The Australian Light Horse Brigade was a group of mounted troops who served in the Second Boer War and World War I as part of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). The Australian Light Horse Brigade had both cavalry and infantry characteristics and by the outbreak of WWI, there were 23 light horse regiments in the ANZAC forces (that’s 9,000 men and horses!). The men usually fought dismounted and left their horses at a safe distance to retreat to or retire on, but they also performed scouting and screening roles on horseback as they were faster than the regular infantry who travelled on foot.
The horses used by the ANZACS were none other than Walers. Even though they came from different parts of Australia, the horses were originally sold in New South Wales, hence the name ‘Walers’. They were perfect for the rough wartime conditions as they were super hardy, sturdy and able to travel long distances without breaking a sweat. Walers were docile and courageous in nature as well as speedy and very athletic – they could last on just 30 litres of water per day!
As much as the men loved their horses, at the end of the war, they were unable to bring their trusty steeds back with them for quarantine reasons. A lot of the horses were sold to the British-Indian army but it was still heartbreaking for the men – to the point where they didn’t want anyone else to have them. “Trooper Bluegum” sums up the men’s thoughts:
“I don’t think I could stand the thought of my old fancy hack
Just crawling round old Cairo with a ‘Gyppo on his back.
Perhaps some English tourist out in Palestine may find
My broken-hearted Waler with a wooden plough behind.
No: I think I’d better shoot him and tell a little lie:–
“He floundered in a wombat hole and then lay down to die.”
May be I’ll get court-martialled; but I’m damned if I’m inclined
To go back to Australia and leave my horse behind.
From Australia in Palestine, 1919
A statue was erected in Tamworth (along with others all over Australia) in memory of the horses as well as the ANZAC troops who served in later wars. In the ANZAC parades every year, we can see re-enactments of the Light Horse Brigade in all their glory, decked out in full army gear.
What amazing horses to carry their soldiers into no man’s land.
Have you seen the Light Horse Brigade in action at the ANZAC Parades? Have you participated, even? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Reference: Wikipedia and the Australian War Memorial.
Image Credits: 1. The Esperence Express 2. Pinterest 3. The 66 books