Friday, September 12, 2014

Hooves@War: On this day in 1914, Farrier Charles Burchell of South Australia enlisted

Today, the Hoof Blog's Hooves@War series moves back to Australia, where a  small note about a farrier's enlistment for World War I led me to research more about him and his horseman father. Meet the Burchells of South Australia.
Corporal Charles Burkin Burchell was Shoeing Smith in the 3rd Brigade, Ammunition Column, Field Artillery, Military District 4 of the First Australian Imperial Force (AIF). He enlisted 100 years ago today, on September 12, 1914 at Adelaide, South Australia. Six weeks later, the AIF shipped out for Egypt; Charles was in the first group of Australians to head to the center of the conflict.

The film Gallipoli came out in 1981 and was a big hit in the USA, even though most Americans had never heard of the battle or how the Australians and British suffered in the Middle Eastern part of World War I. If it wasn't for this film and Lawrence of Arabia, we might still know nothing. Farrier Charles Burchell's journey from Gallipoli in Turkey took him to the front in Belgium and France.

An interesting fact about Charles was that he wasn't a young man when the war broke out. He was 37, and he left behind five children under the age of 12. He did business as a "Veterinary Farrier" in Norwood, South Australia, and his farrier father, also named Charles, took over for him.
Farrier Corporal Charles Burchell, the Younger
Of course, the Australian Light Horse would be famous for their campaigns on horseback through Palestine (what is today Israel), but Charles was assigned to shoe the much heavier artillery horses. He saw action in Egypt and the ill-fated battle of Gallipoli in Turkey, made so famous in the Australian film by the same name.
That was one of the bloodiest battles of the war for the Australians but it wasn't over there for Charles. He went on serve at the front in France and Belgium. 
In the spring of 1917, Charles Senior died and Charles was called home from the war. There was no one to run the business and no one to support his wife and children. He came home with three medals pinned on his uniform, although I couldn't find a record of what he'd done to earn them. The mysterious farrier was given a hardship discharge from the military.
While researching this story, I found an obituary of Charles Senior, which was quite interesting. More is known about him than his son. He was from Sussex, England and had made his way to Australia by accompanying a famous racehorse named Fisherman that had been purchased by a man in Melbourne named, appropriately enough, Mr. Fisher. 
The obituary noted what an outstanding cross-country rider Charles was."He rode many a fine horse at a stiff fence," it read.

Burchell must have been quite a horseman to have had the responsibility of escorting a valuable horse like Fisherman, who was a two-time winner of the Royal Ascot Gold Cup, and a total of 70 other races in England. He became a leading sire in Australia, though he only survived for five years after his long voyage.

The great English racehorse Fisherman was sent to Australia to stand at stud in 1857. He endured a long sail with his trusted groom, the horseman Charles Burchell. (Art from the London Illustrated News)
Charles decided to stay in Australia and became a farrier's apprentice to Mr. Crain, whose forge was at the back of the Imperial Hotel at Henley Beach near Adelaide. Cavalry and racehorses trained in the sand there. 

He went on to launch a thriving partnership called Burchell and Drew, which he ran until he retired, possibly trained his son along the way, and must have come out of retirement to cover for his son when Charles (the younger) enlisted.
But why would a 37 year old farrier with five young children enlist as soon as a war broke out? That will always be the mystery of Charles Burchell, the Younger. Perhaps, like so many Australians, he wanted to see the world. Maybe the military had conscripted all the horses in the area and he felt his business would no longer support him if he stayed, so he thought that the military was the safest way forward for the family. Did the army make him an offer he couldn't refuse because they wanted his expertise? Perhaps his father encouraged him to go and fight for the King. 

We'll never know, unless someone reads this article who has some knowledge and shares it. That's part of the idea of this series, along with an effort to give credit to the people who went to war 100 years ago.

Hoofcare Publishing's Hooves@War tells the stories of people who served their nations and horses during World War I. Many stories are only partly told because very few facts are known, but enough are available to make you marvel at the times, the decisions, the vast distances and the gravity of the war. Farriers and veterinarians played critical roles at the front and behind the scenes. They deserve remembrance.

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