Jenolan Caves

1926, When “The Empire’s Greatest Living Soldier” Visited Jenolan

January 29, 2021

Lord and Lady Allenby on their whirlwind Australian tour in 1926


summary of Lord and Lady Allenby's australian tourLord AllenbyIn January 1926, Australia was honoured with a visit by British Field Marshall Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby, First Viscount Allenby, GCB, GCMG, GCVO.

Nicknamed ‘Bloody Bull’ or ‘The Bull’, Lord Allenby was a career soldier, a hero, a veteran of both Boer War and WW1, and later, High Commissioner of Egypt and the Sudan.

Allenby came from a humble background, and although he failed entry exams for 2 military colleges, he went on to become one of the best known British commanders of his era, conquering Palestine, capturing Jerusalem and defeating the Ottoman Empire. He even commanded the famous T. E. Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’).[i]

Extremely Busy Australian Tour

Allenby retired in 1925, and one of the first things he did was to visit Australia. He and Lady Allenby received the full ‘red carpet’ treatment in every place they stopped during their January 1926 Australian tour. Lord Allenby gave speeches in praise of returned Australian solders, was guest of honour at many receptions, was greeted by processions of soldiers and cheering crowds, saw all the most famous sites, inspected many newly unveiled war memorials and still found time to visit Jenolan Caves.

Lord Allenby must have been a man of enormous energy, even in retirement, because to say it was a ‘whirlwind’ tour doesn’t even come close to describing it. They first landed in Fremantle WA on January 5, then visited Adelaide, Ballarat & Melbourne and finally Sydney. 

Unveiled Memorial at Orange

From Sydney, he and Lady Allenby headed west by car to the country town of Orange on January 20, to unveil the new Roll of Honour, containing 210 names, in the new memorial tower at Holy Trinity Church.[ii] It was a huge event. The Daily Telegraph reported, “After the unveiling ceremony, Lord and Lady Allenby with their party were driven through the beautiful Towac Valley, with miles of apple and cherry orchards on either side, to the foot of Old Man Canobolas, up whose sides the orchards are commencing to climb. The party declared themselves charmed with the picturesque scone, and thoroughly enjoyed the outing. After the return, Canon Taylor, rector of Holy Trinity, presented Lord Allenby with an illuminated address, contained in a souvenir album, with views of Orange and district, as a memento of his visit… Both Lord and Lady Allenby expressed surprise at finding a city so large and prosperous as Orange so far from the seaboard, and Lord Allenby predicted a great future for it.”[iii]

Visited Bathurst

That same afternoon, the party turned around and drove back east, to Bathurst, where Lord and Lady Allenby had afternoon tea with Bishop and Mrs. G. Merrick Long [iv], at Bishopscourt [v]. Bishop Long has also served in WW1, starting as a chaplain and finishing as a brigadier general in only 2 years.

Lord and Lady Allenby visited O'Connell and opened ANZAC AvenueOpened ANZAC Avenue at O’Connell

Next, still on the same afternoon, Lord and Lady Allenby, turned south to the small town of O’Connell, “to officially open the completed portion of the ANZAC Avenue, which the people of O'Connell and district are establishing as a memorial to fallen soldiers. The undertaking was inaugurated In March last, and the portion of the avenue already finished covers three quarters of a mile, and extends from the Post Office in the direction of Oberon. The remaining portion to be laid down will run from the Post Office to the bridge over the Fish River, a distance of another three quarters of a mile. So far 20 trees have been planted in the completed part of the avenue; and the expenditure in connection therewith has been met. They are of the desert ash variety, and were grown in the Bathurst Experimental Farm for the Sydney Botanical Gardens, whence they were supplied to the O'Connell ProgressAssociationfor the purpose indicated. When the memorial is an accomplished fact, O'Connell will have as tangible evidence of its gratitude and appreciation of the services rendered to the Empire by men who fought and fell, an avenue of 500 trees, which, it is estimated, will cost £200, and which all concerned confidently anticipate, will be a thing of beauty and a joy to all beholders.”[vi]

Back in the early 1920s, a committed group of O’Connell locals had held dances and musical events to raise the money to create their avenue of trees to commemorate their own, who had fallen in WW1 – something to ponder as you enjoy the pretty drive from Bathurst to Jenolan. The main road takes you along the ANZAC Avenue at O’Connell. You will easily recognise it. Slow down to 60kph and enjoy the shady Desert Ash trees, that line the road on both sides.

