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National War Animals Day – 24 February 2023

National War Animals Day – 24 February 2023

Horses of the Desert Mounted Corps Memorial, close-up of relief sculpture. Image taken by NSW War Memorials Register, October 2021.

“They suffered wounds thirst, hunger and weariness almost beyond endurance but never failed. They did not come home. We will never forget them.”

These words are forever inscribed on the Horses of the Desert Mounted Corps Memorial in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. They pay tribute to some 140,000 horses that served in the Desert Campaign in the First World War. Of these, only one was allowed back into Australia at the end of the war.

The memorial is a sandstone wall, featuring a cast-bronze relief sculpture. The artwork shows an Australian Light Horse Trooper leading three horses. The horses were collectively known as Walers, as despite coming from across Australia, they were originally sourced through NSW. The sculpture was created by New Zealand artist John Bonar Dunlop, who lived and studied in Sydney after the Second World War.

The memorial was paid for by members and friends of the Corps and dedicated to their “gallant horses who carried them over Sinai Desert into Palestine 1915–1918.” It was unveiled on Anzac Day, 25 April 1950 by Lady Chauvel, widow of General Sir Henry George (Harry) Chauvel who commanded the Corps.

During the ceremony, Major-General Richardson said the intention of the memorial was to remind future generations of the debt owed to these horses, who played a part in one of the “greatest cavalry forces in history.” He was referring to the famous ‘Charge at Beersheba’, which took place on 31 October 1917 in Turkey. The 4th and 12th Light Horse Regiment’s bold attack on the Turkish trenches near the town secured the strategic site of Beersheba and opened up access to the area’s many wells, needed to provide water for the men and horses serving in the region.

On 24 February, Australia recognises the important role of animals in conflicts and military operations through the National Day for War Animals.

Other animals that have played a role in Australia’s military history include donkeys, mules, camels, dogs, and carrier pigeons.

More information about National Day for War Animals is available from the Australian War Memorial.

The NSW War Memorials Register contains several other memorials to war animals:

Do you know of another memorial to war animals in NSW? Reach out to the Register and help us record history.

Horses of the Desert Mounted Corps Memorial. Image taken by NSW War Memorials Register, October 2021.

Image credit – Images taken by NSW War Memorials Register, October 2021.