Voice of Real Australia: Take a moment to remember the fallen animals of war

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Carrots left for the horses that served at the grey granite War Horse Memorial horse trough in Adelaide.

Carrots left for the horses that served at the grey granite War Horse Memorial horse trough in Adelaide.

Much of the attention on Anzac Day is deservedly focused on the sacrifices made by our soldiers, their bravery and their ingenuity.

There are many of us who hold the animals who have served in war equally as precious, maybe even more so, given the purity of their role to serve.

Without the Walers with their hearts of lions, the Light Horsemen of World War I would have gone nowhere fast.

We would have no legend of Simpson and his donkey, no Bill the Bastard, the 17-hand warhorse who gave it his all under fire when it counted, and no camels carrying heavy loads in very ordinary conditions.

Australia shipped some 120,000 horses overseas during World War I, more than 81,000 to India, and over 39,000 to Egypt and Palestine as part of the Australian Light Horse contingent.

As a member of the Australian Light Horse Association, my heart skipped a beat when a friend sent me photographs from an Anzac Day service she'd attended in Adelaide on Sunday.

As she explained it, alongside the Light Horse Memorial erected in the city at the urging of a woman who lost her husband in the Great War, then her son in WWII, is a grey granite War Horse Memorial in the form of a horse trough.

Water was a precious commodity in the Sinai and Palestinian Deserts and was one of the prizes for the 4th Light Horse Brigade when it took Beersheba on October 31, 1917 in one of the most daring exploits in the WWI campaign against the Ottoman Empire.

Together with the wreath of apples, wheat and carrots laid by Adelaide's Lord Mayor, it was fitting in its simplicity and spoke volumes of the bond generated between the soldiers and horses as they fought as one.

The Lord Mayor of Adelaide City's wreath with apples, wheat and carrots woven into it.

The Lord Mayor of Adelaide City's wreath with apples, wheat and carrots woven into it.

English cavalryman Lt Col RM Preston DSO, writing in November 1917, said there was no doubt the Walers made the finest cavalry mounts in the world.

"It must be remembered that the Australian countrymen are bigger, heavier men than their English brothers," he said.

"It is probably that they averaged not far off 12 stone (76kg) stripped. To this weight must be added another 9.5 stone (60kg) for saddle, ammunition, sword, rifle, clothes and accoutrements, so that each horse carried 21 stone (133kg) all day for every day for 17 days, on less than half the normal ration of forage and with only one drink every 36 hours."

It's well known that only one of the thousands of these loyal horses returned to Australia at the end of the war, due to Australia's strict quarantine laws, which helped to prevent the spread of animal and plant disease and pests.

Many soldiers feared their horses might be mistreated if sold and so they gently euthanised their faithful companion of many campaigns.

Neil Andrew's poem, I Spoke to you in Whispers, reaches into our souls with its understanding of how the soldiers felt the pain their horses could be suffering in battle.

Next time we take a wreath to our cenotaph, take a moment of that quiet reflection to think of the following lines:

"I spoke to you of promises

"If from this maelstrom I survive

"By pen and prose and poetry

"I'll keep your sacrifice alive

"I spoke to you of legacy

"For when this hellish time is through

"All those who hauled or charged or carried

"Will be regarded heroes too."

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