Review Blog

Jun 01 2012

The horses didn't come home by Pamela Rushby

cover image

Angus and Robertson, 2012. ISBN 9780 7323 9354 3.
(Ages: 12+) Highly recommended. WW1. The Battle at Beersheba, dubbed the last great cavalry charge in history, occurred on October 31 1917, when the Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade charged over 6 kilometres to take the Turkish held town. The horses had already been ridden for 2 days to get there and needed rest and water. What happened to them afterwards is the climax of Pamela Rushby's absorbing book.
She presents the story of Laura and Harry in alternate chapters, giving the reader a different point of view of the war, one from the home front, with Laura at school in Brisbane, knitting socks for soldiers, and sending letters to her brother, and the other from her brother Harry, part of the Light Horse Brigade, training in Egypt before being sent to fight in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in the Middle East. Harry's letters include those from Bunty, Laura's horse, written by Harry for his sister.
When Harry joined the regiment, part of the reason behind his enlistment was to be able to take his own horse, but on the departure day, his horse fell lame, and so Laura bravely gave him her beloved horse, Bunty, a waler, a tough Australian breed of horse.
So, incredibly the reader has three points of view, and Rushby cleverly entwines us into the story of Bunty and others like him as the tale unfolds. We know from the start that horses did not go home with their riders, so the tale has more than a twinge of sadness all the way through.
The descriptions of the battles in which Harry and his friend, Jack, take part are most effectively told, and reflect both the writing skill and wide ranging research of the writer. The end of the book includes a glossary of terms used in the novel, author's notes which includes a background to the Sino-Palestine Campaign, and a bibliography, all of which is of immeasurable use. The map at the start of the book too is most useful.
When we hear so much about Anzac which to many means only Gallipoli and Anzac Cove, it is salutary to read of other campaigns in which Australians have taken part, and this one, reflecting as it does on the treatment of the horses taken overseas, will bring all of the readers up short, widening their perspective and knowledge of Australia's involvement in war.
Fran Knight

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