Contributed by Anne Flood - original article appearing in the November 1918, Kia-Ora-Coo-EE: The Magazine for the Anzacs in the Middle East [1]

 

Aust. Official Photos

Soon we will be tracking down the Indian Ocean, bound for home. But we leave the horses behind. There's the rub! Our old friends of twenty stunts and a hundred sporting smaller shows are not to know again the sweet native grasses and the pleasant paddocks of Australia. We are told that to take them back would endanger the health of all Australian livestock, and further, that the cost of transport would be more than they are worth. More than they are worth!

 

They are to be left behind and sold. Most of them are doubtless for the countries around the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean peoples have many attractive qualities, but I am sad to think they may get my old cuddy. Their way with horses is not ours. Happy thoughts of going home are clouded by the fear of what may happen to veteran horses which carried us across the sands of Sinai and on up to Amman and Damascus. We cannot stipulate, but one country should be barred against buying them. Spain should be cut out. Horses which helped us through Romani and carried us into Beersheeba, and up the goat tracks of Moab and Giliad and away worth into the Lebanon, should at least be made safe from the bull rings of Madrid and Barcelona. Bad enough to think in after years of their pulling tourists about in Quarries, and assisting a Bedouin's cow or camel to haul a plough; but don't let them get into Spain.

 

Palestine taught us much about ourselves, and more about our mates; but it taught us still more about our horses. We thought we knew all the qualities of an Australian horse before we came to the war, and all that we knew was good. But we really didn't know the beginning of them. We believed that a horse was fully loaded when he carried I2st., and that only very special animals would work regularly under 15 or 16 stone. We thought it a crime to work a horse for more than a day without water. We rnarvelled in our school days at stories of camels going from three to five days without a drink. Our education in what our horses could do began at Romani, where horses carrying from 17 to 20 stone, travel-ling constantly with heavy sand up to their fetlocks, endured for 2O hours without a drink, and this in the August heat of Sinai. That perhaps was the record, but it has often been approached since. A discovery scarcely less startling to us was the ration on which our horses would continue active and serviceable under their great burdens. Not one Australian in a hundred would, before the war, have dared to take a horse out on a journey extending over many days on a ration of from 7 1/2 to 10lbs. of barley a day and nothing else. But here the horses have done it, and held their condition and kept their spirit in a manner beyond belief.

 

Over ten days on the ride to Damascus there were thousands of Australian horses, both in our force and among the Indians, which averaged not less than 40 miles a day. The tracks followed would not mea-sure so much, but cavalry does not follow the tracks. Hundreds of these horses engaged with the advance guard and on various lines on work often did from 60 to 80 miles a day. For one day 60 to 80 miles is nothing even when carrying up to 20 stone, but for a horse which was averaging 40 miles on the days before and after it was a. great performance.

 

"They gallop in all shapes" is an old racing saying. So, too, all shapes make great campaigners. There are here famous horses which we all know, as for instance General Ryrie's "Plain Bill'. And these famous horses are usually thoroughbred or very close to it. But among the troopers you find hundreds of horses, less pleasing, perhaps, to the eye, but equally spirited and equally hard to kill. You sometimes find these wonderful remounts with ugly heads, and flat ribs, long backs and hairy legs. But behind all or nearly a'l of them is the thoroughbred sire, and sometimes at least one thoroughbred grand sire, and it is that streak of blood which shines through and makes our horses what they are.

The horses we have ridden will always stand first in our affections. But scarcely less remarkable in their performance have been the draught horses of the wheeled transport. Before the war most of us preferred a light active drought to the larger heavier types, and here the little Clydesdale has excelled. No horses bred in Australia, perhaps, have ever worked so staunchly and consistently and attracted more attention from horsemen from other countries than these hardy haulers of our rations over every sort of country, from deep sand and black soil mud to steep mountain gradients. There was a day when we despised the mule and treated the donkey as a joke;. It is safe to say that the mule will be largely bred in Australia in the near future as the result of our knowledge of him gained in Palestine. And the donkey? If sentiment and not business controlled demobilisation very few of the faithful long-eared servants of the regiments would remain in this country after the war. They would go home to Australia, greatly honoured with the horses. Credit goes to the fighting man. But in this campaign at least the overthrow of the enemy has been due to an extent difficult to exaggerate, to the quality of the animals which carried us and our baggage. The waler roost of all, and after him the Clydesdales and the mules, the little donks and the imperturbable camel - the least of our livestock - deserve special cables of congratulation from King George and the War Council.

 

During the war we have at times treated ourselves to the dream of going home with our horses. We have drawn pardonable pictures of Regiments fully mounted and equipped riding in triumphal procession up Collins Street and Macquarie Street, or along the cheering highways of the other capital cities. And what man who has ridden a good horse here has not resolved at one time or another to buy his old friend from the Government after the war, and keep him in rich pastures until the end of his days?

Palestine.

 

H.S.G. [1]

 

 

 

Note [1]  This article was sourced from the New Zealand Electronic Text Collection. The original article that appeared in Kia-Ora-Coo-EE was written by Sir Henry Somer Gullett Author of the Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine 1914 - 1919.  An image of the original cover is shown below, and further articles can be sourced via the NZ Electronic Text Collection which is linked above.