emu plumes in their slouch hats.”
The 10th Light Horse Regiment’s most famous campaign at Gallipoli was as part of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade’s disastrous charge at The Nek, where they fought dismounted. The Nek was a 30 metre wide strip high above Anzac Cove.
This was one of the most controversial actions in Australia’s military history.
The result was near total annihilation of Western Australia’s 10th Light Horse Regiment.
They were effectively ordered to die, as they left their trenches and ran headlong into Turkish machine gun fire.
The Commanding Officer of the 10th Light Horse Regiment called it ‘sheer bloody murder’ while the Second in Command, Dumbleyung’s Major Alan Love, also pleaded for the carnage to stop. But they were under orders. Love Street in Dumbleyung is named in honour of the family. Major Alan Love’s former residence – now a mass of crumbling bricks – is still visible from the 129 Gate Road on the southern side of Conical Rock, on the property of the Eynon family.
The few survivors of the 10th Light Horse Regiment were evacuated from Gallipoli in December 1915.
At home, calls were being made to replenish the ranks of the 10th Light Horse. Jim Bodkin decided to enlist, leaving Stan Meredith to run their Merilup farm.
Jim trained at Blackboy Hill, just out of Northam. He joined the 10th Light Horse just in time to be part of the Chavel’s Desert Column, which consisted of a long line of Australian and New Zealand mounted troops, moving across the Palestinian desert.
There were many skirmishes and battles along the way, where the troops had to fight on foot with rifles and bayonets. They organised themselves into groups of four, one man held the horses while the other three fought hand to hand.
Sometimes the horses went for 60 hours without water, while carrying up to 127kg in weight, which included the rider, saddle, equipment, food for man and beast, and water.
A full scale attack was ordered on Beersheba - strategically important because of the availability of water and the close proximity to the Holy City of Jerusalem.
The Germans and the Turks had heavily fortified a 30 mile strip from Gaza, on the coast, to Beersheba, inland. Defended by two Turkish armies, the line was thought to be almost impregnable.
The plan was for the infantry to attack Gaza and Beersheba from the front, while the Light Horsemen were to ride for three days out into the desert, and come in behind Beersheba.
It was made possible by the Arabs, who were revolting against their Turkish masters, and so showed the riders the Roman cisterns from which the horses were watered.
On October 31, 1917, they fought all day to capture the hills on the outskirts of Beersheba and by 3pm the order was given to charge. This was history’s last great cavalry charge.
The Australian and New Zealand horsemen, including Jim, galloped for two miles under shrapnel fire. Within 850 yards of the Turkish trenches, which measured four feet wide by ten feet deep, they came under heavy machine gun and rifle fire, but with nerves of steel they galloped unswervingly at the double line of trenches. Some cleared the trenches; others leapt from their horses into the trenches and engaged in hand to hand combat with the Turks.
Unfortunately many were killed, including Jim Bodkin who was hit by an aerial bomb and died of war wounds the following day - November 1, 1917. Today he lies in the Beersheba War Cemetery in Palestine.
Of all the pine trees planted by Jim and his mates in Absolon Street, only one grew. When Jim did not return, his mates called this one pine tree ‘Jim’s monument’.
This pine tree grew for 85 years until cut down in 1997 by shire workers, for safety reasons.
Jim’s name appears on both the Kukerin and Dumbleyung War Memorials.
Jim was one of 52 Dumbleyung soldiers who fought in the First World War and did not make it
Article by Beth Bartram
Pictured above right: The Jim Bodkin memorial plaque set on the original pine tree site on Absolon Street