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NZ's First World War horses

Page 8 – The end of the war

Very few of the 10,000 horses the government acquired between 1914 and 1916 died in New Zealand or whilst being transported. Many died overseas from disease or injury. Of those that survived, only four returned home. An acute shortage of transport, and quarantine restrictions related to animal diseases prevalent overseas, prevented most from returning. Instead they were killed, sold or kept for use by the British army.

After the end of the war the horses sent from New Zealand to German Samoa remained with the garrison force until it departed in late 1919/early 1920. This force was replaced by a smaller constabulary force from New Zealand which included some mounted police. The 90-odd remaining horses were handed over to this incoming force. But they were in poor shape and proved to be of limited use, so many were sold locally. By time the force was disbanded in late 1920 and responsibility for the horses fell to the Samoan administration, few remained in service.

Return to Gallipoli

In late 1918, the Canterbury Mounted Rifles returned temporarily to the Gallipoli Peninsula, taking with them around 80 animals for riding and transport purposes

At the end of the war, the horses serving with the New Zealanders in the Middle East were pooled with other British army horses in the Imperial Remount Depot, which initially kept the fittest. Others fit for work were sold locally, while those deemed unfit were killed. Some men concerned that the locals would neglect or mistreat their horses had them deemed unfit. Those initially kept by the Depot also eventually faced the same fate.

The number of horses retained by the Depot greatly exceeded the requirements of the remaining army of occupation in Egypt. And the British government faced the same circumstances that prevented the New Zealand government from sending horses home – an acute shortage of transport and quarantine restrictions. Many of the horses initially retained were subsequently killed or sold locally. Only one New Zealand horse (Bess) serving in the Middle East made it back to New Zealand – it helped that in October 1918 she was sent to France.

The situation was slightly more promising for the New Zealand Division’s horses in France. They were similarly pooled with other British army horses and then killed, sold or retained. But the odds were far better: around 100,000 of the British army’s nearly 400,000 horses in France were eventually repatriated to England. Among them were four horses originally from New Zealand – including Bess - which were subsequently transported home in 1920.

All four of the New Zealand horses that made it home belonged to officers: Beauty to the late Captain Richard Riddiford, Bess to Captain Charles Powles, Dolly to General Sir Andrew Russell, and Nigger to the late Lieutenant-Colonel George King. Early in the demobilisation process Russell expressed a desire to return home ‘a few’ New Zealand Division horses which had originally come from New Zealand, ‘owing to association over a long period of warfare’. The list subsequently provided included Beauty, Bess and Dolly, which had left the country with the Main Body of the NZEF in 1914, and King’s horse, which had left in 1915 or 1916. The four horses were repatriated from France to England in March 1919 and subjected to 12 months’ quarantine. They arrived back in New Zealand in July 1920.

How to cite this page

The end of the war, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated