Today, as we commemorate ANZAC Day once more, and the terrible losses the Australian and New Zealand forces suffered at Gallipoli, it seems only fitting for Save a Horse Australia to also honour the horses who lost their lives throughout the First World War.
136,000 horses – ‘Walers’ as they were known because they were sold through New South Wales – were sent overseas for use by the Australian Imperial Force and the British and Indian Governments. In one of the most poignant footnotes of history, only one horse made it back to Australia – Sandy, a solidly built bay with a Roman nose – who belonged to Major General Sir William Bridges.
Sandy, who had already seen plenty of action with his master, and was Bridges’ favourite charger, was one of 6,100 horses who were sent to Gallipoli. The equine soldiers fared more favourably than the humans when it was decided that very few of the horses should actually be landed in Anzac Cove.
Sadly, Bridges was one of those that didn’t make it out that day, and Sandy was then put in the care of Captain Leslie Whitfield, an Australian Army Veterinary Corps Officer in Egypt. Sandy remained in Egypt with Whitfield, until the pair were transferred to France in 1916. In 1917 the then Minister for Defence, George Pearce, called for Sandy to be returned to Australia, and finally, towards the end of 1918, the four-legged soldier came home. He was humanely put to sleep in 1923.
As for the other 135,999 by the end of the war there were 13,000 horses that were “surplus to needs”, of those 11,000 were sent as remounts – mainly to the British army in India, the other several thousand were destroyed; of the 18,000 horses New Zealand contributed to the war effort, only four made it home.
It is one of the unique aspects of the relationship between horses and humans that they, of all the animal kingdom, are prepared to go into battle with us – even to die for us.
During the course of compiling several anthologies of horse stories over the years several stories remain burned in my memory of horses coming to the aid of humans in trouble. One is particularly vivid – a young girl was walking her horse down a country lane when a car drew up beside her with a man in it who seemed polite enough – he asked for directions to the nearest town but then as the girl was answering him, he reached out through the car window and tried to grab her. Before she could even react, her horse flung himself between her and the car, forcing the man to let her go, and he quickly drove off. A modern-day war horse for sure.
It’s perhaps one of the saddest indictments of our society that these beautiful animals who have fought beside us, who seem to know when to protect us, and are so grateful for our protection, so often end up in such dire circumstances. It’s why the work we do is so important and why your ongoing donations are so vital to our work – not just to save the horses but in the long term to help create a better world for them.
Sadly for us, we lost one of our lovely boys yesterday. Our beautiful Tawn, a 24-year-old STB who was surrendered by his elderly owner to us in 2016, has been suffering from ongoing neurological issues that were affecting his back and back legs. It was obvious to his foster carer that Tawn was becoming increasingly depressed, and when we made the call to the vet it was suggested that it was time to put him to sleep. It’s always upsetting for everyone at SAHA when a horse crosses the Rainbow Bridge, but at the same time we can’t help feeling grateful that the horses in our care at least will not have to suffer. RIP Tawn.
This ANZAC Day as you remember the soldiers that fought so bravely in Anzac Cove, spare a thought too for the horses that fought alongside them during that long and bloody war.
Lest We Forget.
Candida Baker – Acting President