Tuesday 5 April 2022

The Last Light Horse

The Last Light Horse by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Brian Simmonds (Fremantle Press) PB ISBN 9781760991302 HB RRP $24.99

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

The Last Light Horse is the story of the only horse to come home to Australia, out of the 136,000 horses sent to World War 1. His name was Sandy, and he was from Tallangatta in northern Victoria. This book tells of Sandy’s journey from a foal on the Bogong high plains to working as a packhorse in a kiln and when war broke out, to Maribyrnong and on board a ship from Melbourne. From here he travelled to Cairo and was a ‘Waler’ (Australian war horse) in Gallipoli and France. After all this, he was sent to England and then back home, because of the dying wish of an Australian major general.

A lot of research has gone into this true story, as demonstrated by the old photographs and real archival artefacts. These include a Light Horse Manual, a map showing the journey from Alexandria in Egypt to the Somme and newspaper clippings of the declaration of war and reports of battles in Europe. Interspersed with the photographs are charcoal sketches of Sandy on the high plains, the boat and the battlefield. The epilogue of the book shows a photograph of the statue of Sandy which stands on Mount Clarence in Albany, Western Australia (not far from where the author lives).

Sandy was irreparably affected by the war he encountered. He hated being on a boat and was spooked by the battlefield, where horses were ridden and used to pull heavy artillery. When his major general died at Gallipoli, Sandy was transferred to work with a veterinarian in France, to help treat donkeys and horses who were injured by the war. It was here Sandy came across poisoned gas, which partially blinded him. He carried on, regardless of his poor vision, continuing to work until he was eventually transferred home. 

The Last Light Horse is a picture book for older readers. It is the final book in the ‘Light’ series of books by this author and illustrator. These books are set during World War 1 and include Lighthouse Girl and In the Lamplight.

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