Commemorating the Light Horse Across the World: A Reflection with Reference to Chauvel’s Letters and Written from Photographs, Diaries and Travels
By 1915, World War One and the need for a training area with good communications outside Melbourne clinched Seymour’s fate as Victoria’s main training area. Viral meningitis had closed Broadmeadows and the Light Horse regiments were sent to Seymour. Carrying with it all its long history, Light Horse Park was opened in 2001 on the site of the Old Seymour Camp. While the Upper Clarence Light Horse has an arguably longer history, having been established in 1885, Seymour is not far behind and its role as a military town carries its own special significance still resonant today.
A horse trough is among other reminders of the Light Horse role in Seymour’s history. Just to the south of Seymour at Dysart are the sidings where men and horses were loaded on trains to take them to the ships and to the battlefields. In the Tank Museum at Puckapunyal there is a railway carriage especially adapted for the transport of horses. It reminds one of just how different transport and warfare were only a century ago.
Right: Railway Carriage adapted for the transport of horses, Tank Museum, Puckapunyal, Victoria
Returning north again to Tamworth in New South Wales, there is an exquisite monument of a different kind called the ‘Waler Monument’. It is about the horses as much as it is about the Light Horsemen. Talented sculptor Tanya Bartlett has created one of the most realistic and detailed pieces of commemorative sculpture that I have ever seen. It begs the question about the fate of a fit, well-trained generation of men, well equipped to forge ahead through the outback in the footsteps of their forefathers, only to find that if they survived, their lives and the country to which they returned had changed irretrievably.
In Canberra memorials to the Light Horse are more plentiful, beginning with the Desert Mounted Corps Memorial on Anzac Avenue. Perhaps even more powerful is the Animals in War Memorial in the Sculpture Garden on the western side of the War Memorial. The Animals in War Memorial consists of a bronze horse’s head, which according to the explanatory plaque is ‘the last remaining fragment of Charles Web Gilbert’s original Desert Mounted Corps Memorial which stood at Port Said, Egypt until it was destroyed during the Suez Crisis in 1956.’ This fragment symbolises all animals in conflict but it also enshrines a conflict story of its own.
The Animals in War Memorial, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
The four bronze horses and riders commemorating the Boer War are the most recent commemorative additions to Anzac Avenue. With a stirring sense of movement, this installation depicts a four-man section of horsemen on patrol. The story is personalised in the bronze books telling the story of Private F H Booth from his letters. His story might be typical of many of these tough bushmen, the forerunners of the Australian Light Horse. Visitors to the memorial have added their own symbols of commemoration by placing a poppy in a bridle or a stirrup. This memorial is inspiring for the sculpture’s realism and sculptor Louis Laumen’s attention to detail.
Boer War Memorial, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
The Boer or South African War has a much earlier memorial in Brisbane. Also known as the Scout (see right), it was created by local sculptor James Lawrence Watts to commemorate the 89 Queenslanders who died during the conflict. Cast in England, its delivery and installation was delayed until 1919 by the First World War. Since 1939 it has been the focus for Anzac Day commemorations. The only Anzac Day Parade I have attended in Brisbane was in 1988 when the Vietnam veterans marched for the first time. We couldn’t have got anywhere near Anzac Square if we’d tried, so I’m waiting for an opportunity to return to see the monument for myself.
The Light Horse Memorial in Hay, NSW. Image - courtesy of Jan Wagstaff