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A Tribute to the Light Horsemen of Australia - The Desert Mounted Corps Memorial

By Edited Apr 30, 2014 0 0

The Desert Mounted Corps Memorial, Albany, Western Australia

A Tribute to Australia's Light Horsemen

At the top of Mt Clarence, Albany, Western Australia, stands a memorial to the Desert Mounted Corps.The Light Horsemen of the Desert Mounted Corps mostly took their own horses with them. Many were of mixed breeding with some draught blood and often at least some Thoroughbred blood. They became known as 'Walers'.

For many Australians who fought in the First World War, Mt Clarence would have been their last view of Australia as they sailed in their thousands to the Middle East and other parts.

The Desert Mounted Corps bronze is a 9 metre high free-standing cast statue shows an Australian mounted soldier defending a New Zealand soldier who stands beside his wounded horse. The Australian's horse is rearing, the wounded horse is down on its haunches. The whole is set on a granite base. It is a powerful monument with life-like expressions on both the men and the horses. It is a replica of the original memorial which was erected at Port Said in Egypt.

The Desert Mounted Corps Memorial

The memorial commemorates those who lost their lives in Egypt, Palestine and Syria between 1916 and 1918, specifically the men of the Australian Light Horse Brigade, the Imperial Camel Corps, the Australian Flying Corps and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles.

The Desert Mounted Corps was a World War I allied army corps. It was first formed in March 1916 and referred to as the Anzac Mounted Division as it consisted of Australian and New Zealand troops who had served at Gallipoli. When expanded to a full corps in 1917, it contained Australian, New Zealand, British, Indian and French cavalry, mounted rifle and light horse brigades. The Imperial Camel Corps Brigade was also part of the corps.

Light Horsemen

Three sculptors had a hand in casting the statue. C Webb Gilbert won the design competition in 1923. He died before he was able to finish the monument. Some sources say the immensity of the task and Gilbert's inexperience broke his heart and his spirit. Paul Montford, a leading British sculptor, then worked on the sculpture for some time before it was passed on to another Australian, Sir Bertram Mackennal. Mackennal had a team of British assistants to help him but died before it was unveiled.

In 1932, the then Prime Minister Mr W M Hughes unveiled the monument on behalf of the governments of Australia and New Zealand. The opening of the memorial was broadcast by radio telephone to Egypt, a distance of 15,000 miles. This was the first direct broadcast between the two countries.

In 1956, during the Suez conflict, Egyptians attacked the monument, smashing it beyond repair. The figure of the Australian disappeared, the legs and tail of the New Zealand horse were torn off, the legs, tail and half the head of the Australian horse smashed and the head, arms and legs of the New Zealander sawn off. When law and order were restored the damaged memorial and the granite plinth were shipped back to Australia. Bullet marks from the uprising can be seen in the stonework.

Raymond Ewers, a Melbourne sculptor, and Cliff Reynolds, his assistant, produced a full-size model which was shipped in sections to Italy. P Bataglia of Milan did the final bronze casting. It was erected in Albany, not without some opposition, which was where the first Anzac convoy had gathered before departure and unveiled on 11 October 1964 by the Prime Minister of Australia, Sir Robert Menzies.

In 1968, another replica was unveiled in Anzac Parade, Canberra by the Prime Minister, John Gorton.

In 1977, the memorial was showing signs of corrosion. It was chemically cleaned and damage to the bronze repaired.

The imposing statue is difficult to photograph. It stands above the surrounding countryside as a permanent reminder of those who lost their lives for the freedom of their countrymen.

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