The Horrors at Gallipoli: Killing One’s “Whaler”

The “Whaler” is the shorten-form Aussie term for a breed of horses in New South Wales that  served as the stead for the famed Lighthorsemen Brigades in Egypt, the Middle East and Gallipoli during World War One. I thank Brigadier Sri Mudannayake** for bringing this somebe dimension of the disastrous Gallipoli and other Middle Eastern campaign to our attention.

Here are the pertinent lines from Eugene Rogan’s Fall of the Ottomans pp. 397-98.

“At Rafah the army began to kill the ANZAC cavalrymen’s horses. The troopers were given many explanations

– that not enough ships were available to transport both the men and their mounts, that the horses were in no

shape for the long journey home, and the animals risked carrying infectious diseases that would spread to the national herd in AU & NZ. But the cavalrymen took the unexpected news badly. The parting of the men from

their horses was pathetic. A NZ Sergeant of the Auckland Mounted Rifles recalled ; after years of campaigning, the bond between the troopers and their horses was stronger than many felt for their fellow men.

Though strictly forbidden, many troopers preferred to kill their own horses rather than leave them for thelivestock market or the butcher.

The Australian soldier – journalist Oliver Hogue, a veteran of both the Gallipoli and Palestine Campaigns whowrote under the pseudonym Trooper Bluegun captured the cavarlyman’s sentiment towards his “waler'(shorthand for the most common breed of Australian warhorse, that from New South Wales) in the poem titled

The Horse Stay Behind”      

“I don’t think I could stand the thought of my old fancy hack

Just crawling round old Cairo with a Gippo on his back

Perhaps some English tourist out in Palestine may find

My broken hearted waler with a wooden plough behind.

No: I think I’d better shoot him and tell a little lie:

He floundered in a wombat hole and then lay down to die”

Maybe I’ll get court -Martialed; but I’m damned if I am inclined

To go back to Australia and leave my horse behind”

***  ***

PS: The poem is heart wrenching because I too served in a cavalry regiment ( no horses but battle tanks) of the SL Army–The 4th Armoured Regiment Regiment….. ” Sri Mudan

The War Memorial at Tamworth in NSW


** I met Brig. Sri Mudannayake at a seminar at Verite Research, Colombo in 2019.



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