The New Zealand Horse and Equipment
A painting from another age: The caption reads "A tight Corner, a New Zealander" This piece of "Boer War" art is a reflection of the heroic poses used in that era, often not representing any actual action. The "Rough Rider" in the painting wears a sabre at his hip - not part of the unifrom in South Africa.
Photograph on the left: The strong bloodline continues on with a NZMR Memorial Troopers mount in 2007. Also included: a sterling silver fob compass and a NZMR reinforcements hat badge. Painting: Montbard, G, A tight corner, a New Zealander c.1900. Alexander Turnbull Library NZ.
A prominent feature of horse attire in the desert was the "Cord Fly-fringe" attached to the brow band of the harness. The movement of the cords keeping the hords of flies at bay.
The English bred sire "Musket" arrived in New Zealand in 1866, and influenced the bloodstock of half the world. Bred with other bloodlines imported from America, England, Argentina and Germany and raised in the ideal climate of New Zealand's south pacific temperate and well watered grasslands, the New Zealand thoroughbred was to be proved a line of champion stayers.
Musket's progeny included such names as "Maxim", "Martini-Henry", "Hotchkiss" and "Carbine". (Names that relate well with the history of the NZMR).
Carbine in his day was the greatest horse in the world, and when he was purchased by the Duke of Cumberland, for his English stud, he dominated the world bloodstock scene for generations. His son, Spearmint, his grandson, Spion Kop, and his great-grandson, Felstead, were all Derby winners. The blood of Carbine, like that of his half-brother by Musket, Trenton, is still to be traced today in winning lines everywhere.
From such big robust horses came the mounts of New Zealand's Mounted Riflemen. Proof that thoroughbred blood lines had filtered down to the Troopers mounts came, when after three years in the arid lands in the Middle East at wars end, these horses won trophy after trophy. Winning Egyptian race meetings against all comers, including mounts from other allied military forces.
Lieutenant-Colonel Mackesy records that at a New Years Day race meeting in Egypt 1919 that the NZMR had two horses entered. The horse "Gazelle" won first prize, "...but the other horse, sired by "De Castro" did no good".
What a reader can draw from that statement is that the Mounted Riflemen were aware of the breeding of their horses, and racing bloodlines were important in having a fleet footed mount in battle.
Among the finest horses in the Auckland Regiment were Colonel Mackesy’s original mount and Lieutenant-Colonel McCarroll’s “George,” both of whom were killed by a bomb from an aeroplane in the Jordan Valley; “Darky,” originally owned by the late Sergeant George Bagnall, one of the men who was transferred to the artillery before the desert campaign opened; Sergeant J. Jackson’s “Waipa,” Major Manner’s “Greygown,” and Lieutenant-Colonel McCarroll’s “Bobrikoff.” These horses not only endured the hard campaign, but won races against all-comers at meetings held after the signing of the armistice. These races assumed great importance for the men.
Individual mounts became legends, none more so than Lieutenant-Colonel Powles mount "Bess". On her return to New Zealand in 1922 Bess led a parade of honour at the Carterton A & P Show fully decked out in all the Colonel's ribbons and medals, and was given a thundering ovation by her home district. Bess produced four foals by New Zealand sires after her return.
The off-spring of the sire "Musket" included the 1890 Melbourne Cup winner "Carbine" seen here above.
The Brigades most famous horse "Bess". The proud owner more than happy to record her lineage.
Bred by A.D. McMaster of Matawhero, Martinborough District in 1910 she was by Sarazen out of Miss Jury. She was known as F.A. Deller's "Zelma" prior to being presented to the NZ Army. The above photograph records that the photo was taken on the banks of the Jordan 1918, three years in the deserts and wastelands of the Middle East. The absolute outstanding condition of the mare is a tribute to not only her bloodline but to the grooming and attention the NZMR gave their horses.
Left: "Darky", Another Main Body veteran who went through the whole campaign, he was originally owned by the late Sergeant G.S. Bagnall. photo from "Two Campaigns" 1920
The age of mounted riflemen on horse has come and gone, but this piece by Trooper Idriess of the 5th A.L.H. brings to life the action of the ANZAC trooper and his horse as they came to the aid of the floundering Infantry attack on the city of Gaza.
The key to taking the city was the high ground position of Ali Muntar...
"... We learned there that Ali Muntar had been taken with the bayonet, but the Turks counter-charged and took it back with bayonet and bomb. Our infantry were trying again. As we rode smartly back we were in company with big bodies of horsemen pouring in from all the hills, closing in on what we confidently thought was the doomed city. Brigades were galloping—the air for miles was all floating clouds of dust and smoke. We watched battery after battery at full gallop from across the open
Alexander Turnbull Library Two troopers share a quiet "Smoko" out of the heat of the midday sun - the horse completely at ease at being utilised as a mobile sun-umbrella. At right of picture we can see another trooper also taking advantage of his "Neddy" blocking out the heat of direct sunlight. Obviously a common practice on the plains of Southern Turkish Palestine (circa 1917).
plain, then drawing close to the hills around the town wheel smartly on to their positions, unhook the teams and in a twinkling began firing in salvos.
