The Great War: Racing and the 'Great Ride' (continued)
Six years later on August 16th 1921 Chauvel wrote to Sibyl, “I forgot to tell you in my letters the story of the horse-mail at Gallipoli. After the Suvla Bay landing in August 1915, we found it necessary to organise a despatch-rider service between Headquarters at Suvla & Headquarters at Anzac. The distance was six miles, & almost the whole of the ride was exposed to rifle-fire from the Turkish trenches on the ridges over-looking it. The mail used to leave Suvla in the morning and return from Anzac in the afternoon. It had to be done at the gallop, & the rider was fired at from the moment he left the shelter of Lala Baba until he reached the wide communication trench near Anzac, -- & yet all the Light Horsemen, Mounted Rifles & Yeomanry were tumbling over one another to get the job, & fortunate indeed was considered the Regiment which had to find the men for the duty! It was one of the daily entertainments. Everyone on the left of Anzac knew the moment the mail had left Suvla by the rattle of Turkish musketry which commenced on the extreme left, & continued along the line until the rider was safely in the communication trench. Strangely enough, this went on for nearly three months before either rider or horse was hit.”
The horse-mail was a strange form of racing – perhaps one in which fate determines who lives and dies.
Chauvel was on leave in England for the Melbourne Cup 1916. While undoubtedly he would have ensured that he and his wife Sibyl would have placed bets and have received the results without delay, there is no record of how they marked the day.
On 9th September 1917, Chauvel once again writes to his wife describing how he had attended the sports of the Camel Brigade. ‘I have never seen anything so funny in my life as the Musical Chairs on Camels! The men had to ride bare back round and round a big ring while the band was playing, and when it stopped, had to dismount and lead their camels up to the “chairs” (which were sandbags half filled, standing on end) in the middle of the ring, and hold the camels while they sat down. As a camel dislikes being hurried beyond all things, and objects to going out of a walk when he is being led, it is not always the smartest man who got to the “chair” first, especially when the chairs were getting reduced in number. You never saw anything so ridiculous as the camels keeping time to the music—one of them started waltzing in the middle of the ring and the umpires could not keep him out.’
Palestine. c. 1917. A member of the Australian Camel Corps and his camel packed and ready for a trek (Australian War Memorial).