Ships and Horses

Well before the Second World War, the Merchant Navy played an equally important role in supporting Australia's armed forces. The Sudan War, Boer War, and World War 1 were three conflicts where the Merchant Navy played a vital role.
To suit the foreign and hostile terrain, cavalry troops required more reliable and efficient horses than the standard English cavalry horses which were easily distressed and tired quickly. The solution, Stronger Australian cross bred horses known as 'Walers"(Brumbies etc.) were transported from Australia by the Merchant Navy ships for all three conflicts.
Correction Classification (a) The Waler. Australian Stock Horse ,used by Australian Light Horse in WW1 and used as Cavalry Mounts Worldwide.
(b) The Brumby. Mob of Feral horses introduced to NSW in 1788.Now found throughout Australia
Learn more about:Transporting Horses, follow the buttons, Sudan War, Boer War, WW1, WW2.

The British India Steam Navigation Company (B.I.S.N.) and their association with Australia, also the merger of most Australian shipping companies over the years is a well documented fact.
During the Sudan War they acquired the excellent fleet of five vessels built up by Captain Archibald Currie.who specialised in the carriage of Australian horses-- the famous Walers, mainly for the use of the Indian Army (British Cavalry Units) transporting back to Australia camels from Karachi and produce to South Australia.
The loading and unloading of a cargo of spirited horses was apt to create pandemonium, just as the high spirits of the dealers who accompanied their animals, made any voyage in a BI ship from Australia to India a very lively affair indeed.
Watering the horses at sea presented a problem that had to be solved by careful trial and error. It was discovered that if the grooms started at one end of the stalls, all hell in the shape of flashing hooves and tossing heads was let loose at the other. Thus it was found necessary to see that the buckets were evenly distributed over the decks before watering started.
It is on record that horses in transit relished an occasional ration of draught beer.
After the war Light Horse Units played a key role in compulsory military training
In 1939, Australia was involved in WW2 The2nd AIF had Light Horse regiments attached
During World War 2 there was extensive cavalry action on the Russian Front. The Russian cavalry 200,000 strong made lightening raids on highly German mechanised armies, the Germans employed mounted troops until the end of the war.
The last of the British Cavalry units fought in Syria. Australia's 6th Cavalry Regiment "The Kelly Gang" (Named after Ned Kelly Bushranger) did valuable scouting work.
In New Guinea, a mounted Light Horse Troop did patrol duty, Horses and mules were used on the Kokoda Trail.
Fully equipt "Whalers' were transported into Borneo for reconnaissance in rugged mountain country.
"Curtins Cowboys" (Named after Prime Minister John Curtin were used extensively in the North across Australia even as far south as Kempsey NSW in the Dividing Ranges in the event of a Japanese landing.
The "Nackeroos" (Named after Nackery slaughter of horses for pet food) were an interesting group over 500 men based in Katherine Northern Territory.
Their job was to patrol the top end of Australia from the Kimberleys in the West to the Gulf in the East. About 2,000 Horses and Donkeys were provided .
The Nackeroos or Curtin's Cowboys as they were also known also established secret stores dumps; if Australia had been invaded they were to stay behind enemy lines to provide intelligence and harrass enemy positions.
Many Nackeroos were recruited from Manbuloo Station, to the immediste south west of Katherine, although Army controlled they were mainly hardened bushmen, many with Aboriginal Blood very little is recorded of these units during WW2..
Large areas of land were excised from the Station for the airfields. US and RAAF Stations.
The Army Meat works Killed and processed over 150 cattle daily for Army consumption, plus iceworks poultry and vegetable Gardens
Australia's association with Merchant Navy and Horse Transport has an illustrious history during wartime. .
Vets at War provides an account of the Australian Army Veterinary Corps whose Officers played a key role in the selection and care of horses since Federation.
The successes of Australian Troops were largely due to their ability to operate in harsh environments on horseback
The Boer War 1899/1902 consumed thousands of British cavalry horses, they died became ill from lack of proper care and fodder, equine diseasea etc. the British Government held a Royal Commission into the problem.
Australian colonial and Commonwealth units distinguished themselves (as did the horses shipped from Australia) because they, like the Boers, were accustomed to relying on horses in tough conditions.
World War 1 saw a fully established Veterinary Corps apply skilled techniques to the inspection and treatment of remounts. The number of animals used in the desert campaigns (including Mesopotamia) by 1918 totalled over 447,000 horses, mules and donkeys and 266,000 camels.
General Allenby's campaign across the Sinai, Palestine,Jordan and Syria involved 96,000 troops, 46,000 horses, 40,000 camels and 15,000 mules. These figures give some idea of the huge job faced by the small number of Veterinarians and their staff in treating huge numbers of animals. There was a huge logistic tail behind the mounted troops as they fought there way to Damascus.
The War on the Western Front also made heavy demands on the 1.36 million horses which served, and where thousands were killed, injured, or treated for illness.
The importance of horse transport made the horselines targets for each side to bomb.
Vets at War attempts to record the history of this small but significant, and now largely forgotten, specialist logistic Army Corps and the very specialised transportation of horses by sea aboard Merchant Ships, this required constant qualified Veterinarians attention.. It is after all difficult to have too much material with which to fight.


To compile this Narrative we have quoted certain information from “Horses In The Hunter”, by Dr Judy White AM PhD of “Belltrees Scone”, “A Century Of Journalism SMH”, Australian Chivalry”, Official War Paintings 1933.
Dr.R.M. Wylie. BVSc MRCVS. "Arrowfield Scone"
Our thanks, to both for proof reading and corrections. "Ships and Horses"  involvement.
Prior to the mechanisation of the Australian Military Forces (AIF) in the Second World War.
Merchant Ships. All livestock transportation from A to B was conveyed by sea, men, horses, forage, accoutrement, arms, supplies, reinforcements, and all logistics to wage that war.
Motorised warfare commenced with WW2, although Horses were still used when the terrain was inaccessible by mechanised units, Middle East, SW Pacific, France, Kokoda Trail, Borneo.