Then across the plain and on up the gentle slopes leading to the redoubts galloped a brigade of Light Horse or New Zealanders, I could not tell which for dust and smoke, Squadron after squadron at a furious gallop with the flash in the puff of smoke above them. More furious and faster grew the flame bursts, the crash! of the shells echoed over plain and hills; there came back riderless horses whinnying as they galloped over the plain.
Squadrons of galloping Yeomanry followed into action —the declining sun flashing on the wheels of the guns— until the plain was a vast cloud of smoke and dust through which could be heard the galloping hooves of thousands, the harsh rumbling of the gun wheels, the faint shout of voices, the neigh of a maddened horse, the crash of bursting shells.
It was grand, awe inspiring, but it was terrible! The section stood and listened—we could hardly watch—and the rolling roar of rifle and machine-gun fire rattled from the hills down on to the plain. It was a terrible sight of massed human courage. I wonder what other madnesses the human race will go through before the end of the world. We know now that the Ali Muntar was taken and lost three times with the bayonet and then taken again.
The section galloped into the haze to find the troop. We missed them but presently caught a glimpse of the regiment under heavy shellfire riding out with bayonets all gleaming: we dug the spurs in and leaned over our horses’ necks— a New Zealand brigade thundered by as we flew after the tail of the regiment they were charging into a park of big trees that ran right up into the town. We galloped in among the trees—it was madly exciting.
Rifles crackled viciously from cactus hedges, machine-guns snarled from a village on our right. Then we gaped as we galloped straight towards massive walls of cactus hedges ten feet high that ran as lanes right across the park. To our right was the only low hedge and Turkish infantry were enfilading us from there Lieutenant Waite swerved his troop and the horses jumped the hedge down on to the Turks: we only got a glimpse of that scrap - the lieutenant firing with his revolver, his men from their saddles, until the lieutenant was hit in five places, but what Turks were not killed, ran—while we thundered on and I wondered what calamity might happen when we struck those giant walls of prickly pear.
The colonel threw up his hand —we reined up our horses with their noses rearing from the pear—we jumped off—all along the hedge from tiny holes were squirting rifle puffs, in other places the pear was spitting at us as the Turks standing behind simply fired through the juicy leaves. The horseholders grabbed the horses while each man slashed with his bayonet to cut a hole through those cactus walls. The colonel was firing with his revolver at the juice spots bursting through the leaves—the New Zealanders had galloped by to the left of us, the 7th Light Horse were fighting on our right. Then came the fiercest individual excitement—man after man tore through the cactus to be met by the bayonets of the Turks, six to one. It was just berserk slaughter. A man sprang at the closest Turk and thrust and sprang aside and thrust again and again—some men howled as they rushed, others cursed to the shivery feeling of steel on steel—the grunting breaths, the gritting teeth and the staring eyes of the lunging Turk, the sobbing scream as a bayonet ripped home. The Turkish battalion simply melted away: it was all over in minutes. Men lay horribly bloody and dead; others writhed on the stained grass, while all through the cactus lanes our men were chasing demented Turks. Amateur soldiers we are supposed to be but, by heavens, I saw the finest soldiers of Turkey go down that day, in bayonet fighting in which only shock troops of regular armies are supposed to have any chance. How we thank, now, our own intense training..."
Troopers mixing feed for the horses on the lines. photograph, Trooper Burrowes - Wellington Mounted Rifles
left: A man's best friend. Friendship forged in the desert. Trooper John Currie WMR sends this photograph home with the caption on the back: "Captain Wilder trying to call Jock away from me. Note how he is looking for me."
Reference to the New Zealand Horses' superiority is apparent when reading this excerpt from "The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine" - the ANZAC Chaytor Force fords a river in its advance towards Amman...
"At 4 o’clock on the morning of the 23rd the Auckland Mounted Rifles began to cross in order to clear the enemy out of the country on the eastern bank as far north as Ghoraniyeh, to enable the [bridge] crossing to be made there. This the regiment did in a most efficient and gallant style, galloping down detachments of the enemy and capturing 68 prisoners and four machine guns.
This was a fine example of mounted rifles fearlessly and successfully attacking cavalry.
For in addition to galloping into infantry in position with machine guns, Colonel McCarroll’s men charged, killed and captured Turkish Cavalry.
