light horseman
hearing that whinny
in his dreams

Hazel Hall

blue-sky

Some twenty thousand Light Horsemen were deployed during WWI, many enlisting with their own horses bought by the Australian government to become military property. As the war drew to a close many soldiers looked forward to returning home with their horses to once again enjoy the good life, but that was not to be.

How terribly moving. On inviting the poet to share some thoughts and feelings around this haiku she simply replied, “Those horses never returned home.” In the context of our exchange this spoke volumes. The soldiers of the Light Horse Brigade very often grew deeply attached to these horses, more so than usual as they became companions in hardship and danger. Large numbers of horses suffered injuries, succumbed to disease and many died both on and off the battle field. It was nothing short of heartbreaking for these men to learn of the decision of the Australian government that no provision would be made to bring these animals home. Some were sold to locals to be used as pack animals and to pull ploughs, some were set loose with nowhere to go, some were slaughtered for food and their hides and many where shot by the soldiers that had grown to love them.

There is some romance in the first line – light horseman – there is none in the following lines. In a few words the poets takes us to that terrible moment just before this horse falters and falls – hearing that whinny – and crucially here, not just a whinny, but that whinny, haunting the dreams of this soldier for years to come. The use of the singular in this haiku is most effective and highlights the poignancy of this scene. Some things are not forgotten.

This haiku is better appreciated in the light of some historical research, interesting reading in itself, and to that end I have include a number of links below that help paint the larger picture.

It is nonsense to speak of these horses as ‘serving their country’ or of being ‘courageous and gallant in battle’, as one hears now and then, they simply did what they were made to do and were often terrified in the process – another sad chapter in the human use of animals for their own ends without regard for the animal’s wellbeing. This poem is particularly well-crafted and its subject is deeply disturbing as indeed it should be given the historical reality it invites us to reflect upon.

First published: Windfall 6,  2018

Selection and comments by Simon Hanson

Some further reading:

http://www.lighthorse.org.au/resources/history-of-the-australian-light-horse/the-mounted-soldiers-of-australia

http://www.smh.com.au/national/the-last-huzzah-for-the-walers-of-the-light-horse-brigade-20171019-gz42p0.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_Light_Horse

https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/blog/the-charge-of-the-4th-light-horse-brigade-at-beersheba

http://beersheba100.com.au/anzacs/light-horse-men.html