A fellow historian has on the two occasions I’ve heard him speak about WW1 in public has mentioned South Africa being the only country to raise a monument to the horses it lost in WW1 rather than recognise its black population who sacrificed their lives in the same war. This struck a chord, as it seemed a bit obscure particularly given that the monument is in Port Elizabeth and that the South African parliament stood for a minute’s silence when news of the sinking Mendi reached Prime Minister Louis Botha.
This got me wondering about the memorial in Port Elizabeth and thanks to the local knowledge of Warwick Hojem, here is the story of the Horse Memorial in Port Elizabeth.
The Horse Monument in PE is actually to commemorate the horse that died in the ABW … some trivia around this is that NZ sent 8,000 horse to SA during the ABW and only one returned. Another bit of trivia is that over 30,000 were buried at Weston (between Treverton and Mooi River) … it was a field hospital during the Natal campaign and a staging post for the British forces heading north and horses were prepared for battle there (and many died from the new diseases they encountered due to coming in from the UK, Australia, NZ, etc.
The claim that SA erected a horse statue at the end of WW1 suggests that horses were of great importance to the Boer or Afrikaner. Horses were important as noted by Sandra Swart. The memorial, however, was commissioned by the British.
Horses were important for others too.
Norman Woodcock noted
The average lifespan of a horse at Gallipoli was one day. When I left England in early 1915, my mounted unit had 76 horses, and after three months of fighting we had nine left.
The others were all killed. These horses were our best friends, and it was heartbreaking.
The comment by my colleague has opened at least another area to investigate – not just horses, but the role of animals in general. How many mascots travelled to theatres in Africa and Europe? I’m sure I’ll be writing about some in due course…