Remembering our War Horses
Image: Victoria Racing Club
Alongside our gallant soldiers, 18,000 horses left the safety of New Zealand shores to fight in World War 1; only 4 would ever return.
New Zealand horses were tested by the Department of Agriculture for war fitness. Owners were paid £17 for riding horses and £24 for artillery and transport horses. They were shipped to a world much different from the lush pastures of New Zealand.
New Zealand horses were sent to where most New Zealand soldiers served - German Samoa, the Middle East, on the Western Front and at Gallipoli, although many were evacuated from the later, due to the tough terrain. Mules and donkeys took the place of horses in Gallipoli, as they coped better with the steep terrain.
Throughout the war, war horses faced heat and cold, long distance and little rest, hunger and thirst, yet with trust in their masters and sound willingness. After sharing years of hardship in conflict together, Kiwi soldiers and their horses formed indescribable bonds. Like the men who rode them, these horses survived on limited rations and in unthinkable conditions. They became battle-weary and exhausted, as World War 1 unfolded.
After seeing how Kiwi horses that were sold to locals were treated, many soldiers chose to spare their four-legged partners from a life of hard labour. This was a horrendous decision and not one taken lightly; ultimately, it came down to their love for their equine partners and what was best for them, given the circumstances.
Reflecting on this decision, Lieutenant Briscoe Moor wrote:
“This was a sad, but nevertheless humane ending of the lives of those faithful animals which had done such good work and been such trusty servants of their devoted masters.”
To the brave soldiers who fought in the war, and to the horses that were by their side - Lest we forget.