The War Effort of New Zealand
In Egypt, Sinai, and Palestine
In Egypt, Sinai, and Palestine.
At Alexandria, the New Zealand veterinary officers had to make the best shift that they could. Lieut.-Col. Young and his staff managed to win through all difficulties, which included the successful overcoming of the tricks of some Egyptian dealers in forage.
By the end of three weeks the animals were ready for work, and the training was then begun by men of the mounted units. A farrier quarter-master sergeant and three farrier-sergeants were detailed to each mounted squadron, and a farrier went with each troop. These men acted as dressers for injuries from kicks and other minor ailments, under the supervision of a veterinary officer. Sick parades were held every morning for horses as well as for men.
In January, 1915, the veterinary personnel, composed of two mobile sections, and two veterinary hospital sections, arrived in Egypt from New Zealand. Each hospital could take in about 250 horses. One was for the mounted brigade, and the other for the infantry and artillery. While the New Zealand Brigade was at Zeitoun camp, an epidemic of influenza raged among the animals for six weeks. Almost all of the 5,000 of them in the lines were affected, and about 75 died. Next came ringworm, which affected about 80 per cent.
Major Neale, who went with the A.S.C., was the first New Zealand veterinary officer with the Gallipoli expedition. He page 156was relieved by Major Stafford, D.S.O., who remained on the Peninsula till the evacuation. Events soon proved, however, that horses were of little use on Gallipoli, except for some work at night. The conditions were much more suitable for mules and Egyptian donkeys. Happily the animals were not much troubled by disease, but wounds from shells were plentiful and frequent, and many were killed.
For a time, until Easter, 1916, New Zealand horses were scattered over Egypt, and then came the concentration for the Sinai campaign. The New Zealand Mounted Brigade became part of the Anzac Mounted Division, and the New Zealand Veterinary Corps was re-organised with fresh equipment. Major Stafford, who was now in charge of the veterinary work (Lieut.-Col. Young having proceeded to France), was attached to the New Zealand Brigade headquarters staff. As there was no veterinary hospital on the east side of the Canal, No. 2 Mobile Veterinary Section was converted into a hospital under Captain McHattie at Bir-el-Mala, where very good work was done. Every possible care was taken by New Zealand Veterinary officers to avoid the despatch of sick or wounded horses to the British base hospital in Egypt, for when they had been merged in the mass of horses there it was usually a case of good-bye. As New Zealand's horses were mostly of exceptional quality the veterinary organisation exerted itself to retain as many as it could for the Brigade.
In the desert of Sinai, shortage of water caused a considerable loss of horses. Flies were also a serious trouble. Their bites brought sores at the corners of horses' eyes and mouths, and the same pest made any cut or wound difficult to heal. Fringes had to be attached to the head to protect the eyes. Sand colic was also a common complaint.
In the first battle of Gaza the horse casualties were light, but in the second battle the New Zealand mounts suffered severely. Acres of horses, standing while the men were in action, made an easy target for the bombs of hostile airmen, and also for guns, and they were bombed and shelled from early morning till late at night. Out of a total of about 2,000 horses attached to the Brigade, over 100 were killed outright and about 300 were wounded.page 157
When the big Palestine push came in February, 1917, the New Zealand horses' endurance was severely tested. The pace left the camel transport far behind. At one stage the horses had to go 72 hours without water, and their sole allowance of food was 12 lbs. of barley each per day, and each had to carry a three-days' ration. This restriction to barley, with a shortage of water, brought on diarrhoea, and horses began to die. At this time the Brigade was at Jaffa. Fortunately some stacks of barley straw were found, the Quarter-Master General supplied petrol for a chaff cutter, and soon the horses had barley chaff, which helped to check the trouble.
Anthrax appeared in the Jordan Valley early in 1918, but the disease was quickly arrested, and only three horses died. New Zealanders and their horses were destined to have varied memories of this sultry valley, where they camped at intervals several times. They felt the change from a garden to a desert—from the cool green of the spring to the hot whiteness of mid-summer, when the temperature went as high as 122° F. in the shade. In this oven there was ever a dark streak in the limey dust left by the horses—the drip of the sweat that did not cease in those sweltering days and nights.
In the advance from the Jordan Valley in 1918, between Es Salt and Amman, in one day twenty-eight of the New Zealand Brigade's horses died from apparently acute poisoning. Altogether about 150 were lost in this manner. It was believed that the poisoning was due to tablets of strychnine, arsenic, and other medical materials mixed accidentally or designedly with barley abandoned by the Turks on the roadside when a convoy had been caught and cut up by aeroplanes. This barley, which lay in little heaps on the roadside, had been picked up by the New Zealand mounted men and given to their horses.
Before the home-coming embarkation from Egypt, there was many a sad parting between man and horse—mates in the hard years of war. The ill-usage of some horses that had been sold to callous Egyptians had convinced the New Zealanders that a merciful death was a better fate for a faithful horse than bondage to a pitiless taskmaster, and numbers, for which kind owners were not available, were given a painless death.
In a brief review of the Sinai and Palestine campaigns, Major Stafford says that the New Zealand horses of the proper type and build went through the difficulties extraordinarily well. They stood the hardships better than any other horses, except some of those from Australia. There was a tendency at first to send mounts that were too tall. Experience proved that a horse over 15.2 hands was not suitable. Short-backed, thick-set horses 14.2 to 14.3 hands, or small thoroughbreds up to 15 hands, with good bone, symmetry and substance, proved the best. Larger horses, showing much of cross-breeding, were all right for ordinary journeys, when food and water were plentiful, but they fared worse when on short rations, and proved less able to withstand severe hardships. A tall horse also was a disadvantage for the rifleman whose work required much mounting and dismounting. The experience was the same with draughts as with other horses. Sturdy, compact, well-built draughts of medium size, had good endurance, but tall, heavy, loosely-built, long-legged animals were not efficient.