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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Anzac Hoof: Where were the farriers during Gallipoli?

The Anzac trophy hoof / inkwell lives in the heraldry collection of the Australian War Memorial.

Today, a salute to our friends in Australia and New Zealand, where it's Anzac Day. It's not exactly a holiday; it's a day of remembrance, lest the people in those countries ever forget the extreme national tragedies experienced during World War I when Anzac (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) forces landed on the Turkish coast in 1915 at a place called Gallipoli. According to the Australian War Memorial, more than 8000 soldiers and more than 600 officers lost their lives; 17,000 were wounded. For New Zealand it was 7,991 casualties, with 2,779 dead. The combined total on both sides for the attempted siege was more than 130,000 dead. After more than eight months of trying to take the strategic piece of land, the British-led forces--which included French, Australian, New Zealand, Indian and Canadian troops, as well--withdrew.

What most people know about Gallipoli is the terrible Australian loss on April 25, 1915,when half of the 500 unmounted members of the Australian Light Horse cavalry who charged ashore were mown down and killed. Revisionist history has blamed British decision-makers for sending the Australians to a near-certain death. The moving 1981 film "Gallipoli", starring Mel Gibson, reinforced that opinion. 

While the Australian Light Horse and New Zealand Mounted Rifles cavalries fought on foot at Gallipoli, their horses waited in Egypt. A large corps of international farriers waited with them, to care for them, keep them shod, and help them adapt to life in the desert. 

They kept themselves busy, and hung on the news drifting back to Egypt about what was happening to the horseless Australian and New Zealand forces at Gallipoli.

The Anzac trophy hind hoof is shod with an aluminum raceplate. All the adornment on this hoof is aluminum.

There is an entire genre of artform legacy from World War I known as "trench art". Much like the famed "sailors' valentines" and scrimshaw crafted by seamen stuck on ships for weeks at a time, trench art was the creative output of men holed up in trenches on the western front. With time on their hands, they made what they could from what they had.

Farriers were the Old Masters of trench art. They were in a class of their own, since they weren't in the trenches but confined in stable blocks and remount depots. They had tools at their disposal. And they had time on their hands.

Probably the ultimate piece of farrier-made trench art is a horseshoe made by a farrier who painstakingly pounded down (and pounded down and pounded down) a piece of shrapnel from the shell that killed a horse while he was shoeing it, and made a shoe from it. 

The top has been fitted with an embossed and engraved aluminum plate, which features the raised word 'ANZACS' (on left in this photo) and rough silhouettes of Australia and New Zealand. The words 'Dear Mother from her loving Son Dick' are engraved in cursive script within the Australian continent.
The Australian and New Zealand farriers in Egypt weren't in direct combat, but they were the targets of marauding German war places. Uncertain conditions around and above them kept the horse staff more or less confined to their remount depots, with time on their hands. They made things, and they sent things home.

One of these men made horse hoof trophies with a utilitarian inkwell purpose, which he did not sign. Several similar unsigned hooves like the one shown have been located, so it is likely that the artist, or perhaps a pair of them, made them and personalized them for other men to send home. This one was sent by Trooper Richard England ('Dick') Davis, of the 2nd Remount Unit, AIF, to his mother in Sydney, Australia.

The actual craftsman may never be known, unless a family member happens to see this article, and there is no name noted for the equally-anonymous horse whose hind hoof was used. These types of memorials were common in the 1800s and early 1900s, but this one is special because it is not ornate silver, as was customary for those crafted by silversmiths and famed taxidermists like Rowland Ward of London who preserved the hooves of officers' favorite mounts and rich men's prized hunters. Two of the hooves from Napoleon's war horse Marengo were preserved in this way, encrusted with ornate silver. One encloses a snuffbox.

Those trophies often were more silver than hoof, by the time the taxidermists and silversmiths were done. The trench art from the remount depots in Egypt have a duller shine: the luster of aluminum.

On those silver trophies, the horseshoes often look more like jewelry than actual shoes, and the nails are often equally spaced around the shoe's perimeter, rather than following a sensible nailing pattern that a farrier would use. It is possible that this Anzac trophy was made by two artists--one who crafted the hinged pen holder and stamped out the text, and another who made the quite realistic shoe and nailed it on.
Arms crossed, farrier George Edwins Roger (identified as a farrier by his arm insignia) posed with his regiment from the 4th Light Horse Brigade as they were about to depart on the troopship Nestor for the Middle East on October 2, 1916. He was from Bairnsdale, Victoria and 35 years old when he enlisted in World War I. In the photo all the men have their ammo belts across their chests, but a few are also carrying daisies. Notice that George posed aboard a ship with his spurs on. (George was cropped from a larger Australian National Maritime Museum photo)

It is a little ironic that the choice of materials meant that a shoe had to be crafted from aluminum, which is brittle when hot and was notoriously difficult to forge back then. Both Germany and Russia had conducted research on the practicality of making horseshoes from aluminum in the early 1900s, but both abandoned the idea, in spite of the lightness of the material compared to heavier steel, because the shoes broke beneath the horses' weight. It wouldn't be until the 1930s that aluminum raceplates made it to the racetrack.

