As a stockman, William Bunch was a natural choice for the unique band of Australian soldiers whose cavalry exploits in the Middle East gave rise to Australia’s Light Horse legend.
But just as the Light Horsemen were not cavalry but rather mounted infantry, William was not Australian, having been born in England.
With his blue eyes and tanned complexion, he would have looked every inch the knockabout Australian bloke when he enlisted at Beaudesert on February 26, 1915.
One of many expatriate Englishman from the Canungra district who fought as Australians in the Great War, William, 28, had been born in the village of Yateley near Aldershot.
His father, Daniel, whom he named as his next of kin, was still living at Camberley, southwest of London, when William embarked for overseas service.
With the 8th reinforcements of the 5th Light Horse Regiment, William left Brisbane on August 10, 1915 on the HMAT Kyarra, bound for the Middle East.
After arriving in Alexandria, he was taken on strength of the ANZAC advanced base at Mudros Island on December 4, shortly before the evacuation of the 5th Light Horse troops from the Gallipoli peninsula.
On January 10, 1916, William arrived back at Alexandria and joined his unit at Maadi.
He marched out to Serapeum the next month, when his regiment, as part of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade, became part of the ANZAC Mounted Division and joined the forces defending the Suez Canal from the Turks advancing across the Sinai.
The main role of the 5th Light Horse regiment during the first half of 1916 was long-range patrolling in the Sinai. As the Turks retreated following their defeat at Romani, the Light Horsemen were involved in some small skirmishes in August before advancing into Palestine in late December.
From March 28 to April 7, 1917, William was detached to the 14th Australian General Hospital at Abbassia and in July was attached to the 2nd Light Horse Brigade Headquarters at Marakeb.
He was taken on strength of the 2nd Light Horse Training Regiment at Moascar on October 4 and at the end of the month was transferred to the ANZAC Provost Corps in Cairo.
This military policing role was a position of privilege and being selected for it was a real feather in William’s cap – coming with a navy blue hat band and the metal shoulder titles of the Provost Corps.
By 1917, the requirements for entry into the ANZAC Provost Corps were the strictest of any AIF unit and only men considered ‘A class’ who had seen service in the face of the enemy were accepted.
The elite nature of the corps was underscored by a letter dated January 28, 1918, in which the Assistant Adjutant General wrote:
“’The GOC requests that you impress upon COs the necessity, in the interests of the AIF, of keeping this unit (ANZAC Provost Corps) a corps d’elite. It should be regarded as an honour and a reward for good service to be selected for it”.
William was hospitalised with malaria from November 11 to December 1, 1917, but discharged to duty at Port Said on December 1.
He resumed his military policing duties on December 30 in Cairo but on January 13, 1918 was detached for duty at Deir-el-Belah in Palestine, some 20 kilometres south west of Gaza.
On October 26, 1918, William was attached to the ANZAC Provost Corps in Jerusalem.
The Armistice of Mudros signed on October 30 marked the end to the hostilities between the Turkish and Commonwealth forces in the Middle East the following day.
However, Australia’s Light Horsemen were still occupied in early 1919 with quelling the Egyptian Revolt and putting a stop to the murder of soldiers and civilians and the destruction of vital infrastructure.
On February 2 in Cairo, William, still with the ANZAC Provost Corps, was promoted to Lance Corporal.
The war in Europe had been over for eight months before William finally boarded the HT Morvada at Kantara on July 20 to return to Australia.
The ship arrived in Sydney on August 30 and William was discharged from the AIF in Brisbane on October 29.