Today is ANZAC day.
The anniversary of the first major military campaign fought by Australian and New Zealand Army Corps during the First World War. These soldiers were fondly known as “Anzacs”.
On April 25th 1915, Australian and New Zealand forces landed at Gallipoli, meeting fierce resistance from the Ottoman Turkish defenders. A bloody campaign raged for eight months, resulting in major casualties.
Anzac Day commemorates the lives of Australians and New Zealanders who served and died not only at Gallipoli in WWI, but in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations. Dawn services are held at memorials in all towns and cities throughout both countries.
Today though, I wish to commemorate the huge-hearted horses, and the stout, stoic donkeys and mules that have played a vital role supporting armies in the wars of mankind throughout history.
For though they had no choice, they bore their abhorrent roles valiantly.
Driven and ridden, they provided support in the transportation of troops, supplies and armaments and against all odds, stayed the distance on patrols and reconnaissance missions in times before motorisation.
Most astonishing of all, were the horses that courageously charged headlong into the oncoming foe, their riders brandishing spears, bow and arrow, swords, lances or guns, depending on the era.
For “animals of prey”, this was an incredible ask, as their instincts are to turn and run from perceived danger and sudden noise or movement.
And, the all pervasive smell of blood.
Battles were often won solely due to supreme mounted tactics. War horse trainers recognised the strong fight-or-flight response in a horse and utilised the self-preserving ability to strike, kick out and bite.
In close combat, the animals themselves became weapons.
Weary and scarred like their human companions, alliances and deep friendships were formed. Bonds bound by blood and forged in foreign, inhospitable lands.
The endurance, stamina and enormously generous spirit in brutal conditions of conflict, climate, hunger, exhaustion and disease while having to travel uncertain terrain and distances, has earned equine war animals the more than well deserved title of “noble”.
I don’t glorify their roles. There is no glory in war. No beauty in cruelly broken bodies. No romance in blood-soaked soil. Nor in the trail of tears and destruction left behind.
But, there is bravery.
Let no one dispute the strength of mind and heart it takes to face the stench and fear of death – in any circumstance, peacetime or at war.
For those brave participants, not only the horse, but all animals in all wars throughout the ages, I salute them.
Not beasts of burden. No.
Every one of them.