Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

WWI: NZ battle horses paid terrible toll

Just four of 10,000 shipped from New Zealand made it back. Many were shot at the end.

A New Zealand howitzer battery in France. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library
A New Zealand howitzer battery in France. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library

11 Equine casualties

They served in horrific conditions, and many of those that survived years of war were rewarded with a bullet.

Ten thousand horses were sent from New Zealand to join the World War I effort in German Samoa, the Middle East, Gallipoli and the Western Front. Just four made it home.

The horses - including nearly 4000 draught and packhorses - were sent to help in the fighting, but on arrival were rendered useless by modern warfare and its machine-guns and mortars.

Instead, they were used behind the lines, in extreme weather, hauling heavy artillery and carrying riders and gear on marches and reconnaissance trips. About 1500 died from illness, sickness, cruel workloads, poor horsemanship and in battle.

The Otago Mounted Rifles lost eight horses and 32 were wounded during the Battle of Messines alone.

"The men did their best to look after their horses in very trying conditions, but it was really challenging," said Imelda Bargas, senior historian at NZ History online.

Many soldiers wanted to bring the horses home with them, she said. But an acute transport shortage and fears they might bring back diseases meant most were either housed with locals or shot.

Now, there is a move to remember the role of New Zealand's war horses.

On August 16, a plaque will be unveiled at Phar Lap Raceway outside Timaru commemorating the 8th (South Canterbury) Regiment of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, who left 100 years earlier. The plaque had lain forgotten in South Canterbury RSA in Timaru for many years.

RSA general manager Michelle Brown said it deserved a more prominent location.

About 1500 South Canterbury men and women died in the 1914-18 war, - more than 10 per cent of the local population.

"The loss was enormous, and for us this tribute is about bringing that loss home to people today."

Local farmer Rob Rhodes, 71, has donated a one-tonne rock for the memorial plaque to be placed at Phar Lap Raceway.

He said the loss of horses had a devastating effect on New Zealand farms.

Lucky Bess came home to fanfare

Bess was the only horse to leave with the main body on October 16, 1914, and eventually return to New Zealand after World War I.

Colonel Charles Guy Powles' mount served in Egypt, Sinai, Palestine, France and Germany.

On her return, Bess led a parade of honour at the Carterton A&P Show, decked out in the ribbons and medals of her much-decorated master.

Bess finally died in 1934 at the age of 24.

Colonel Powles buried her and put a cairn memorial on the spot, at Forest Rd, west of Bulls.

August 5, 1914
• A crowd gathered on Queen St awaiting fresh news on any developments in the war. They sang patriotic songs and the national anthem.
• The NZ Farmers' Union met with the Government to assure politicians the Union was there to help in any way needed in the "present crisis".
• The British Cabinet announced what actions they would take during the war. Britain would give France all their aid if Germany entered the Channel or North Sea.
• The British Army and Navy were ready for war and mobilisation would be complete by midnight.

Other news:
• A woman was fined £10 for selling hop beer containing more than the standard percentage of alcohol.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 23 Oct 2014 04:32:15 Processing Time: 292ms