The War Memorial catalog tells us that Dick Davis was a 22-year-old drover when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in November 1915. Because of his knowledge of horses, he was selected for the Australian Remount Unit, which was then being raised to care for the horses of the Australian light horse regiments.

Light Horse Boy is the story of a young farrier who enlists (with his own horse) in the Australian Light Horse cavalry. It tells the story of the Anzacs and the care of their horses throughout the Middle East campaign and the adventures that only a farrier could have.  At least partly based on actual history of at least one horse, this 2014 hardcover book has won many awards and is written as "junior fiction". Light Horse Boy is sold in the USA via

The Remount units were tasked with the breaking-in and care of new horses awaiting allocation to fighting units in the Middle East. Davis spent the entire war with horses in the Middle East and returned to Australia in August 1919.

It's important to make a comparison between the ornate souvenir hoof and this donkey hoof brought home from Gallipoli by Trooper T V Roberts of the Auckland Mounted Rifles, New Zealand Expeditionary Force; he claimed this hoof as his trophy after surviving the battles.
A hoof from Gallipoli is preserved at the Australian War Memorial, which describes it as: "Small donkey's front hoof shod with a solid iron plate, typical of horse and donkey shoes used in the Middle East. The shoe is attached with two pairs of nails on either side of the toe. Three of the nails are the same, with large rectangular heads measuring 14 mm x 10 mm; the fourth nail head is much smaller, measuring 7 mm x 7 mm. The toe clip has broken off. The sole plate is slightly wider than the back of the hoof and extends 12 mm beyond the back of the heel. The proper right side of the heel shows signs of damage in the animal when it was alive, possibly explaining why this donkey was shod in the first place, in an effort to protect the hoof and keep the animal in work. A number of horizontal ridges and bands that can be seen running across the hoof, are characteristic of the damage caused by laminitis."

Very few horses went ashore at Gallipoli, although ships full of them steamed there. The commanders could discern that the terrain wasn't suited for combat with horses. The Australian Walers and New Zealand Thoroughbreds were shipped on to Egypt to wait for the cavalrymen. 

Donkeys were the preferred pack animals at Gallipoli, and mules were brought ashore to pull two-wheeled carts. Sufficient water for thirsty horses just wasn't available; donkeys and mules could get by on less, and go sure-footedly where horses might refuse to go. 

But many of the cavalrymen had brought their own horses with them when they enlisted. How must they have felt when they watched the transport ships full of horses steam away and leave them behind? Their spurs were useless. Many of these horses would never see their owners again.
Australian farriers shoeing horses in the desert of Egypt during World War I. The pyramids are faintly visible in the background. Note that the horses, which are both wearing muzzles and fly fringes, appear to be tethered to a picket line.

An interesting footnote about Dick Davis, who honored his mother: He and his comrades sailed from Sydney on 10 November 1915. One of his officers was on board that day: the famed poet and journalist, Lieutenant A B 'Banjo' Paterson, who penned the epic "The Man from Snowy River" poem and the song "Waltzing Matilda". Patterson was a journalist, not a military man, and, at 50, he was old for military service. But his skills with horses and willingness to serve soon earned him promotion to major and commander of the Australian Remount Squadron.

The news from Gallipoli was grave: Davis and Patterson both must have realized that they had been spared direct combat because of their horse skills, even though many highly skilled riders fell in Gallipoli.

One change that was evident during World War I is that the farriers no longer were responsible for killing downed horses with the spikes on their farrier axes, before chopping off feet for inventory of lost horses.

Euthanasia shifted to be the responsibility of the veterinary corps.

The veterinarians were issued a "knocking gun", as shown above. According to the website of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, "This weapon used a .22 charge to fire a steel pin into the skull to dispatch a badly injured or wounded horse."

Speaking of Banjo Patterson and "Waltzing Matilda", a song written about the Anzacs at Gallipoli is one of the greatest anti-war songs of all time. "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" is a song about the tragic loss of life at Gallipoli, written in 1971 by Eric Bogle, who also wrote "As If He Knows" about Australian and New Zealand war horses left behind in the Middle East at the end of the war.

You're at the end of the story, but it's a story that will never end in the cultural memories of two nations, Australia and New Zealand. The scars are still visible, and have been instrumental in the development of each country's national character and identity for the last 100 years. Through the photos and collected artifacts of institutions like Australian War Memorial, these people, these horses and this artwork lives on.

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