Gallipoli’s War Horses

From the Dardanelles to Damascus

 

Jill Mather

Tingalpa, Qld: Boolarong Press, 2014

Paperback   210pp.   RRP $29.99

 

Reviewer: Neville Taylor, May 2020

 

One cannot question Jill Mather’s love for horses and her desire to share everything she has learned with her readers. Published on the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, it has omitted nothing relating to the involvement of horses, mules, donkeys and camels in the Middle East.

From the selection of animals from around the world, to their training, shipment, their handlers and keepers, feeding and watering, the diseases and harsh conditions faced and the role of veterinarians and farriers, their tasks and loads and their disposal at the end of hostilities has all been included.

Interesting and informative personal accounts and comments have been supplemented by photographs and cartoons/sketches. [With the  general level of schooling among Australian recruits in 1914, I continue to be amazed at the quality of their prose in letters and diaries and the poems they penned.] The words of Australia’s Major ‘Banjo’ Patterson, in charge of providing remounts (replacement horses) and those of author Ion Idriess in his description of the horses seeing green pasture and having solid ground underfoot for the first time in two years in the Sinai in 1917 are hidden gems.

In an endeavour to include many photographs, many have been reproduced too small for the detail referred to in the text to be seen. A considerable number of statistics have been scattered throughout the text; these would have had more significant impact as a compilation presented as an annexe. While there is no continuous narrative, the first half of the book details the forces and animals that were have been assembled and shipped to the Middle East. Then appears the chapter The Evacuation, that after describing the withdrawal from Gallipoli to Egypt, goes on to Australia’s preparation for war, horse shipping, arrival of Allied troops in Egypt and the shipping of the New Zealand horses.

The heart-breaking, but unavoidable, disposal of so many animals that had given such loyal service to their devoted handlers only adds to the total cost of the War. Despite its shortcomings in both editing and proof reading, this was still an enjoyable and fascinating read.

 

The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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