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History Channel - Warhorse

PostPosted: Sat Oct 25, 2008 6:00 pm
by Steve_Butler
I have posted the following item on our updates page and I felt that members may wish to comment - these are my own views regarding this particular Production House that supplies material for the History Channel - but I feel that a number of their programs have been well off the mark. I am continually annoyed that these English writers often refer to military sucesses as "British" victories when no English forces are involved - but term "Australian, New Zealand or Indian" as those nations defeats when poorly planned or led by "British"/English Generals. - I find that often NZ involvement is ignored or stated as a "British" sucess. (A case in point is this same program below which follows the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba - on explaining the victory the program goes on to say that after Beersheba, "British" forces continued on with the formula to win victory in the East - However we all know that the attacks at Ayun Kara, Abu Tellus, Jericho etc where Anzac events in the main.
Below the item posted:

This recent program broadcast on New Zealand and Australian Television through the HISTORY Channel was an opportunity to watch and enjoy a subject close to a Mounted Riflemen's heart -"The Warhorse".
(see excerpt at :

I have to say I was bitterly disappointed with the quality of the script writing by the so called history experts that are listed on the credits of this English made program - where they obtained their information was not from any history books I have ever read.
What was purported as historical fact, by a rather glib and supercilious English narrator, as he waffled through a segment on the Sinai Campaign of WWI, was, quite frankly, a disgrace and untrue:

"... the Australians and New Zealanders were 'Light Horse', Infantry on horse back, ... they were not really experienced horsemen, many of these soldiers were city boys - who had barely ridden at all before joining up."

This is not the first time this English "History" TV Production House has lost its way while describing events of their nations World War One allies from the South Pacific.
In a number of programs relating to Gallipoli and other events in the Middle East, their references of New Zealand soldiers, being -untrained, city type colonial underlings is poor research - and I suspect, an effort to bend history more than a fraction to compensate for the poor training, poor physicality and poor leadership shown by their own people as they blundered from one inadequately planned operation to another.

Perhaps these pseudo history types should read and understand that most members of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles were only welcomed into their regiments if, and when, they arrived in camp astride their own horses - far from being city boys - we were a nation of one million people in a land area greater than the United Kingdom. While roads were being cut out of our mountainous and dense bush country-side, roads for wagons were few. Movement between towns and farms was on horseback. We were a nation of horsemen, and many of the NZMR were "Rough Riders", mounted veterans of the Boer War - and far from being troops that had "barely ridden" they had covered thousands of miles in arid hostile country in short time periods that confused and mystified European soldiers who were taught only to ride in a "straight-backed" parade ground style for pomp and ceremony - a style completely useless in the field.

Re: History Channel - Warhorse

PostPosted: Sat Oct 25, 2008 7:29 pm
by greg
Hi Steve,

Yes I saw this the other night and I agree with you 100%. Well said Steve.

Re: History Channel - Warhorse

PostPosted: Sat Oct 25, 2008 11:36 pm
by Bill Woerlee

Mate, I have to say that I agree with the thrust of your sentiments.

To put these things in a certain degree of perspective, you might be interested in reading this particular essay: "War is not a Christian Mission": Racial Invasion and Religious Crusade in H. S. Gullett’s Official History of the Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine by Christopher Lee. It deals specifically with these type of issues.

Here is the Abstract:

This essay argues that H. S. Gullett’s The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine, Volume VII of the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 repudiates the characteristic anxieties of reverse colonisation narratives by reaffirming Orientalist stereotypes and imagining the Australian Light Horse as a source for the rejuvenation of British stock and Imperial defence.

You can download the pdf file here: ... ew/461/881

While this is specifically written about the Australian experience, the concepts translate well to the New Zealand experience, although unlike New Zealand, Australians have felt that someone is going to invade at any time and so we must be prepared to repel the yellow peril and that forms one of the themes in this essay. It might take a bit of reading reflection before the logic of the essay kicks in. The reason is that the ideas are quite outside the experience of the average reader - specifically the Orientalist school of thought initiated by Edward Said. Perseverance has its own rewards.

The essay gave me a few leads to pre war thinking in Australia, especially the notions of the practical application of the ALH in repelling invaders prior to the Kitchener Report. It also gives the cultural setting for the myth of light horsemen shooting their horses.

As for the Light Horse in Oz prior during the inter war years, this was seen as essentially an elitist formation with the men being required to provide their own horse. The result was that usually farmers or their labourers, stockmen and similar occupations were over represented in the ranks. City slickers usually could not afford to maintain a horse, a luxury that would cost, in today's terms, about AUD 20,000 per year. Unless it was a work horse and then paid its way, not many folks could afford to purchase a horse for the purpose of looking good in the ALH. So we get a pre-war cultural setting which was rapidly accepted as part of the AIF Light Horseman legend, that is, the lads were the Australian yeomanry or bushmen. Newspapers made great play on this in 1914. Then and later on during the war, the reality never matched up with the myth.