It was a beautiful morning, the horses were in great form, and the men eager for a ride. The pace soon increased to a gallop. Post after post along the bank of the river was ridden down and the Turks immediately surrendered. Away out to the east the detached squadron had a merry time. They charged some enemy cavalry and a long running fight ensued resulting in numerous casualties to the enemy, the superior weight and pace of our horses proving too much for the Turks. Lieut. [Captain Kenneth James] K. J. Tait, the leader of the foremost troop was killed in a duel with the Turkish cavalry leader. This young officer’s dash and determination were the feature of the morning’s operations. The main body of the regiment found the Ghoraniyeh crossing strongly held, but the sight of the lines of galloping horsemen was too much for the enemy. Some of the Turks stood their ground and a troop of the 3rd Squadron galloped right into them, seized their machine guns and turned them on to the fleeing enemy with good effect.
This bold move of the Auckland Regiment unlocked the Ghoraniyeh crossing and the infantry were soon hard at work on their pontoon bridge and by night-fall were beginning to cross."
Turkish dispatch rider kneels awaiting orders. Two Turkish officers confer on orders while lookouts stand on the crest of the hill in this 1917 photograph. The difference in size and condition between the Turkish-Arab horse and New Zealand horse is apparent when comparisons are made.
A Squadron training at Orewa Beach New Zealand. This image from a series of photographs presented in
"The Weekly News" April 29th 1942 showing NZMR reserves "Part in N.Z.Defence" - issue number 4092.
The New Zealand Brigade had long before this justly earned the reputation among the mounted troops of being the finest horse-masters in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, a reputation which they maintained until the end of the war. To the farriers and to Major J. Stafford, D.S.O. the Brigade Veterinary Officer, the Brigade owes more than can ever be told.
On June 17th a report was sent in to Divisional Headquarters showing the numbers of “original” horses still with the regiments.
These original horses were horses from Australia or New Zealand and which crossed the Canal in April, 1916, with the brigades. The return is as follows :— 1st L. H. Brigade, 671; 2nd L.H. Brigade, 742: N.Z.M.R. Brigade, 1056. All brigades had suffered much the same
The brigadiers concurred in that the ideal horse should be from 15 to 15.3 and as near 15 hands as possible and should be stout and cobby and if possible with plenty of blood. excerpt from "The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine" Powles.
Right: Not all horses reflected the call for "stout and Cobby". Here Trooper Cowley with his aptly named steed "Bones" proved to be a hardy companion through tick and thin. This is possibly 12/523 Trooper Richard Henry Cowley of the N.A.M.R. Whangarei as there is only one Cowley listed in the Main Body - However it is possible that further 'Cowley's' could have arrived later in reinforcements.
Not all horse legends were those fleet of foot.
The patient endurance of toil and pain by the horses was constantly a source of wonder to the men, and made almost a human bond between horse and rider. An incident which indicates the wonderful endurance of the New Zealand horses and throws some light upon the close spirit of comradeship existing between the men and their steeds, occurred when the A.M.R. was holding an outpost line in the hills north-east of Beersheba, after the memorable attack on the Saba Redoubt and the subsequent retreat of the Turks along their whole line.
For days the Aucklanders had been faced with tremendous difficulties in regard to water. None was to be found in this desolate wilderness. No one in the past had dug a well and planted a tree for shade. For three days the horses had had to be led back to Beersheba, some twelve miles distant, to be watered. The exigencies of the position made it impossible for one or two horses used for packing the Hotchkiss guns to be taken back, and, when the Camel Corps arrived to relieve the Regiment, one of these horses had not had a drink for 72 hours, and he had lain down to die.
The Camel men had brought a supply of water with them, but though not over much, they gave the Regiment enough to issue one pint a man before they departed. While this issue was being made, the old pack horse, smelling the water, struggled to his feet and staggered up to the group. “Shout the old chap a pint,” said a trooper, and immediately a pint of the precious liquid was poured into the lid of a “dixie” and held out to the animal, which sucked up every drop. He looked so grateful, that another pint was given him and, small though the quantity was, he began to look better immediately. He was then given some barley, and by the time the Regiment was ready to move he had taken a new lease of life, and he was able to make the march back to Beersheba. There he was sent to “hospital,” and he lived to return to duty. excerpt from "The story of two campaigns", Nicol 1920
Punch - London 1917
Although the horse was the prime animal for the ANZAC Mounted Riflemen in the Deserts of the Middle East, the actions could not have been carried out without the support animals of Mules, Donkeys and Camels. Animals well known for their rather obstinate natures. It required a skilled Trooper to will such irritable beasts into work.
A fact not lost on cartoonists of the day.
Transport Officer: "CONFOUND IT, MAN! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? DON'T TEASE THE ANIMALS!".
Horse gun or "Knocking" gun.
For the veterinarian teams the most unfortunate weapon at their disposal was the knocking gun. This weapon used a .22 charge to fire a steel pin into the skull to dispatch a badly injured or wounded horse.
For the men that spent countless hours caring for the Brigades animals, the mopping up of mutilated animals on the battlefield directly after an action was a soul destroying mission that no man welcomed.