Thousands of Australian animals went to World War One. There were dogs, cats, cockatoos, kangaroos, wallabies, a rooster called Jackie and even a koala whose name was Teddy. These animal mascots helped cheer the homesick soldiers, but just one animal returned.
Working animals also went to war; carrier pigeons, horses, and donkeys. Of the 136,000 horses that left Australia, only Sandy, the favourite horse of Major General Sir William Bridges came home. The other animals stayed behind.
Sandy was a sixteen hand, bay coloured Waler. He was born on a farm near Tallangatta. Soon after war was declared, the O’Donnell family donated him for the war effort. You can read more about Sandy’s story in Light Horse Boy.
During the 100 year commemorations of WWI, several books with horse characters were published. The topic of war can be a challenging one for young readers. Authors including Morris Gleitzman, Pamela Rushby, Mark Greenwood, myself and illustrator, Frane’ Lessac have used horse characters to create bridges to the past for children. These familiar animals help soften confronting moments from history. Some of these horses, like Sandy and Midnight, are based on real animals, others are fictitious.
The bond between the Light Horsemen and their horses was powerful. Leaving them behind at the end of WWI was something many veterans never recovered from. For some soldiers, the risk of leaving horses to be possibly mistreated by new owners was unbearable. They rode their horses a short way from camp, tied a blindfold around their eyes and shot them. What a terrible choice for them to make.
The power of animal stories never fails to inspire me. Perhaps it’s the unquestioning love and loyalty of horses that makes a story memorable, or perhaps it’s their innocence; the horses never chose to go to war. Either way, I hope you will enjoy one of these stories in isolation this Anzac Day.