The Great War: Racing and the 'Great Ride' (continued)

As my grandmother only transcribed the letters my grandfather wrote while he was on active service, I have no primary source accounts of race meetings such as the Cairo Cup held after peace was declared on 30th October 1918.


If war can have a silver lining for anyone, it was for Chauvel’s magnificent bay hack Bally who’d run at the Rafa Races and again a year later at Fitzgerald’s Brigade’s day’s racing.  On 11th April 1930 when Chauvel was contemplating his forthcoming retirement in Melbourne, the evening Herald reported that ‘As late as 1919, at Aldershot, England, Baldy [Bally] won the championships of the army for the handy jump.’


According to the Herald writer, ‘At the end of the war 300 mares were being shipped from Alexandria to England as remounts for the standing army.  Somehow when the shipment came to be counted out of the transport there were 298 mares and two geldings.  One was [Bally], the other Plain Bill, General Granville Ryrie’s charger.’  (In a letter dated 28th March 1919 from my grandmother to her elder son Ian, she explained, ‘Bally has just gone to England with Colonel Farr.’) As was often the case where there were Australian Light Horsemen involved, where there was a will there was a way!


‘Plain Bill went to a high staff officer and [Bally] to Capt W P Hill at Aldershot.  The two took part in many a hunt in England.’  Where many horses were sold locally in Egypt, Bally and Plain Bill achieved a wonderful retirement.  Perhaps it was a sadness for Chauvel that Bally was to remain in England while he returned with his family to Australia.  Chauvel had endured other partings with his equine friends – in 1888 when he was unable to afford veterinary bills, he had to sell ‘Beggar Boy’ to someone who was better able to pay for his care. If Chauvel were still alive, he would be able to tell his own stories of his horses.


While Bally and Plain Bill didn’t enjoy a homecoming, they had a future, something that many other horses who had been through much of the Campaign in Palestine were denied. During the war, provoking public outcry among the British and Commonwealth residents in Cairo, horses that had suffered injury and disease and were unfit for service were sold locally.  So far my research shows that at the conclusion of the War there were some 22,000 horses in Palestine and Egypt.  The Remounts Directorate at the War Office in London ordered the sale of sound horses of 12 years and under.  Those over 12 and the unsound were to be destroyed.  There were 13,000 Australian horses, of which 2,000 were destined for slaughter and the remaining 11,000 were sold with most going to India as remounts for the British Army. [3] Australian and New Zealand quarantine regulations proved to be another stumbling block preventing the repatriation of horses to the Antipodes.  As Trooper Bluegum, also known as Major Oliver Hogue wrote some Light Horsemen decided,


‘No, I think I’d better shoot him and tell a little lie:

“He foundered in a wombat hole and then lay down to die.”

Maybe I’ll get court-martialled; but I’m damned if I’m inclined

To go back to Australia and leave my horse behind.’[4]


Author and wife of military history publisher Leo Cooper, Jilly wrote ‘It was the good General [Major-General Sir George] Barrow[5] who looked the other way when the officers of the Desert Mounted Corps took their favourite charges far out in the desert and shot them.’[6]


It took another 12 years after the First World War ended before a silver lining began to appear in the clouds for those horses that had been sold and bought locally to work as beasts of burden in stone quarries. Perhaps it was fortuitous that in his poem The Horses Stay Behind, Trooper Bluegum suggested:


‘Perhaps some English tourist out in Palestine may find

My heart-broken waler with a wooden plough behind.’



[3] Horses in War (

[4] Trooper Bluegum, ‘The Horses Stay Behind’ in Australia in Palestine (Sydney: Angus & Robertson Ltd. 1919, p.78)

[5] GOC of the Yeomanry Division in Cairo.

[6] Jilly Cooper Animals in War (Corgi Books, 2000, p.65)