A couple years ago, to ascertain the veracity of this often recited "fact" I undertook a survey of all the stated occupations of men who enlisted in the Australian Light Horse. The total number of men in this survey is 41,126, a statistically significant sample equalling about 98% of total Light Horse enlistments. Below are the results. Included is the results of one regiment, the 9th LHR, 2,772 men, who presented above the average results. I have then compared them to the overall group of men who are known to have served at one time in one of the many Light Horse formations - this is inclusive of the 9th Light Horse Regiment. In the study, I have only listed the rural occupations declared and then totalled them. The figures run in this format: Occupation (Rural occupation declared) - 9th Light Horse (Men from the 9th ALHR) - % (Percentage of the occupation in comparison to the total numbers of the 9th ALHR) - Light Horse (numbers in the entire AIF ALHR who declared this particular rural occupation) - % (Percentage of the occupation in comparison to the total numbers of the AIF ALHR) - Variation (Variation between the 9th ALHR and the AIF ALHR)

Occupation - 9th Light Horse - % - Light Horse - % - Variation
Boundary Rider - 16 - 0.58% - 177 - 0.43% - 0.15%
Bushman - 11 - 0.40% - 188 - 0.46% - -0.06%
Colt Breaker - 10 - 0.36% - 47 - 0.11% - 0.25%
Dairy Farming - 9 - 0.32% - 225 - 0.55% - -0.22%
Drover - 124 - 4.47% - 322 - 0.78% - 3.69%
Farm work - 507 - 18.29% - 5,898 - 14.34% - 3.95%
Grazier - 24 - 0.87% - 844 - 2.05% - -1.19%
Horse Breaker - 12 - 0.43% - 619 - 1.51% - -1.07%
Orchardist - 2 - 0.07% - 145 - 0.35% - -0.28%
Pastoralist - 5 - 0.18% - 24 - 0.06% - 0.12%
Shearer - 8 - 0.29% - 262 - 0.64% - -0.35%
Station Hand - 304 - 10.97% - 1,350 - 3.28% - 7.68%
Stockman - 36 - 1.30% - 1,009 - 2.45% - -1.15%
Total Rural - 1,068 - 38.53% - 11,110 - 27.01% - 11.51%
Enlistments - 2,772 - - 41,126 - 6.74% -

I hope this sort of puts things in some sort of context. It must be realised that these statistics are peculiar to Australia. I am not in the position to make a similar comparison for New Zealand. It may be totally different.



Re: History Channel - Warhorse

PostPosted: Sun Oct 26, 2008 4:08 am
by Steve_Butler
Thanks Greg, Thanks Bill,

Interesting reading Bill's blog today - and we see the English officer class' "slight of hand" over reports being sent back to the War Office relating to English troops involvement in the "Battle of Romani" - (or rather non involvement) - the item shows that this form of mis-information is not a new phenomenon in English written "British" history.

Here below is a paragraph taken from:
Gullett, HS, The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine, 1914–1918 (10th edition, 1941) Official Histories – First World War Volume VII - "Katia and Bir el Abd"

In view of this high appreciation of the value of the Australians and New Zealanders on the front, supported as it was by the many messages of unstinted praise sent to the Anzacs both during the preliminary reconnaissances and over the period of the actual fighting, Murray's subsequent official dispatch covering the Battle of Romani caused much surprise. If the story of the work both before and during the engagement is read only in Murray's own expressions of opinion in the contemporary official papers, it is beyond all question that the Anzac Mounted Division fought Romani almost alone. But in the Commander-in-Chief's narrative of the engagement, as sent to the War Office and subsequently published, the decisive work of the light horse and New Zealanders is slurred over, and the British infantry is credited with activities which were not displayed.

I wonder did this "History - as according to the English" come about because the greater English public at home were in desperate need of good news, or was it just arrogance and jingoism at its highest level?

read Bills great daily blog at:

Re: History Channel - Warhorse

PostPosted: Sun Oct 26, 2008 10:30 am
by Bill Woerlee

Mate, good catch.

My first post dealt with the notion that the Australians were trying to out-British the British. There were some in Australia who slavishly tried to tie the Australian achievements under the umbrella of British achievements. Below is an example of this from the unit history of the 1st ALHR, AIF, written by Colonel Vernon who was associated with this unit for decades. This is his post WW1 commentary penned in 1919.

Vernon, PV, editor, The Royal New South Wales Lancers 1885-1985, (Sydney 1986), pp. 113

At Romani, on August 4 1916, the British had routed the Turks and destroyed half their force. It was a decisive battle in the campaign' After the actions at Katia on August 5, and at Bir el Abd on August 9 to 12, the main enemy force was withdrawn across the 50 miles of practically waterless country to el Arish, but with a strong outpost left at Mazar, 24 miles east of Abd. The Romani operations had stressed the need for the railway line and pipeline which were gradually being constructed in the wake of the army, and the G.O.C. now made a determined effort to get these completed. (By December 21, the British were in el Arish.) ... ut-romani/

To Vernon, it was a British victory at Romani despite the irony of a whole chapter describing the actions of the Australians and New Zealanders without much interpolation of Imperial units. Vernon considered himself British first, then Australians. Even in 1916 they were still calling Australian soldiers "Tommies" in the newspapers. A quick look through the Auckland Weekly News indicates that this was a similar sentiment.

In contrast, LC Wilson, "the Brig", worked tirelessly throughout his life to distinguish the work of his 3rd LHB from that of the British formations, especially regarding the TE Lawrence mythology which offended him greatly.

Basically, this has now become an issue since the demise of the "British Empire" and the colonies affecting Britishness as their primary mind set. It is more reflective of regional nationalism.

Personally, I prefer to see the folks doing the work getting the credit. That is why I need to see all the accounts about a particular action to get a good idea as to the real picture rather than the official picture. Same with obtaining War Diaries.

In the end, it is up to us to present a balanced story, one that allows every participant to have their share of the sun in proportion to their contribution.