As the annual roll-call for the horses’ birthday on August 1 quickly draws near, closely followed by commemoration of the centenary of the outbreak of World War One on August 4 1914, let us also pay tribute to the thousands of Australian horses that accompanied our soldiers into battle overseas, particularly the most respected of all, proudly known as the ‘Waler’.
Specially bred up over many years from a mixture of breeds introduced to Australia from early settlement, including the Clydesdale draught horse for added strength and durability, they proved their worth as one of the best cavalry horses of all time, capable of carrying the massive weight of a fully laden soldier and associated equipment through lengthy periods of battle.
On this matter I draw on the memoirs of a then young Bangalow lad and family member namely John Hayter Ferguson, whom in the call to arms and amidst heavy shelling had his horse blown to pieces from beneath him. As luck happened John survived notwithstanding the terrible loss of one side of his buttock, but on returning to Bangalow he renewed his horseriding passion propped up in the saddle by a specially padded cushion to maintain balance.
Not so lucky was his brother Lieutenant Thomas Karl Ferguson who paid the supreme price, never to see his hometown again.
The grief thrust on our soldiers at war’s end, who had their magnificent steeds quarantined from re-entry to Australia, was heartbreaking. Many were sadly put down by their riders for fear of mistreatment at the hands of strangers in foreign lands.
They deserve their recognition in the realms of Australian history, both man and beast alike. A monument to their honour stands in the New South Wales city of Tamworth, lest we should ever forget.
John Hayter, Tintenbar