Some details of Lord and Lady Allenby's Oberon visitGreat Excitement at Oberon

For Lord and Lady Allenby, their next stop, still on the same afternoon, was the small town of Oberon. The Lithgow Mercury colourfully reported, “Oberon was the scene of much excitement this (Wednesday) afternoon on the occasion of the visit of Lord and Lady Allenby, on their way through to Jenolan Caves. The streets were bedecked with flags and two motor lorries, with returned soldiers in uniform, formed an archway across the street at the western end of the town... Meanwhile decorated motor cars went out along the Bathurst Road to wait for the appearance of the Field Marshal's car...  At intervals along the road other cars joined in, and about 1 mile out of Oberon there was quite a procession... At the barrier where the reception took place, the school children were assembled, together with a crowd of about 400 citizens.  

“Here Lord and Lady Allenby descended from their car and were formally introduced by Captain Mulvey, whilst Mr. F. Ryan extended to Lord and Lady Allenby, on behalf of the returned soldiers and citizens of Oberon, a welcome in a very impressive speech. Miss Ina Cunynghame…presented Lady Allenby with a lovely bouquet of roses. Genuinely heartfelt and stirring speeches were made, in which Allenby was lauded as “the Empire’s greatest living soldier”. (The whole article is worth reading.)

“Mr, Ryan then called for three cheers for Lord Allenby and three for Lady Allenby; there was a hearty response. The assembly then sang the National Anthem. Then, with more cheering, ‘The Hero of Palestine' was escorted through the town by a large stream of cars, headed by the mounted police.”[vii]

A Sydney Morning Herald article added, “Lord and Lady Allenby were introduced to Mrs. Luther (aged 85 years) who lost a son and daughter on active service, and to Mr Stevenson (aged 86 years) whose four sons enlisted and one only returned…Although the proceedings lasted only a few minutes, they were noteworthy on account of their spontaneity and enthusiasm.”[viii]

Arrived at Caves House hotel

How Caves House looked in 1926.Finally, still on the same afternoon, at 6:30 pm, Lord and Lady Allenby arrived at Jenolan Caves, just in time for dinner at Caves House. They were met the hotel managers, Mr and Mrs Stilling. Mr Stilling had also served in WW1. Major-General Charles Frederick Cox nicknamed ‘Fighting Charlie’ was there also. Cox was a NSW Senator who had served under Allenby’s command in the Boer War, [ix] and had also served in the Middle East during WW1.[x]  Accompanying Lord and Lady Allenby were Lieutenant Ronald Irving of the Staff Corps, and Dr. Stack of Bathurst. Other dignitaries present were Mrs. Harkness, wife of the Under-Secretary to the Chief Secretary’s Department and Mr. Forsyth, Commissioner of Stamps.[xi]

After dinner, they all inspected the Right Imperial Cave, under the guidance of Superintendent, Mr J. C.  Wiburd.[xii] Lord Allenby described the caves as “wonderful and magnificent.”[xiii]  Then, the next day, January 21, at 10:30am, he and Lady Allenby departed for Sydney. They must have driven quickly, as they arrived in Parramatta on the same day, to attend a church service at St John’s Church and then unveil another memorial tablet.[xiv] Then they continued to Sydney and the very next day, set sail for New Zealand.

Caves House managers, Mr and Mrs StillingIn 1926, there were no speed limits on rural roads, but they were unsealed and really rough. That Lieutenant Ronald Irving was able to keep Lord and Lady Allenby on their very tight schedule speaks volumes for his driving ability. Their trip was quick, but for the people who turned out to greet the ‘the Empire’s greatest living soldier’ that day, it was an honour they never forgot.

In the Shoes of Lord and Lady Allenby

The roads are much better these days, so, why not imagine you are Lord and Lady Allenby – but take your time! Step into their shoes for a few days, and book an overnight stay with an indulgent dinner and cave tour. In 1926, Cave House hotel was much the same as today. Lord and Lady Allenby probably stayed in a brand new room. The grand dining room (now Chisolm’s Restaurant) was newly completed, so they would have dined in fashionable elegance.  These days, you can still enjoy that Art Deco ambiance. And don’t forget to book a fascinating guided tour of the Imperial Cave.

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