The Troopers’ Tale
The History of the Otago Mounted Rifles
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“Talk about the Charge of the Light Brigade, the infantry said we were mad, and by jove we were! We charged over barbed wire entanglements, over trenches...”
The stirring attack at Messines in June 1917 was the only time the OMR charged hostile positions on horseback en masse during their 90-year existence.
After fighting dismounted at Gallipoli, a squadron of OMR was sent to the Western Front in 1916 where they formed, with two squadrons of the 4th Australian Light Horse, part of the ANZAC Mounted Regiment. In France, they again fought dismounted in the trenches before they were thrust, literally, on horseback into the massive battle of Messines in Belgium. Just after 3am on 7 June 1917, nineteen underground mines were detonated in what was the world’s biggest explosion to date. Ten thousand German defenders on Messines Ridge were either killed instantly or buried alive. Infantry divisions seized the ridge within hours while the ANZAC Cyclist Corps were frantically digging a cavalry track through then over the top of the trenches and across No Man’s Land.
The OMR horsemen were launched over the Messines Ridge and, watched by cheering infantry, they galloped a snipers’ post taking nine prisoners and capturing two field guns. They rode nearly a kilometre ahead of the infantry over devastated ground while under constant bombardment, jumping shattered trenches and barbed wire entanglements. Heavy enemy fire forced the return of the horses late in the afternoon, while parties went forward on foot to gather “important information” on the new German positions. Seven troopers were killed and over thirty wounded from the regiment, while thirty horses were killed outright and three times that number, around 100, badly injured. Two Otago men were awarded gallantry medals for this dramatic action.
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The Attack of the Otago Mounted Rifles at Messines, 7 June 1917
by official New Zealand Army Artist Captain Matt Gauldie.
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