The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
The Light Horseman
The Light Horseman.
Tall, brown, broad-shouldered, deep-chested, clean-shaven, with a lazy, slouching gait like that of a sleepy tiger, and calculating eyes: there is the Light Horseman as I know him. Easy going mostly, he is full of surprises when aroused.
On leave the Light Horseman is smartly dressed; but even in Cairo he has a wonderful love for his trusty hat, which never looks new, and is never by any chance turned up at the side. He knows the country and the people; he knows the real goods from the fake, and the trader knows he knows. Even with his limited pay-drawing power, he sends home many presents to his girl, or the wife and bairns if, he is married; and you can bet that these presents are worth the money paid for them.
His round consists of motor trips to the Pyramids, Heliopolis, Helouan and San Giovani Cafe on the banks of the Nile. Apart from these three trips, and possibly one to the Barrage, the Light Horseman sticks chiefly to Cairo. He revels in hot baths, and eats of the best food with studied zeal. He listens to the band in Esbekieh Gardens, buys new clothes, visits the picture shows and the few inferior vaudevilles Cairo contains He invariably visits the Pay Master to try and squeeze another pound from his book, and then returns, stone-broke, to the field.
Back with his horse, with singlet on and leggings off, and the brown hide of him beaded with moisture, you see him at his best. His chief duty is to keep his horse fit and well under trying conditions. Between an original horse and an original man there is a bond that even death cannot break. Veterans both, they take the vicissitudes, surprises and inconveniences of this weary campaign as a matter of course.
The daily patrols that leave in the cold grey dawn to probe the enemy's line are part of the Light Horseman's life. With his belt and bandolier crammed full, his coat on his saddle, his nosebag, quart pot and water bucket tied, mostly in his own fashion, to his horse, he sallies forth to joust with "Jacko's" outposts. His sense of direction is true; he always knows where he is, and how to get back whence he came. He sees all tracks, spots any movement, and know show to bluff when in a tight corner. His training in scouting he does not need to remember; it is all second nature with him now. He could not give you reasons, but he seldom fails to do anything except the right thing when carrying out this private daily fight of his own. When the day breaks, he lights his pipe and keeps it burning even when firing or being fired at, and he pushes forward with all senses keenly alert.
When orders are out for the big fight, you see him and his mates clustered round the feed dump. To cram nosebag and sandbag with more feed than they will hold is then his chief aim in life. After his horse's requirements are drawn, he sees to his own. He visits the nearest canteen, and fills his own wallets to overflowing; then, smothered in dust and perspiration, he drains his water bottle and refils it, stands to his horse, and his ready for the long night ride that is usually the prelude to a hard fight next day. Slow and wearisome this right ride always is: many baits, much dust, mounting and dismounting from the over laden old horse, until the most equable of tempers is upset. The man with the pack-horse has the worst of it, and earns the pity of all when his load comes off. Just before dawn there is usually a long halt. The column then disperses and moves by Regiments or Brigades, first to one flank and then to the other; shortly afterwards intermittent rifle fire anounces that the enemy outposts have been disturbed. It is here that the Light Horseman gives his gear a final overhaul. There is no excitement about these preparations: The short, sharp ride under artillery fire, the rapid dismount for action, the handing over of his horse, and the steady advance under ever increasing fire changes that careless gait into a live some, athletic swing, that takes him over the ground much quicker than other troops. A'ert and eager, he avails himself of every bit of cover.
He obeys orders without question, and when no orders are forthcoming, he acts instinctively. With bayonet fixed, and galvarised into a rushing charge, he is invincible. After the day is over, and the fight finished, he bears no animosity to his beaten foe. He treats his prisoner with a drink from his bottle and half his rations, just as a matter of course. It is only when the led horses came up, and the long night ride back to the bivouac area commences, that he realises the loss of some of his mates, The horses with empty saddles that he has to lead till the tale.