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The Story of Two Campaigns: Official War History of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, 1914-1919

The Horse—Comrade in Arms

page 242

The Horse—Comrade in Arms.

A trooper's first duty is to his horse, particularly in a campaign in a country when there is little water and sparse natural feed. Only by careful attention to the horses, often at the cost of much-needed rest and sleep, can a mounted regiment, in such a war as that of Sinai and Palestine, undertake the serious responsibilities placed upon it. The A.M.R. was well mounted, but only through unremitting care of the horses could it have accomplished what it did. The swift enveloping movements, which succeeded on a number of occasions, could not have been achieved if these hard-riding, resolute horsemen had not been horse lovers as well as responsible soldiers. The men regarded the horses, which endured so courageously, as comrades in arms, and treated them with self-sacrificing devotion.

Experience taught that a remount must have breeding, otherwise it cannot face the exactions of such a campaign. Further, it must not stand too high, 15 to 15.2 hands being an ideal height. A horse without breeding cannot finish a journey well, and if the soldier has to push his mount constantly he also finishes tired. Without breeding, a horse often has poor withers, in which case the fitting of saddlery becomes difficult, and that is a serious matter when rapid mounting and dismounting is required.

The patient endurance of toil and pain by the horses was constantly a source of wonder to the men, and made almost a human bond between page 243horse and rider. An incident which indicates the wonderful endurance of the New Zealand horses and throws some light upon the close spirit of comradeship existing between the men and their steeds, occurred when the A.M.R. was holding an outpost line in the hills north-east of Beersheba, after the memorable attack on the Saba Redoubt and the subsequent retreat of the Turks along their whole line. For days the Aucklanders had been faced with tremendous difficulties in regard to water. None was to be found in this desolate wilderness. No one in the past had dug a well and planted a tree for shade. For three days the horses had had to be led back to Beersheba, some twelve miles distant, to be watered. The exigencies of the position made it impossible for one or two horses used for packing the Hotchkiss guns to be taken back, and, when the Camel Corps arrived to relieve the Regiment, one of these horses had not had a drink for 72 hours, and he had lain down to die. The Camel men had brought a supply of water with them, but though not over much, they gave the Regiment enough to issue one pint a man before they departed. While this issue was being made, the old pack horse, smelling the water, struggled to his feet and staggered up to the group. "Shout the old chap a pint," said a trooper, and immediately a pint of the precious liquid was poured into the lid of a "dixie" and held out to the animal, which sucked up every drop. He looked so grateful, that another pint was given him and, small though the quantity was, he began to look better immediately. He was then given some barley, and by the time the Regiment was ready to move he had taken a new lease of life, and he was able to make the march back to Beersheba. There he was sent to "hospital," and he lived to return to duty.

page 244

Among the finest horses in the Regiment were Colonel Mackesy's original mount and Lieutenant-Colonel McCarroll's "George," both of whom were killed by a bomb from an aeroplane in the Jordan Valley; "Darky," originally owned by the late Sergeant George Bagnall, one of the men who was transferred to the artillery before the desert campaign opened; Sergeant J. Jackson's "Waipa," Major Manner's "Greygown," and Lieutenant-Colonel McCarroll's "Bobrikoff." The last three horses not only endured the hard campaign, but won races against all-comers at meetings held after the signing of the armistice. These races assumed great importance among the mounted brigades and Imperial infantry, and the Divisional race meeting at Rafa was attended by thousands.

The parting of the men from their horses was pathetic. The animals were divided into three classes—those of no further use which were to be shot, those to be sold, and those to be retained by the army of occupation. The men knew that horses sold to Egyptians probably would end their days in miserable slavery, and efforts were made, often successful, to have animals transferred to the class for the kindly bullet. The horse nobly served the Empire in the war, and never better than in the desert campaign.