Major Harry Worthington GMVC



Immediately following enlistment in November Harry departed for Adelaide, farewelled by many friends at the Echuca railway station. Again, on 22 December 1914, the day before travelling to Melbourne he was farewelled by a gathering of friends at the Union Club Hotel and presented with a case of gold mounted pipes by the Mayor of Echuca.  Hopefully his mother, by then resident in Melbourne, also was able to farewell Harry because she died aged fifty seven in November 1915. [15]


Harry, with the rank of Captain, was subsequently appointed officer in charge of the 8th Mobile Veterinary Section, again supporting the 9th Light Horse Regiment, within the 3rd Light Horse Brigade. This assignment proved merciful in two respects. First, members of the 9th Light Horse Regiment were deployed to Gallipoli without their horses so the Mobile Veterinary Section was not required to accompany them. Second, following Gallipoli, the 9th Light Horse Regiment became part of the Australian forces fighting the Turks in the Middle East rather than campaigning on the Western Front in France and Belgium.


Unlike their counterparts in France and Belgium, the Australians in the Middle East fought a mobile war against the Ottoman Empire in conditions completely different from the mud and stagnation of the Western Front. The light horsemen and their mounts had to survive extreme heat, harsh terrain, and water shortages.[16] 


The Middle East campaign began in 1916 with Australian troops participating in the defence of the Suez Canal and the allied reconquest of the Sinai peninsula. In the following year Australian and other allied troops advanced into Palestine and captured Gaza and Jerusalem; by 1918 they had occupied Lebanon and Syria. On 30 October 1918 Turkey sued for peace.[17]

Harry Worthington and importantly for him, horses in the Middle East had to endure ‘extreme heat, harsh terrain and water shortages’ but he was serving in a support role in a theatre of war where the casualty rates were comparatively low. Over 8,000 Australians lost their lives at Gallipoli and a staggering 46,000 on the Western Front but in the Middle East less than 1300 lost their lives.[18]


Harry was one of a total of 125 veterinarians serving overseas managing the care and treatment of over 36,000 horses shipped from Australia to Egypt.[19] He started well:


… [O]n the voyage to Egypt of the 9th Australian Light Horse Regiment on the Karoo … during February 1915, the greatest care was taken for the comfort of the horses. The horses were stalled between decks and each horse was given twenty minutes’ exercise daily if the weather was suitable and then groomed thoroughly. When warmer climates were reached the Veterinary Officer, Captain Worthington, selected horses to spend extra time on deck. Captain Worthington and Major C Reynell cared for the horses at all times and were rewarded by bringing 400 horses safely to Egypt with a loss of only two animals.[20]


Extracts from some of Harry’s letters home, including to his uncle William H Hulme were reproduced in Echuca and other papers. In a letter published in 1916 he expressed his admiration for the fighting qualities of his Indian allies, as well for the qualities of the Germans, whose officers were commanding the enemy troops.[21] In 1917 he recorded the dismay of the troops, himself included, with those at home who had voted against conscription for overseas military service.


We heard in an unofficial way that conscription was turned down and I can tell you it all made us feel down in the dumps. Some very unpleasant things were said about those who voted ‘No’ and those that should be here. But now it is over we don’t care a cuss whether they come or not, for the difference they will make in the eventual issue is nil. But the apologetic tone that we have to show when mixing with the British officers is the part that hurts most for you know we consider ourselves a good deal better than the average, and it does not take a one-eyed man to see it either. I better not start on them, but let others continue the argument.[22]

The responsibilities of Mobile Veterinary Sections, comprising about twenty men, included advising on the care of horses, treating sick and injured horses and operating hospitals to care for those more seriously injured, and ‘at times of stress they may have anything up to 250 sick and wounded horses upon their hands’.[23]


In 1918 Harry was promoted to the rank of Major and in July and August, in the absence of Major Frederick Murray-Jones, he was appointed Deputy Assistant Director of Veterinary Services within the Australian Mounted Division. It was during this appointment that he prepared for the consideration of the Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster-General a report on the ‘Fodder Issue’. The opening paragraphs were expressed in forthright terms, probably reflecting recent frustrations as an officer in charge of a Mobile Veterinary Section. 


Attention is drawn to the unsatisfactory issue of forage that has taken place from time to time: nutritive ratios, appetising qualities or necessary quantities being seldom taken into account. No objection could be taken to an irregular issue for an odd day or so but when this is continued over considerable periods it shows a decided lack of scientific and economical feeding.


The forage question has always been an exceedingly vexed one. Complaints to Veterinary Officers – who are looked upon (and rightly so) as the authority for change of unsuitable diet, - are continually being made.


Unfortunately under present methods of distribution Veterinary Officers are practically helpless in the matter.[24]