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Littler, Charles Augustus Murray (1868–1916)

by Matthew Higgins

This article was published:

Charles Augustus Murray Littler (1868-1916), soldier and businessman, was born on 26 March 1868 at Launceston, Tasmania, eldest child of Augustus East Littler, clerk, and his wife Hannah Sarah, née Murray. He was a cousin of F. M. Littler, Tasmanian ornithologist. Charles was educated at Launceston High School. About 1888 he went to Devonport as a teller with the Bank of Van Diemen's Land, and by August 1891 when the bank became insolvent he had been successfully managing the Zeehan branch for two years. At Devonport on 26 January 1892 he married Helen Cotgrave Thomas (d.1953); they had three sons.

After working as a produce merchant in 1897 Littler became manager of the North-West Farmers' Association in Devonport. He was involved with several sports clubs and served in the Tasmanian defence forces—in 1902 he was commissioned and in 1904 he became a provisional captain with the Tasmanian Rangers.

In July 1904 Littler left Tasmania for the Philippines. Living at first in a houseboat on Manila Bay, he joined his brother-in-law Edward Thomas in a stevedoring agency which Littler continued to run until 1909. During this period he served with American forces in the Philippines and was granted an honorary commission by the Russian navy in 1905 for having helped to supply three Russian cruisers at Manila. He also undertook intelligence work for the British navy. In 1910 Littler became manager of a rubber and coconut company on Mindanao Island, and his extensive knowledge of East Asia was put to good use by the Tasmanian government which had appointed him as its unpaid commercial agent in 1904.

Owing to financial problems Littler returned to Tasmania early in 1914; he enlisted as a lieutenant in the Australian Imperial Force on 16 December. At Melbourne on 2 February 1915 he embarked for Egypt with the 2nd Reinforcements, 12th Battalion. He landed at Gallipoli on 25 April and soon after was promoted captain and given command of the beach parties. Responsible for the unloading of stores and equipment at Anzac, Littler and his work parties (consisting of many troublesome soldiers put on beach fatigues as punishment) worked tirelessly to ensure that supplies were constantly available. As beach commandant at North Beach, he played a major role during the evacuation of Anzac and was probably the last Australian to leave. Widely known as the 'Duke of Anzac', he fully earned the Distinguished Service Order awarded a few months later. He was also mentioned in dispatches.

Following Gallipoli the A.I.F. returned to Egypt and Littler became commandant at Moascar Camp near Ismailia on the Suez Canal. In March 1916 he was transferred to the newly formed 52nd Battalion which sailed for France in June. Despite severe ill health he led his company in its attack on Mouquet Farm at dawn on 3 September. In the half-light, as the troops approached a German machine-gun post, Littler was badly wounded, yet continued to struggle toward the gun, where he died.

According to official historian Charles Bean Charles Littler was 'a brave, honourable and experienced leader' whose slowness of promotion was due to an unfortunate outspokenness. This 'best known personality on Anzac Beach' was well respected by his subordinates. Two of Littler's three sons served in the war; both were wounded and were invalided back to Australia (the younger, Burnett Guy (Sam) Littler, won the Military Cross and served in World War II).

Select Bibliography

  • W. Tilley, The Wild West of Tasmania (Zeehan, Tas, 1891)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924) and The A.I.F. in France, 1916 (Syd, 1929), and diaries, nos 58, 142, 143, 244 (Australian War Memorial)
  • L. M. Newton, The Story of the Twelfth (Hob, 1925)
  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania (Hob, 1931)
  • Reveille (Sydney), Apr 1930
  • Advocate (Burnie), 17, 21 June, 25 July 1904
  • North West Post, 25, 28 Sept 1916
  • war diary, 52nd Battalion, AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • C. A. Littler papers, 3 DRL 3319 (Australian War Memorial)
  • S. H. Watson papers, 3 DRL 1958 (Australian War Memorial)
  • Premier's Dept records, 1/172, file 136/3/1904, 1/180, file 136/4/1905, 1/215, file 136/5/1909, 1/239, file 136/3/1911 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • private information.

Citation details

Matthew Higgins, 'Littler, Charles Augustus Murray (1868–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 2 December 2021.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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