Commemorating the Light Horse Across the World: A Reflection with Reference to Chauvel’s Letters and Written from Photographs, Diaries and Travels
An invitation from the 1st Armoured Regiment to attend the Dedication and Blessing of the Chauvel lines and the Cambrai Day parade gave me the perfect excuse to visit some of Adelaide’s memorials. The city has done the South Australian Light Horsemen proud with the Light Horse Memorial on North Terrace near the edge of the CBD. Just to one side of the memorial is a horse trough, the War Horse Memorial 1914 – 1918. Finding sufficient water for the horses was a constant theme during the First World War in the Middle East. Once service personnel from the 1st Armoured Regiment, which has recently moved from Darwin to Adelaide, see the memorials in their new home city, they will begin to see their move as a homecoming.
Light Horse Memorial, Adelaide, South Australia
Brisbane and Canberra are not the only cities to commemorate those who served in the Boer War. Adelaide unveiled its memorial by British sculptor Adrian Jones in 1904.
War Horse Memorial, Adelaide, South Australia
South African War Memorial, Adelaide, South Australia
Recently a relative who lives in Perth sent me a photograph of the memorial in Albany, reminding me that I still have a long way to travel before I’ve seen all the memorials to the Light Horse across Australia. Friends have told me of the recent memorials in the New South Wales towns of Hay and Harden. My relative Peter tells me about the memorial in Albany ‘which has a magnificent Light Horse sculpture and ANZAC museum. The fleet of troopships departed Albany to Egypt and England in WW 1.’ I would like to think that I could get there and maybe with a fair wind, I’ll achieve it.
Light Horse Memorial at Albany, Western Australia (image source unknown)
Commemorating the Light Horse and its men has a long and widespread history in which sculptor Adrian Jones again springs from the pages. In the early 1920s and half a world away in London, so deep was the desire to commemorate fallen comrades from England and its Empire that only the best sculptor, Adrian Jones, former veterinary surgeon and Army officer was chosen to create the Cavalry Memorial. So serious was Adrian Jones about the execution of his work that he argued: ‘The principles first of all say that nothing human or animal of God's creation should be in any way distorted or made a laughing stock of.’
The Cavalry Memorial is not just a memorial to the British Cavalry but it also commemorates the Australian Light Horse and mounted troops from New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. An inscription explains that the Cavalry of the Empire erected the memorial in memory of comrades who gave their lives in the war of 1914 – 1919, also the war of 1939 – 1945 and on active service thereafter. The Memorial is a focus that remains in the hearts of those whose ancestors served and whose loved ones have seen active service.
Australian Light Horse Regiments listed on the Cavalry Memorial, Hyde Park, London
The Memorial is a highly symbolic equestrian statue depicting St George in medieval armour holding his sword high having slain the dragon, the enemy. St George’s lance has snapped leaving half still embedded in the body of the dragon. The statue is moulded from guns captured during the First World War and melted down.
The cavalry from the various Commonwealth countries is depicted in bas-relief on the plinth beneath the sculpture, suggesting that these mounted servicemen came to help St George, the Patron Saint of England in his battle against evil personified as a dragon. As soon as I could make out the rising sun motif on a slouch hat, I knew that the Australian Light Horse was truly incorporated in the memorial. The Memorial was unveiled on 21 May 1924.
Commonwealth military representatives attend the Parade and Service every year in May; it is their act of commemoration which they share with what was once the mother country, and is now an ally with whom many of us acknowledge a shared history, even if we don’t always view it from a similar point of view.
The Cavalry Memorial, Hyde Park, London
Detail showing the Light Horsemen depicted on the frieze of the Cavalry Memorial
Detail of the Light Horsemen depicted on the frieze of the Cavalry Memorial
A few days after the Cavalry Memorial Parade and Service in 2017 a woman who was visiting from Lebanon asked me if I would take her photo in front of the Memorial, explaining that she hated ‘taking selfies’. After I had taken a picture that met her satisfaction, I asked her why she had visited the Cavalry Memorial. She explained she had visited because of war - meaning the troubles in the Middle East. I felt it would have been intrusive to ask her if she were praying to St George in the hope that good would eventually triumph over evil? After the recent spate of terror attacks many might be asking similar rhetorical questions. These commemorative sculptures can provide a focus for people’s aspirations for a better world.
Our visit to Beersheba for the 90th anniversary commemorations at the end of October 2007 meant that we did not see the installation of Peter Corlett’s fabulous sculpture of the Light Horseman at Light Horse Park in Beersheba.