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The Rock-itt : April 2012
An ANZAC tribute for ANZAC DAY 2012 to our four legged friends Whilst we commemorate our lost relatives and friends at many of the battlefields of Europe and Gallipoli, this year we have chosen to concentrate on the soldier’s best friends in war, their animals. Many of the Australian and New Zealand soldiers destined to journey to Gallipoli in 1915 had originally thought that they were headed for the Western Front to fight against the Central Powers of Europe (Germany and Austria Hungary). As we know they didn’t make it to France until early 1916 and were forced to sit out the winter of 1914 in Egypt at Mena Camp. Here the Light Horse and Mounted troops trained with their horses, the “W alers”, the nickname of a horse breed that had developed over the life of the new Colony of New South W ales. The horses had proved to be more durable in the tough conditions that were found in New South Wales than any horse that had been bred in the Northern Hemisphere. These Australian bred horses could travel further and faster than the heavier breeds used by Britain and other cavalry nations. They ate and drank less, rarely collapsed from exhaustion, and recovered quickly. With loads of up to 130 kilograms, they could travel up to 80 kilometres a day in searing heat, and sometimes go 70 hours without a drink - and still produce a burst of speed. A Lighthorseman with a Waler During World War 1, over 160,000 of these unique strong horses were shipped with the Australian Mounted Regim ents and as remounts for Allied Armies and for. One particular action these m agnificent horses were involved in was the charge at Beersheba in October 1917 when the Light Horse overran the Turkish Defences and took the town, a vital watershed in the campaign against the declining Ottoman Empire. There were at least 130 horse casualties in this attack, 70 of which were killed; few historical accounts report on the horror these brave animals suffered in OUR war, the war of humans. So back to Gallipoli; when the Light Horse landed in May 1915, they were accompanied by their horses but it was soon very clear that the terrain was totally unsuitable for mounted troops and thus almost all of these animals were sent back to Egypt. Mules were us ed for transporting ammunition, food and water from the beach to the reserve lines up in the hills. They were also used to assist with the artillery pieces that the ANZACS needed to return fire on the Turkish lines. On the way back these mules were often used by soldiers bringing back wounded comrades to the medical dressing stations at Anzac Cove. One famous soldier, known as Scotty to some, was in fact named John Simpson Fitzpatrick, enlisted as John Simpson. He becam e famous as Simpson and his Donkey. Sadly he was killed in May 1915 by machine gun fire but little is known of his four- legged assistant called Duffy, who carried on to the beach with his cargo without Simpson to guide him. At the end of the Great War the AIF had about 15,000 horses and 6,000 mules alive at the end of hostilities in 1918. As quarantine restrictions existed in Australia which prevented animals exposed to diseases whilst away overseas and the cost of shipment was prohibitive, these animals were either sold to farmers or sold for horsem eat. In Egypt and Palestine many were shot by their riders who resented the option of these wonderful companions being sold into slavery. Scotty and a wounded soldier on the way back to Anzac Cove There was only one horse to return to Australia, named Sandy, ridden by Major-General Sir William Bridges, who died at Gallipoli and whose dying wish was for his steed to be sent back to Australia. Sandy was led with an em pty saddle at the General's funeral. This horse was one of 6,100 which had set sail for Gallipoli. By The Rockitt’s War Historian, Simon Lyon