8 May 2022

Never leave a mate behind: the quest for a Light Horse memorial in Wagga

| Chriss Buchan
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group stands in front of flags

(Left to right) Pat Leary, Maria Flinn, Dianna Pilmore and John Ploenges from the Riverina Light Horse Memorial Committee are raising funds for a life-sized statue. Photo: Chriss Buchan.

In 2017 Wagga Wagga resident Maria Flinn was attending the unveiling of a new military statue in another Riverina town when an idea struck.

The bronze memorial had been raised in honour of the Australian Light Horse (mounted troops) who served with distinction during World War 1 at Gallipoli and then in the desert of Palestine Sinai.

Maria decided that Wagga, the home and training ground for the Light Horse, also needed a memorial honouring Australia’s iconic mounted infantry.

“The victories of the Light Horse have almost been forgotten but battles such as Romani played a very important part in winning the war on the Western Front by keeping control of the Suez Canal in allied hands,” she says.

“The charge of the Light horsemen on 31 October 1917 at Beersheba was one of the most daring and well-known battles of the Australian Light Horse.”

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Driven by her personal passion for the project she set out to find willing people to form a committee and raise funds for a life-sized bronze statue and honour roll of enlistees from the Riverina and South West Slopes. Both would be erected in Wagga’s Victory Memorial Gardens.

Kick-started by a donation of $50,000 from Wagga City Council and an STS grant from the Federal Government of $150,000, the committee set about raising funds, including selling farm produce, donation tins, auctions and stalls.

Dubbo sculptor Brett (Mon) Garling was engaged to work on the design and capture the Anzac ideal of ‘never leaving a mate behind’.

The striking design captures a light horseman and his trusty ‘Waler’ (horse) returning to pick up a stranded trooper in the thick of battle. Bronze maquettes of the statue have been produced and are being sold and auctioned to raise funds.

statue of a soldier on a horse

Dubbo sculptor Brett Garling will cast the striking statue on the theme ‘never leave a mate behind’. Photo: Chriss Buchan.

Riverina Light Horse Memorial Committee president Pat Leary says for the young Riverina recruits, horses were a way of life.

“Mostly country men enlisted in the Light Horse as they rode horses every day for their work as station hands and were also crack shots as they had learned to live off the land and find their way through dry arid country at a young age,” he says.

Pat says his own interest stems back to a picture of a light horseman on his grandmother’s living room wall.

The Riverina and South West Slopes also maintain a strong connection to the trooper’s famous mounts having supplied large numbers of horses and even brumbies from the Snowy Mountains.

The Walers were broken into saddles at the Wagga Wagga showground and when they could be ridden to the top of Willan’s Hill, they were sent by train to Sydney and Adelaide for export.

During WW1 136,000 horses left Australian shores with sadly only one returning.

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Three soldiers on horses

Light Horse re-enactors were a proud inclusion in this year’s Wagga Wagga Anzac Day march. Photo Chriss Buchan.

This year’s Anzac Day commemorations included representatives from the memorial committee. Three Light Horse re-enactors featured in the parade where Maria led a riderless horse with a pair of boots placed backwards in the stirrups to represent a fallen soldier.

Last year marked 130 years of the ‘Emu Plume’ – the iconic feathers that adorned light horsemen’s slouch hats. To commemorate the event the Light Horse Memorial Committee organised a 130-km ride from Narrandera to Wagga’s Victory Memorial Gardens.

Amid their many adventures, which included nighttime encounters with a goat and an incident with a giant spider on the flagpole, the committee was able to add to its coffers.

Assistant secretary Di Pilmore says donations were gratefully received.

“Almost $17,000 was raised but there still is a long way to go with a further $80,000 needed by August 2023, which will be the unveiling date.”

To ensure this happens, fundraising must go on and the committee would welcome anyone willing to join them or make a donation. Contact [email protected] to enquire.

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