The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
The Horses Stay Behind
Soon we will be tracking down the Indian Ocean, bound for home. But we leave the horses behind. There's the rub! Our old friends of twenty stunts and a hundred sporting smaller shows are not to know again the sweet native grasses and the pleasant paddocks of Australia. We are told that to take them back would endanger the health of all Australian livestock, and further, that the cost of transport would be more than they are worth. More than they are worth!
They are to be left behind and sold. Most of them are doubtless for the countries around the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean peoples have many attractive quali-ties, but I am sad to think they may get my old cuddy. Their way with horses is not ours. Happy thoughts of going home are clouded by the fear of what may happen to veteran horses which carried us across the sands of Sinai and on up to Amman and Damascus. We cannot stipulate, but one country should be barred against buying them. Spain should be cut out. Horses which helped us through Romani and caT-ried us into Beersheeba, and up the goat tracks of Moab and Giliad and away worth into the Lebanons, should at least be made safe from the bull rings of Madrid and Barcelona. Bad enough to think in after years of their pulling tourists about in gharreys, and assisting a Bedouin's cow or camel to haul a plough; but don't let them gef into Spain.
Palestine taught us much about ourselves, and more about our mates; but it taught us still more about our horses. We thought we knew all the qualities of an Australian horse before we came to the war, and all that we knew was good. But we really didn't know the beginning of them. We believed that a horse was fully loaded when he carried I2st., and that only very special animals would work regularly under 15 or 16 stone. We thought it a crime to work a horse for more than a day without water. We rnarvelled in our school days at stories of camels going from three to five days without a drink. Our education in what our horses could do began at Romani, where horses carrying from 17 to 20 stone, travel-ling constantly with heavy sand up to their fetlocks, endured for JO hours without a drink, and this in the August heat of Sinai. That perhaps was the record, but it has often been approached since. A discovery scarcely less startling to us was the ration on which our horses would continue active and serviceable under their great burdens. Not one Australian in a hundred would, before the war, have dared to take a horse out on a journey extending over many days on a ration of from 7 1/2 to Iolbs. of barley a day and nothing else. But here the horses have done it, and held their condition and kept their spirit in a manner beyond belief.
Over ten days on the ride to Damascus there were thousands of Australian horses, both in our force and among the Indians, which averaged not less than 40 miles a day. The tracks followed would not mea-sure so much, but cavalry does not follow the tracks. Hundreds of these horses engaged with the advance guard and on various lias on work often did from 60 to 80 miles a day. For one day 60 to 80 miles is nothing even when carrying up to 20 stone, but for a horse which was averaging 40 miles on the days before and after it was a. great performance.
The horses we have ridden will always stand first in our affections. But scarcely less remarkable in their performance have been the draught horses of the wheeled transport. Before the war most of us preferred a light active drought to the larger heavier types, and here the little Clydesdale has excelled. No horses bred in Australia, perhaps, have ever worked so staunchly and consistently and attracted more attention from horsemen from other countries than these hardy haulers of our rations over every sort of country, from deep sand and black soil mud to steep mountain gradients. There was a day when we despised the mule and treated the donkey as a joke;. It is safe to say that the mule will be largely bred in Australia in the near future as the result of our knowledge of him gained in Palestine. And the donkey? If sentiment and not business controlled demobilisation very few of the faithful long-eared servants of the regiments would remain in this country after the war. They would go home to Australia, greatly honoured with (he horses. Credit goes to the fighting man. But in this campaign at least the overthrow of the enemy has been due to an extent difficult to exaggerate, to the quality of the animals which carried us and our baggage. The waler roost of all, and after him the Clydesdales and the mules, the little donks and the imperturbable camel - the ma lesh of our livestock - deserve special cables of congratulation from King George and the War Council.
During the war we have at times treated ourselves to the dream of going home with our horses. We have drawn pardonable pictures of Regiments fully mounted and equipped riding in triumphal pro-cession up Collins Street and Macquarrie Street, or along the cheering highways of the other capital cities. And what man who has ridden a good horse here has not resolved at one time or another to buy his old friend from the Government after the war, and keep him in rich pastures until the end of his days?