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Cobb & Co travel to bring the warhorse and soldier together again

Animals have always been a pivotal part of war. From dogs to carrier pigeons, servicemen and women have relied on the loyalty and smarts of animals to save lives and provide much needed companionship.

During the First World War, animals featured heavily, including more than 100,000 Australian horses.

The army horse became synonymous with trust, sacrifice and mateship. A trooper and his horse travelled as one, cantering through treacherous conditions and always on alert.

So important was the relationship between a horse and his soldier that in 2015, an exhibition at the Cobb & Co Museum in Toowoomba was curated and launched, titled Horse in War. Showing from 18 March to 6 December 2015, the exhibition provided a fascinating insight into wartime action, and the relationship between animals and humans.

Through photographs, diaries and original artefacts, Horse in War told stories of the thousands of skilled horsemen from Queensland and across Australia who worked, and risked death, alongside the horses of the Australian Army during the First World War.

Among the stories are those of the hard working harness horses that moved wagons of food, munitions and equipment, and the horsedrawn ambulances that transported the sick and wounded.

The exhibition also featured a number of prominent Queensland soldiers including the well-known General Sir Harry Chauvel and Brigadier William Grant, through to ordinary Queensland troopers. Among them was amateur photographer, Esmond Lecchi, who served throughout the big Light Horse offensives of 1917–1918.

During Lecchi's time in Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, he photographed the day-to-day events of life with the Light Horse, providing a rare insight into young Australian soldiers and the bond with their horses.

Also featured in the exhibition were elements of Australian war history from the Middle East and the Western Front, including the show centrepiece—an original and rare Army General Service (GS) wagon that had been sensitively preserved by Cobb & Co Museum staff and volunteers. The GS wagon is one of only a handful remaining from the many thousands that were used in the First World War.

Queensland Museum Network Director of Operations Deborah Bailey described the exhibition as encompassing the bravery, mateship and humour of the Queensland soldier and his horse in a portrait tinged with both colour and sadness.

"It was a collaborative effort that brought together families with a First World War Light Horse connection and local veteran groups," Ms Bailey said.

"For the first time, many of these families had an opportunity to meet and share their stories."

The relationship between humans and horses remains as strong as ever, and while the advent of technology has meant that horses are no longer as critical in the battlefield, they are still involved in our armed forces and their legacy lives on.

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Licence
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia (CC BY-ND 3.0)
Last updated
31 May, 2016

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