Pre WW1 Lighthorse
At the end of the Boer War, and with the Federation of the Colonies, military matters became the responsibility of the Federal Government and the Army was reorganized. Between 1901 and 1914 the huge bulk of the Australian Army (45,000 strong) comprised of volunteers and men undergoing compulsory military training. The members of the permanent Army at the time of federation were known as the Staff Corp and numbered about 1000 men. By 1914 this number had grown to about 3,500.
Officers had to supply their own horses at their own expense and paid an allowance for the horse. All members of Light Horse Regiments had to provide their own horse and paid an allowance paid when they attended parades and camps. All Light Horse Regiments in the Australian Army were Militia (that is, part time soldiers). Any other units that had a requirement for horses hired or requisitioned them from local sources e.g. livery stables, farmers or coaching services. The Principal Veterinary Officer appointed in every state purchased the few horses needed at the time by the permanent forces.
In 1910 it was decided to establish permanent units of Field Artillery, Engineers and Transport and the largest number of horses purchased by the army was a total of 900 between 1910 and the declaration of war in 1914.
World War 1 (The Great War)
With the outbreak of the 1st World War on 4 August 1914, Australia offered 20,000 troops to Britain. Four Lighthorse Regiments of 600 men were raised and one of the requirements to join was to provide your own horse which, if deemed suitable, was purchased from you by the army. The army now had a dilemma. Draught and pack animals were needed to make up the requirements for the new field artillery, engineer, signal and transport units. These draught and pack animals were now purchased from the same sources as they had in previous years been hired from (Livery stables, Farmers and Coaching services).
When the 1st Division and the 4 Lighthorse Regiments sailed for Egypt 5,000 horses went with them. During 1915 another 9 Light Horse Regiments were raised bringing the total to 13 Regiments. It was during 1915 that the AIF’s first remount units were formed and sent overseas. Purchasing and training of horses in Australia was done by local buyers under the control of the Principal Veterinary Officer in each state.
Basically buyers were looking for horses that were 8 years of age and sound. The demand, in order of precedence, was light draught, heavy draught, pack and riding animals. When the Australians arrived in Egypt, the provision of horses to Australian units came under the British Indian Army Remount Service and it is now that the term Waler for all Australian horses (light and heavy draught, pack and riding horses) became a term familiar to Australians.
After the Gallipoli campaign, where very few horses were needed, the AIF returned to Egypt where it was reorganized into 5 Infantry divisions and 4 brigades of Light Horse. During 1916 the Infantry Divisions were sent to France and the Light Horse Brigades remained in the Middle East to form the backbone of the Desert Mounted Corp. Two Light Horse Regiments (4th and 13th) went with the Infantry Divisions to France and had a name change to Corp Mounted Troops, also known as Divisional Cavalry. These light horsemen in France spent most of their time carrying out security tasks behind the trenches and escorting prisoners to P.O.W. camps and never gained the recognition that their mounted compatriots in Palestine did.
From 1916 the war in Palestine became very mobile, and though there was some motor transport, all movement away from the railway lines was by horse and camel. All supplies needed were transported by huge numbers of camels (approx. 80,000 to 100,000) of the Camel Transport Corp manned by Egyptians under British officers, and the Army Service Corp (British and Australian) general service wagons. British wagons were generally pulled by 6 horses under the control of postillion riders. In contrast Australians tended to have a single driver mounted on the wagon seat. Another unusual feature of Australian wagons was the tendency to use the Cobb & Co hitch of 5 horses (3 leaders and 2 wheelers).
In Palestine the British Army, made up of British, Australian, New Zealand and Indian Soldiers, had on strength about 180,000 horses mules and donkeys yet only 35,000 of these were riding horses available to the Desert Mounted Corp. All the rest were draught or pack animals. The Desert Mounted Corp contained 14 Australian Lighthorse Regiments of nominally 600 men each and approximately 650 animals (Total for all Regiments 9,100 horses).
“Expert horsemen differed as to the best type of horse disclosed by the miscellaneous Australian remounts in the campaign. Some good judges expressed a preference for the stocky, powerful pony types to be found among both the Australian and New Zealand regiments. But although these small animals, many of which possessed Welsh pony blood, had many admirers, the lesson of the war was that, provided a horse had bone and substance, and was not too eager and fretful, the closer it was to the English thoroughbred racing strain the more valuable it was for active service. The horses of a light horse regiment were not uniform. They included every kind of animal; large sturdy ponies, crossbreds from draught Clydesdale mares, three-quarter thoroughbreds, and many qualified for the racing studbooks. As a consequence of such mixed breeding, they frequently offended the horse-lover’s eye by their faulty parts. But one quality they all possessed which made them superior to the horses from other lands: they were all, or nearly all, got by thoroughbred sires. This quality, reflected throughout in their spirit and their stamina, was their distinguishing character. During sustained operations, on very short rations of pure grain and no water over periods, which extended up to seventy hours – when horses of baser breeds lost their courage and then their strength – the Waler, though famished and wasted, continued alert and brave and dependable. The vital spark of the thoroughbred never failed to respond. As long as these horses had strength to stand they carried their great twenty stone loads jauntily and proudly.” (Page 39 Vol. VII The official history of Australia in the war of 1914 – 1918)
In France, all the horses needed by the ANZAC’s were supplied by Britain which also supplied horses to Belgium and 6,000 to the American’s when they arrived in 1917. Where did all these horses come from that were needed to prosecute the War in France and Palestine?
The following list is only a generalization: