ivian Leigh Stevens’ Corona 3 portable typewriter felt red hot from the belting it got in the literary office of The Barrier Miner in Broken Hill, in far western New South Wales, on New Year’s Day in 1915. The little folding Corona didn’t get a chance to cool down for many days afterwards, as the then 22-year-old Stevens continued to write words which would reach not just the Miner’s’ presses, but newspapers across the world, eliciting screaming headlines nationwide: “Outlawry. Train Attacked by Turks”, “Broken Hill Outrage”, “The Mahommedan Murderers” and “The Barrier Battle”. By mid-February Stevens’ sensational stories had reached the United States, and had appeared in newspapers from Oakland to Ohio. But in Europe it was feared news of the terrorist attack at Broken Hill would inspire other radicalised Middle Easterners to take up arms and kill innocents abroad.
Stevens, born at Hyde Park in Adelaide on May 29, 1892, would go on to serve in Europe himself, and signed up again in 1940. But it was his hugely detailed coverage of the “Battle of Broken Hill” in January 1915 which should have won him everlasting fame as a journalist. Instead, when he went on to become deputy editor of The Advertiser in Adelaide, and when he died there nine days short of his 77th birthday, his news-gathering achievements for the Miner had long been forgotten. What became of his well-worn Corona 3, bought by Stevens from Frank Botting South at Stott & Hoare in the Brookman’s Buildings, Grenfell Street, Adelaide, in 1914, we may never know.
Most of us are by now aware that the only enemy soldiers to step foot in Australia in wartime were four Japanese officers who landed at York Sound in the Kimberley region of Western Australia on January 19, 1944, to find out whether the Allies were building large bases there. But as we didn’t know about it at the time, it was not one of the only two occasions upon which Australian troops were mobilised to fight on their own soil. The Great Emu War in the Campion district of Western Australia in late 1932 was one of those two, but it wasn’t in wartime (more about it in a later post). The only time Australian soldiers were actually mobilised for action in wartime in this country was for the three-hour-long Battle of Broken Hill, the gunfight at Silver City. And the enemy? Two suicidal Afghan Muslims armed with Snider-Enfield and Martini-Henry rifles, a revolver, 30 rounds of ammunition, a homemade Turkish flag and bandoliers, and an ice cream cart. On the side of the cart: “Lakovsky’s Delicious ITALIAN ICE CREAM. A Food fit for Children and Invalids”. Its turbaned owner and his mate, two self-declared soldiers of Allah, had opened fire on a trainload of New Year’s Day picnickers. Stevens wrote that the defence force sent out after them was not intent on capturing the pair, but was “desperate in its determination to leave no work for the hangman”.
In truth, it wasn’t much of a mobilisation at that. The 53-strong militia and army unit which went hunting for the two Afghans was comprised mostly of members of the local rifle club and soldiers from the 82nd Infantry Battalion, and they were armed by senior cadet rifles from the Barrier Boys’ Brigade. In charge was Wilcannia-born Lieutenant Richard Nicholaus John Resch (1881-1960), a member of the family which made a certain brand of well-known beer. One uncle was Emile Resch, founder of Resch's Brewery, another was Edmund Resch, who more or less told a younger Richard when he signed up to serve in the Boer War that he was a traitor to his own [Germanic] people. Edmund was honorary consul for the Netherlands in NSW for many years. Ironically, as a direct result of the Battle of Broken Hill, the town’s German Club, which Emile Resch had founded, was burned down by resentful locals. Richard Resch took the hint and in 1916 changed his surname to his wife’s maiden name, Fletcher.
Richard Resch served in South Africa with the 1st Australian Horse and took part in the Relief of Kimberly and various campaigns in the Orange Free State in 1900, including operations at Paardeberg, Dreifontein, Poplar Grove, and Zand River. Later the unit moved into the Transvaal, seeing action at Zilikats Nek, Belfast and Middleburg. Resch moved to Broken Hill in 1908 to manage the brewery and in 1914 took over the business. He was commissioned a lieutenant with the senior cadets in 1911 and appointed area officer for Broken Hill, as well as adjutant for the 82nd Infantry.
"Broken Hill riflemen returning to town after wiping the Turk out."
At the outbreak of the Battle of Broken Hill, Resch was contacted by police at the local Army base. Together, the soldiers and 10 policemen went in search of the disaffected neighbours, former cameleers Badsha Mahomed Gül, 39, an Afridi ice-cream vendor, and Mullah Abdullah, 60, a Pathan who acted as an Islamic mullah and halal butcher. Opening fire indiscriminately on a picnic train, these two had killed two passengers, William Shaw, the foreman of the sanitation department, and 17-year-old Alma Priscilla Cowie.
Priscilla, killed in the desert
Six others - Mary Kavanagh, George Stokes, Thomas Campbell, Lucy Shaw, Alma Crocker and Rose Crabb - were wounded. Gül and Abdullah escaped towards the North Broken Hill cameleers camp, “Ghantown”, where they lived. On the way they murdered Alfred Millard, who'd been motorcycling beside the train, and when confronted near the Cable Hotel, the pair wounded a police constable called Robert Mills. Gül and Abdullah took shelter among a white quartz outcrop known as Cable Hill and a 90-minute gun battle ensued. James Craig, who was chopping wood in his backyard 600 yards away, was hit by a stray bullet and killed. Finally Resch’s army killed Abdullah with a shot through the temple and Gül was found with 16 bullet wounds but still breathing – he died shortly after in hospital. The two left notes explaining their grievances were connected to the hostilities between the Ottoman and British empires and they were responding to a call of holy war against “the mortal enemies of Islam”, issued by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed V, caliph of all Muslims, on November 11, 1914. The bodies of Gül and Abdullah were disposed of by police in what remains a secret location.