Midnight the Warhorse: Part 13 - The Last Ride

by Peter Haydon

Barney and Max tired, battle weary and with exhausted horses were glad to hear the news of the armistice. The war was won and over. Polo and Fred were there at the start and they were there at the end, a remarkable achievement. They had the unique distinction of completing the entire Desert Campaign. The Tester genes had done them proud.

 

The official Government policy was that their horses could not return with them back to Australia and were to be sold to the local people. The horses had to be handed into the Remount Depot. The soldiers had witnessed firsthand the ill-treatment of horses throughout their long journeys in this harsh foreign land and there was no way they would leave their beloved animals to be subjected to such a life.

They took an unofficial “one last ride” with their horse, returning back to the depot with only their saddle and bridle to hand back in. It was one of the toughest things they had to do. To say goodbye to their horse with tears in their eyes and a pistol in their hand.

The poem “The Horses Stayed Behind” epitomises the men’s feelings:

“I don’t think I could stand the thought of my old fancy hack,

Just crawling 'round old Cairo with a Gypo on his back........

 

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, Maybe I’ll get court-martialled, but I’m dammed if I’m inclined To go back to Australia and leave my horse behind.”

Many others had expressed their views and the war was well documented with soldiers keeping diaries, including that of one trooper Ion Idriess. Banjo Patterson at 51 years of age joined the remount unit in charge of training the horses and kept his writing going throughout the campaign.

Max collected a piece of Fred’s tail and put it in his bedroll. When he finally returned home he mounted the switch of hair with leather on a short piece of cane and presented it to his long time friend and neighbour Fred Haydon, in memory of his courageous horse by Tester. Max Wright had a distinguished war. He was Mentioned in Dispatches by General Allenby on 16 January 1918, awarded the Order of the Nile on 28 February 1918 and the Military Cross on 3 June 1919.

Above: Fred's tail hair switch

Left: Fred's switch on display at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra

Barney now war hardened was very upset to take his last ride on Polo. They thought they would proudly ride their beloved horses down the main streets of their home towns when welcomed home. However, this was not to be and they felt badly betrayed.

After the Turks surrendered he then went with the 12th Light Horse when they were called back to operational duty to quell the Egyptian revolt, which was restored in little over a month. On 19 July 1919 he returned to Australia with his brother in law Cyril Regg.

Together Fred and Polo, these two geldings by Tester and bred at Bloomfield, had survived the entire Middle East campaign. An incredible achievement.

Of the 136,000 horses taken over only one came home. Major General Sir William Bridges was killed at Gallipoli and his horse Sandy, after three months of quarantine in England was shipped back to Australia. He saw out the rest of his days grazing at the Central Remount Depot at Maribyrnong in Victoria.

Above: Sandy, the only horse to be returned to Australia

 

Left and below: Light horse memorials in Port Said and Albany, Western Australia

The Tamworth Waler Memorial created by Tanya Bartlett