New Zealand War Horses

Soldiers on horseback travel across pontoon bridge (1992-757)

Soldiers on horseback travel across pontoon bridge

With the spotlight on war horses at the moment with the recent release of Spielberg’s latest movie, “War Horse”, the National Army Museum is focusing some attention to New Zealand war horses.

The new film chronicles the story of a horse serving in World War I’s Western Front and sheds some deserving light on the courage and sacrifice of animals during that conflict.

Horses were the unsung hereos of World War I and instrumental in keeping the army operating. Horses served as mounts for the Mounted Rifle Brigade, provided logistical support for the army as a whole, and their companionship increased morale amongst the soldiers.

Over 10,000 horses were provided from New Zealand during the war, mainly for service in Sinai and Palestine with the Mounted Rifles Brigade.

A good friend, the horse

Conditions were severe for horses in the Sinai Palestine theatre where they had to combat thirst, hunger, exhaustion, heat and disease. In the advance on Palestine in the Middle East in 1917, New Zealand horses went 72 hours without water on a food allowance of just 12lbs of barley a day.

The New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade troopers were not used as cavalry, but rather used their horses to move quickly around the battlefield. The Mounted Rifles rode to battle and usually fought dismounted with one man in each section acting as a horse holder for the rest of the group.

However, there was a unique chapter in our history when on 7 June, 1917, as part of the attack at Messines on the Western Front, the Otago Mounted Rifles, under heavy fire, charged as cavalry on horseback, attacking an enemy post; taking nine prisoners and capturing two field guns.

“Talk about the Charge of the Light Brigade, the infantry said we were mad, and by jove we were! We charged over the barbed wire entanglements, over trenches…”                             (Trooper Fred Naylor)

This quote forms the subtitle of a recent dramatic painting which depicts the attack by the official New Zealand Army Artist, Matt Gauldie.

If you know of any war stories involving brave animals please share them with us.