During the First World War, it is estimated that nearly 6,000,000 – 8,000,000 horses died on the Western Front on both sides. In one of the saddest examples of the suffering and sacrifice of horses during “The Great War”, of the nearly 121,000 Australian “Waler” Horses, only one, named “Sandy” ever returned home.
The tragedy of the fate of these horses and the horror of war can be summed up in this poem about the Waler Horses.
“In the fading memory of tears and terror
does our nation remember its mortal error?
A thousand more and a thousand more
A breed of horses went to war.
From NSW we mustered them all
For king and country, to rise and fall.
They carried us; weary bloodied and dry
Never a query or what for? or why?
We sheltered beneith their salt crusted hides.
They trusted our voices, laid down and died.
Those that were left
became dust on the shore.
Lest we forget, the perils of war.”
It makes me wonder as to the real reason of the demise of horse cavalry – was it because of the mechanization of modern warfare and the industrialization of waging war, or was it the fact that the world’s horse population was nearly wiped out as a result of “The Great War”?
Western Civilization, it is said, was built from the back of a horse. We owe these magnificent animals a debt of gratitude that perhaps we can never repay.
I found this very moving video with some excellent footage about the Australian Waler Horse of WW I on YouTube. It is well worth watching: