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Light Horse
A History of Australia's Mounted Arm


Part of Australian Army History Series

  • Author: Jean Bou, Australian War Memorial
  • Date Published: December 2009
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9780521197083
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About the Authors
  • The mounted soldier is one of the most evocative symbols in Australian military history. Now a celebrated part of Australia's army heritage, the role and very existence of mounted troops in modern warfare was being called into question at the time of its most crowning military moments. Light horse regiments, particularly those that served in South Africa, Palestine and the trenches of Gallipoli, played a vital role in Australia's early military campaigns. Based on extensive research from both Australia and Britain, this book is a comprehensive history of the Australian Light Horse in war and peace. Historian Jean Bou examines the place of the light horse in Australia's military history throughout its existence, from its antecedents in the middle of the nineteenth century, until the last regiment was disbanded in 1944.

    • The first comprehensive history of the Australian Light Horse
    • Also looks at wider British Empire military issues such as colonial soldiers serving in South Africa during the Boer War and the Australian contribution to the First World War
    • Based on extensive research from both Australia and Britain, it provides fascinating insights into one of Australia's most celebrated military institutions
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    Customer reviews

    12th Apr 2014 by Robbo

    Attaining a place in Australian folklore far beyond its representation in Australia’s wars, the Australian light horse is the most romanticised group in Australian military history. Re-enactment groups of Australian military units are almost exclusively sections of reconstituted lighthorsemen although it may be that the public’s love affair with this bygone arm has more to do with the horses than any knowledge of the light horse itself. Refreshingly, there are a growing number of Australian historians who are taking a more mature approach to this country’s military history and looking beyond the mythology that so distorts many Australian’s perceptions of our military contribution. Jean Bou, an Army reservist with an armoured corps background, is one of them. In this highly readable and meticulously researched work, he has produced an excellent analytical account of the history of Australia’s mounted forces stretching from the early but tentative steps of the small volunteer units raised during the latter half of the nineteenth century to the demise of horsed units during the Second World War. Bou’s focus is on the development of the mounted arm, and he covers a broad canvas. Against a backdrop of history he considers the impetus for raising these units, their doctrinal background and evolution, social foundations, their performance in war, and the difficulties of attaining sufficient numbers and of creating a credible force during peacetime. In doing so he offers a much needed corrective to several of the more outlandish claims surrounding this force. These include the view of the bushman as a natural born soldier needing only a rifle and a pillow case full of bullets to defeat the country’s enemies rather hard training was required to mould them into competent soldiers. This is highlighted by a generally indifferent performance of the Australian contingents in the South African War, compared with that of the light horse in the Great War, where by 1916-17 they had become a competent force. Bou also places the famous charge at Beersheba in context, eschewing that it won the battle, or was a “turning point” in the Palestine campaign, but was the last throw of a battle already won. Nor was it, as some Australians claim, the last cavalry charge in history, there being several more in Palestine as the war ground on. In a very persuasive appendix Bou provides the best examination of the famous and much disputed photograph of the charge I have read, and reaches a conclusion based on a thorough and detailed consideration of the evidence and other accounts that would be hard to refute. Light Horse traces the debates and doctrinal development of Australia’s mounted troops, highlighting the difference between cavalry, mounted rifles and mounted infantry the difference between the first two being only a matter of degree as the reforms of the British cavalry had them trained to fight dismounted, as well as employing the arme blanche. The campaigns in which the lighthorsemen made their mark is discussed in detail. But rather than being a narrative of their battles, Bou uses those actions to discuss the tactical development of the light horse. Organised and trained as mounted rifles before the Great War, the light horse operated as such during the Sinai and early part of the Palestine campaign, although Bou identifies they also fought as mounted infantry in the larger battles. Following battlefield experience and debate, by 1918 the Australian Mounted Division was issued with swords and fought largely as cavalry, giving them greater tactical flexibility than mounted rifles, a role the Anzac Mounted Division maintained. Consequently, following the war the light horse were re-roled as cavalry, but the story between the wars is one of under funding, hollow units and demise. Bou clearly identifies why the militia light horse units never attained a degree of military proficiency in peacetime, either before the Great War or in the 1920’s and 1930‘s. When other armies, including the British were converting to an armoured role in the 1930’s, Australia stuck to horsed cavalry and only gave them up in 1944. Their glory years were 1916-18. Light Horse is a fine addition to Australia’s military historiography. Very readable, convincing in its argument and supported throughout by contemporary accounts and documents it should be read by all Australians with an interest in the development of their army, and especially by those with a strong interest in the light horse. Highly recommended.

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    Product details

    • Date Published: December 2009
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9780521197083
    • length: 376 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 22 mm
    • weight: 0.67kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Author's note
    1. Ancestors: Australia's colonial mounted troops, 1803–99
    2. Tough lessons: South Africa, 1899–1902
    3. The Hutton era: founding the Light Horse, 1901–5
    4. Unfulfilled promise: the militia Light Horse, 1905–20
    5. The Light-Horsemen 1: citizen mounted troops and Australian society
    6. Mounted rifles: the Light Horse at war, 1914–17
    7. Cavalry: the Light Horse at war, 1917–19
    8. The Light-Horsemen 2: the Light-Horseman at war
    9. Final years: the Light Horse at home, 1921–44
    Appendix: the 'Beersheba charge photo'

  • Author

    Jean Bou, Australian War Memorial
    Jean Bou is a historian at the Australian War Memorial, and a Visiting Fellow with the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University.

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