Lest We Forget… Equine Epitaph

Great Horses of War

At the beginning of World War 1 horses played a big role in cavalry units. However, as the war progressed, it became clear that horses were incredibly vulnerable to machine guns and artillery fire. 

In light of this, horses were then used more for logistical support – they were able to move well through mud and rough ground to carry messages, pull supply wagons, and move medical staff and the wounded, also the artillery.

The conditions that the horses faced in World War 1 were very harsh. Disease, starvation and exhaustion saw many of the horses perish. It made it increasingly difficult to source replacements. In total, over 1 million horses were used in battle, by the British Army. Many of these horses were purchased from Australia, as well as Argentina, Canada and the US. Some were even purchased from British Citizens. 

At the end of the war, due to quarantine restrictions, horses shipped from Australia couldn’t be returned. Of the 130 000 horses, only 1 horse, named Sandy, returned.

One of the 1300 000 horses to leave Australia during World War 1, is Bill the Bastard, an Australian-bred waler described as being big, tall, strong and tough !

He is known as Australia’s greatest horse !

An excerpt from National Geographic describes Bill the Bastard as follows:

He was known as the “unbreakable” horse. Strong, powerful and controlled by no man. When unaware riders climbed in his saddle, they would be on the ground in seconds.

That was until Bill met Michael.

After forming an instant connection, Major Michael Shanahan and Bill became heroes during the Great War of 1914 – 1918, saving the lives of soldiers and carrying the ANZACs to victory in the Middle East.

Source: National Geographic

How did Bill the Bastard save the lives of these soldiers? During World War I, the major came across four Australians outflanked by the Turks. This incredible Waler horse carried all five men – three on his back and one on each stirrup –1.21km (.75 miles) through soft sand, at a lumbering gallop, to safety.  You have to remember, this was a horse who normally bucked when asked to gallop !

Read the full story of Bill The Bastard. 

Moving onto World War 2, more than 900 men gathered on the western side of Fraser Island to complete a series of top secret, high-level training missions for the Australian Army.

The men, who became known as the Z Special Unit, trained in the island’s bush, beaches and sub-tropical rainforests and essentially formed part of Australia’s first Special Forces.

Known only to the Prime Minister and High Command, the Z Unit completed more than 260 operations behind enemy lines during the war.

Read More: FraserIsland.net (PDF)