Australian Light Horse
What brought about the Australian Light Horse and does it still exist?
James Alexander (Kenneth) Mackay was born on the 5th June 1859 at Wallendbeen, a rural farming district some 20 km to the west of the townships of Murrumburrah-Harden NSW.
Kenneth was well educated for his day and was a magistrate, a poet and an author.
The year 1895 was an important year for the formation of Australia’s Light Horse for two reasons. Kenneth Mackay entered politics as the member for Boorowa in the NSW State Legislative Assembly from where he could promote that a light horse militia be formed and he also published a bestselling novel “The Yellow Wave” a Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia.
The novel expressed the concerns of the time, that Australia might be overrun by people of Asian origin or the “yellow hordes” as they were collectively known.
Mackay’s novel set out his blueprint for a mounted Australian militia including a uniform, slouch hat and a motto: “For Hearths and Homes”. The mounted militia were to be one of Australia’s means of defence against Kenneth’s, “yellow wave” and ultimately, became the Australian Light Horse.
Kenneth had an excellent understanding of rural horsemanship. Coupled with his political influence in 1897 he sought to raise a regiment of cavalry in the rural areas of Australia. The first troop would be raised in his own electorate of Boorowa that included the twin towns of Harden – Murrumburrah and would be known as the “1st Australian Horse”
The Australian Light Horsemen were mounted troops with the characteristics of both cavalry and mounted infantry. Horses were used for rapid mobility and the men then fought as infantry. The Light Horse served in the Second Boer War and World War I.
The horses, known as Walers, were very hardy and had great endurance, even when under extreme stress from lack of food and water. The Waler was the Australian stockman’s horse of preference and they were prized as military remounts.
The preferred Walers were 15 to 16 hands high and had to be able to carry sixteen or seventeen stone (102 to 108 kg), day after day. The Walers carried the rider, saddle, saddle cloth, bridle, head collar, lead rope, a horseshoe case with one front and one hind shoe, nails, rations for the horse and rider, a bedroll, change of clothing, a rifle and about 90 rounds of .303 rifle ammunition.
The Waler was the backbone of the Australian Light Horse’s mounted forces and were especially suited to working in the harsh climate of the Sinai Peninsula and Palestine, where they proved superior to camels as a means of transporting large bodies of troops.
The New South Wales Lancers website, www.lancers.org.au, contains a history of the Light Horse in WW1 and the Australian Light Horse Studies Centre website, http://alh-research.tripod.com, provides further information.
The Australian Light Horse is best known for its exploits on Gallipoli and in the campaigns in Egypt and Palestine against the Turkish Army during WW1.
Field Marshall Lord Allenby succinctly described the Light Horsemen or troopers when he wrote of them “The Australian Light Horseman combines with a splendid physique a restless activity of mind… on every variety of ground – mountain, plain, desert, swamp or jungle – the Australian Light Horseman has proved himself equal to the best. He has earned the gratitude of the Empire and the admiration of the world”
Only a small number of Light Horse units saw operational service during WW2 due to gradual mechanisation.
The Light Horse no longer exist, however there are a number of Australian Army units that can trace their origins back to the Light Horse. These include:
The 1st/15th Royal New South Wales Lancers, Australia’s oldest surviving regiment- Australian Army Reserve (AAR)
The 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment (Queensland Mounted Infantry)
The 4th /19th Prince of Wales Light Horse Regiment- AAR.
The 12th/16th Hunter River Lancers-AAR.
3rd/9th Light Horse (South Australian Mounted Rifles) (3/9 SAMR) – AAR.
The 10th Light Horse Regiment- AAR.
Australia has a number of Light Horse groups that re-enact the Light Horse. Harden Murrumburrah boasts a very active group that dates back to Kenneth Mackay’s original Light Horse.