1919 – Waiting to go home
by John Boyce
A century ago, with the war over, the Light Horse were impatient to be on their way home. But in the New Year of 1919, the delays continued while sea transport shortages dragged on.
The 1914 “Originals” had already departed from the Middle East before Christmas 1918, but for the remainder it was a continuation of daily routine feeding, grooming and exercising the horses, plus physical exercises, some drill and weapons training to keep the men busy. General Allenby inspected the troops – for example, it was 3rd Brigade’s turn on 12 January. Sports events and football matches were frequent, and there was also the occasional race meeting. The Mounted Division’s sports were held on 10 February (after very heavy rains all the previous week). Regular classes were offered in a range of subjects (in leatherwork, farrier skills, rope-splicing, book-keeping, languages) while lectures about local history and culture were also available. Letters from home in Australia and magazines like Kia-ora were keenly read and re-read (Note 1).
KiaOra magazines ready for distribution to the troops
Kia-ora Cooee cover
In January’s bitterly cold winter, there were even playful snowball fights amongst some Lighthorsemen granted leave for a four-day ride to see the Cedars of Lebanon up in the mountains.
The Gallipoli contingent (7th Light Horse Regiment and NZ’s Canterbury Mounted Rifles) had returned by mid-January after scouring the old battlefields and improving the cemeteries. They were now encamped in Rafa, Egypt.
Back to Egypt
In February, the return of stores and equipment gathered pace. The Light Horse were now redeploying from Syria and Palestine back to camps in Egypt. For example, the 4th LH Regiment sailed on the Ellenya to Port Said on 23 February, then by train to Kantara and finally to Rafa (Note 2). Now there would be some local leave trips to Cairo, as well as the sports events and some military training.
ANZAC Mounted Division camp Rafa Egypt Feb 1919
The time came to give up their beloved horses
Ever since November 1918, the Light Horse had been aghast to hear that their faithful horses would not be returning with them to Australia. The quarantine problems encountered after the Boer War, plus perhaps the transport shortages and expense, would prohibit this. The resultant very emotional protests triggered in the Kia-ora Coo-ee were widely reflected across Palestine and Egypt. Trooper Bluegum (aka Major Oliver Hogue) had written:
I don’t think I could stand the thought of my old fancy hack
Just crawling round old Cairo with a ’Gyppo on his back.
Perhaps some English tourist out in Palestine may find
My broken hearted waler with a wooden plough behind.
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 damned if I’m inclined
To go back to Australia and leave my horse behind.
Unrest about this had continued amongst the troops until an announcement in February 1919 that most of the fit horses would pass to the Indian cavalry, while the old and sick ones would be identified and put down under the supervision of the veterinary officers. It was, for example, 8th Light Horse Regiment’s turn starting on 16 February (Note 4). It was a grim and saddening process but meticulously carried out. In all, 3,059 of the AIF’s horses were destroyed in this way by members of Australian or British military forces (Note 5). Meanwhile, the 4th Light Horse Regiment passed their fit riding horses to the 11th and 12th Light Horse Regiments, who were still at Mina near the beach on 20 February, before departing for Egypt themselves (note Hollis p 93).
11 Light Horse skinning old and unfit horses after they were shot 1919
Veterinary officer inspecting old and unfit horses 15 LH Regiment 1919
There was no use for the medium and heavy draught horses, however, and these were shipped to France, where ready buyers (post-war farmers and carters) were waiting (Note 5 also).
As instructed, the Anzac Mounted Division passed their better riding steeds to the Indian Cavalry (who were now policing the former Ottoman Empire territory captured in Syria and Palestine) (Note 7). The fit horses of the Anzac Mounted Division had been moved to Moascar in Egypt.
However, the horses were unexpectedly going to be needed once more – the Light Horse were about to have a further delay, because widespread unrest was building amongst the local population in Egypt……
The image gallery below shows some of the ongoing activity in the period before repatriation (see captions).
Left: Handing over horses to Indian cavalry - 3 LH Bde March 1919
======Image Gallery ======
Feb 1919 return of guns and wagons to Ordnance
Diary kept by MAJ Chambers 12 LH in 1919
Cricket bat made of brass leather steel and wood in 10 LH - feb 1919
The funeral of LTCOL Todd 10 LH who died of illness on - 23 January 1919
Snowball fight Jan 1919 Lebanon
District Military Court - MAJ Costello of 11 LHR presiding - 1919
NZ troops riding beside the Suez Canal 1919
4th Light Horse Regiment boarding barges at Tripoli en route to Egypt 21 Feb 1919
What about Light Horse repatriation from Europe?
There had been some Light Horse units on the Western Front, fighting as Corps Cavalry for the Australian infantry and the British XX Corps. After the Armistice, on Wed 18 Dec 1918 the two squadrons of the old 4th Light Horse Regiment had amalgamated with 13th Light Horse Regiment under Lieutenant Colonel Hindhaugh at Laubuissiere in Belgium, before all moving to Charleroi in the New Year. On 2 Jan 1919, they participated in a march past for the Prince of Wales.
Those not eligible for early departure remained in Belgium for another three months, enjoying local leave, and diversions like race meetings, sports events, some training and education.
Troops now departed from the unit in dribs and drabs, largely according to where they were in seniority for repatriation, as historian David Holloway explained (Note 8).
In April 1919, they were moved to England’s Salisbury Plain. From there, as their turn came, they went to London, Southampton, or Liverpool, to catch their troopship home. The HMAT Ypiranga carried a large contingent and departed with the best wishes of Major General Rosenthal (2nd Division) and to the sound of a British military band.
1. 140,000 copies were distributed, see AWM photo H0042B
2. D. Holloway “Endure and Fight’ 4 LH Memorial Association, Melb, 2011 p.327
3. H. S. Gullett, ‘The AIF in Sinai and Palestine’, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18 Vol VII p.792
4. M. Emery ‘They rode into History’ 8 LH Regiment, Slouch Hat publications, McRae Vic, 2009 p.163
5. J. Bou ‘They shot the horses - didn’t they?’ in Wartime magazine 44 (AWM, 2008) pp.54-57
6. K. Hollis ‘Thunder of the Hooves’ 12 LH Regiment, Aust Military History Publications, Loftus NSW 2008, p.93
7. For example, see AWM photo P050006.005
8. D. Holloway ibid. p.491