Our Gallipoli Hero - Wilfred Lukin Harper
Monday, 16 March 2015
Wilfred Harper was born at Woodbridge on 29th July 1890. He was the fourth son of Charles and Fanny Harper and was one of ten children. Wilfred attended the School from 1897 to 1908. He was a School Prefect for two years. Wilfred was not only very clever academically, winning seven prizes but was also a talented sportsman. Wilfred was a member of the 1st XI Cricket for four years and the 1st XVIII Football for three years. He also held the rank of Sergeant in the Cadets.
After leaving Guildford, Wilfred settled into a life of farming, first at Gingin with his brother Prescott and later on his own at Ferndale, Balingup.
At the outbreak of the war Wilfred joined the 10th Light Horse Regiment and commenced training in October 1914 at a camp in Guildford along with his brother Gresley, Bertram and William Brede, Geoffrey Drake-Brockman, Sidney Johnson, cousin Bob Lukin, William Lyall and Vernon Piesse. On his enlistment papers Wilfred was described as being 24 years and two months, height 5 feet 10.3/4 inches, weight 11 stone 7 pounds, complexion dark with grey eyes.
Before leaving Perth, Wilfred wrote to his mother from a training camp at Claremont, “Dear Mother, as we won’t be coming home again I must write to you to say goodbye again. We get up at four AM tomorrow and we leave here about ten o’clock and the day will be spent embarking. We are told that we will leave tomorrow night and will be anchored out in the sea till other boats come along. There has been a big crowd down here today. Plenty of old friends have been down and between jobs we can have a chat”.
Wilfred left Fremantle bound for Egypt on the HMAT Mashobra on 8th February 1915 along with his brother Gresley his cousin Bob Lukin and the other fellow Old Guildfordians he had trained with at Guildford. They arrived at Colombo, Ceylon on the 21st of February and disembarked at Alexandria in Egypt on March 8th. Further training commenced. Cairo was an eye opener. The vitality was appealing but the squalor repugnant and the flies were appalling. “They seem to breed here by the millions and the ceilings of our tents are black at night” Wilfred wrote.
The light horsemen were not involved in the landing at Gallipoli but after heavy casualties were soon on their way and were fascinated by a first glimpse of the battle zone on May 18th.
Wilfred’s vivid description of life on Gallipoli was published in the August 1915 Swan. "June 4th 1915. All the men when not in the firing line are placed along the beach in little dugouts in the side of the hills, big enough to hold from one to four men. When it comes to our turn to go up into the firing line we march up in single file through deep ditches, so that you are safe from shrapnel and rifle fire. These ditches wind about in all directions and are about seven feet deep. We sat in these for about twenty four hours and get as much sleep as the rough conditions will allow, then go up into the firing line for twenty four hours without sleep. The trenches are from ten to forty yards apart and the Turks have a horrible habit of throwing bombs which explode with terrific force and tear the men to pieces. They are time fuse bombs and at first they had a long fuse and our men have been known to throw them back again. Now things are different and they make them with shorter fuses and there is no hope of returning them”.
“You cannot put your head above the parapet, if you did about a dozen holes would be in it in no time, so we have to watch for movements of the Turks through a periscope.” “Yesterday there was a terrific bombardment by our warships of the Turkish position, and although some fifteen miles off, the noise was like constant claps of thunder. Everything is quiet again now in that quarter as our position is beginning to make a noise”.
“Yesterday we shifted camp again, and had to make new dugouts. This time we had to climb up (with full infantry pack on) a hill a good deal higher than Mt Eliza and just as steep. It was a climb. From the top one could got a great view. We were about four or five hundred feet above the sea and almost straight over it. We could see also a lot of our other trenches. The sea was like glass, and the little destroyers were creeping about as if watching for submarines”.
“The weather here is still perfect, and our only troubles are wood and water, which have to be got from anywhere and everywhere. We are all very fit, and are camped close to the beach but swimming is not allowed during the day because of snipers, but one may swim at night, too cold for my liking”.
In early August a big offensive was launched against the Turks with both the Light Horse from Victoria and Western Australia taking part. It was a disaster and the troops stood no chance. Bombardment from the warships which began at 4am finished a full seven minutes early which allowed the Turks to raise their heads and again man the trenches. Wilfred was killed in action at the Nek on 7th August 1915 aged 25, along with his brother Gresley his cousin Bob Lukin and fellow Old Boys Vernon Piesse and James Wilkerson.
It was said that Wilfred was last seen running towards the Turkish trenches like a schoolboy in a race and his dash became known as “Harpers Run” and is the inspiration for Archie Hamilton in Peter Weirs film Gallipoli.
There is no known grave for Wilfred. His memorial is at Lone Pine Memorial, Turkey.
The photo shows Wilfred and Gresley on their last leave at Woodbridge.