2014-2018 marks the centenary of WW1 and will be the focus of many commemorations. New Zealand has no memorial to all the war horses sent to either WW1 or the (previous) Boer wars. During the 4 years of the centenary of WW1 we will be promoting recognition of the war horses (and other animals sent to war), and helping local projects, memorial rides and fund raisers in any way we can.
We currently have many memorials to the troops sent to war, and one or two memorials to some of the horses sent from a region, or the memorial to "Bess".
We do not have a national memorial to the horses, and they are not currently included in the national memorial in Wellington.
Read more about memorials around the world, and in NZ >>
more than 10,000 horses to equip the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. They served in German Samoa, Gallipoli, and the Middle East and on the Western Front. More than half were ridden and nearly 4000 were draught or pack horses used for artillery and transport purposes. Nearly all of the horses went overseas (only 3% died on route, whereas in the Boer wars many horses died in transit) . There was no great difficulty securing this number of horses of suitable quality. In 1914 there were estimated to be around 400,000 horses in New Zealand, of which about 50,000 were fit for riding or draught work. -Acquiring horses for war', NZ History Online (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 29-Jul-2014
Although, reading the newspaper reports from the time, it is clear that not all New Zealanders were keen to send their finest horses to war, and there were a number of stories in the papers about unsuitable 'nags' being presented as a way to get some payment for them.
On the 16th October 1914, the first four ships departed Wellington, with the 'main body' of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force onboard ;around 8500 men and nearly 4000 horses
A total of 141 New Zealand horses were transported to Samoarather than Egypt. Of these, 25 were despatched with the Samoa Advance Party of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in August 1914. Most of the rest were sent in the second half of 1915 to support the Samoan Relief Force which had taken over from the Advance Party in March. The provision of therse additional horses (and bicycles) reportedly ‘greatly increased’ the mobility of the garrison force. Another 20 horses were despatched in November 1916 after some of the horses already sent proved unsuitable or were impregnated by local stallions while on patrol. >> read more German Samoa', NZ History Online
Very few horses were sent to Gallipolli; the combination of lack of places to land, the terrain they were fighting over, and the lack of water meant that most of the horses landed in Turkey for that campaign were sent back to Egypt. Of the equines that were used, most were mules or donkeys who were more suited to the steep terrain and lack of water.
In late 1915 and early 1916 the horses were reunited with their units as the latter returned from Gallipoli. They had been well cared for by the NZ Veterinary corps and teams of experienced horsemen
In April 1916, more than 3000 ‘animals’ – horses and mules – were sent from Egypt to France with the New Zealand Division. Several thousand of the New Zealand forces’ horses remained in the Middle East. These animals were assigned to the NZMR Brigade, which had been separated from the rest of the New Zealand forces to form part of a new Anzac Mounted Division which also contained Australian Light Horse brigades and Royal Horse Artillery batteries.
New Zealand horses were prized for their endurance and ability to withstand harsh conditions. When they required medical care, the New Zealand Veterinary Corps tried to retain as many New Zealand horses as it could rather than sending them to the British base hospital in Egypt.
The NZMR Brigade had almost 2500 horses at the end of the war, many of these may have been New Zealand horses. There were still more than 1000 ‘original’ mounts with the NZMR Brigade at the beginning of the Palestine campaign, and New Zealand horses were also serving in attached units in early 1917. - read more >> 'Sinai and Palestine',NZ History Online
Like Gallipolli, the western front rapidly became a war unsuitable for horses as trench warfare, and mud brought almost all movement to a halt. But unlike Gallipolli, horses were retained and continued to be used throughout the war as both cavalry and transport. The terrible conditions included mud, barbed wire entanglements, poor feed supplies and water, as well as constant artillery attacks and gunfire. For the horses additional horrors were added, roads showered in nails and spikes intended to cripple.
At the end of the war, the horses serving with the New Zealanders in the Middle East were pooled with other British army horses in the Imperial Remount Depot. Those considered fit for work were sold locally, while those deemed unfit were killed. Some men concerned that the locals would neglect or mistreat their horses had them deemed unfit and killed. The same fate fell upon the horses remaining on the western front at the end of the war in Europe.
All four of the New Zealand horses that made it home belonged to officers: Beauty to the late Captain Richard Riddiford, Bess to Captain Charles Powles, Dolly to General Sir Andrew Russell, and Nigger to the late Lieutenant-Colonel George King. Only one New Zealand horse (Bess) serving in the Middle East made it back to New Zealand – it helped that in October 1918 she was sent to France. The four horses were repatriated from France to England in March 1919 and subjected to 12 months’ quarantine. They arrived back in New Zealand in July 1920.
Bulls Museum have a permanent display on Bess, and the other horses, including King's saddle.
There are two memorial rides planned specifically for New Zealand's war horses, and a number of ANZAC services and parades will include equestrians.
You can attend
Bulls, Annual Ride for Bess
Hawarden, 100 Horses
Taupo ANZAC Parade