Of the 136,000 Australian horses sent away to the First World War Just one horse out was brought back: General Sir William Bridges’s charger, Sandy. Although Bridges had the use of three horses, Sandy was believed to be his favourite.
Bridges died on Gallipoli in May 1915 after being mortally wounded by a Turkish sniper. Sandy was kept safely in a veterinary hospital in Egypt until 1918, when the Minister for Defence authorised his return to Australia. The government outlaid 140 guineas – more than a year’s pay for a typical Australian soldier – to construct a special horse stall, of a type used to transport valuable racehorses, on board the SS Booral. Sandy arrived in Melbourne in November 1918, and went on to live out a quiet retirement at a military depot at Maribyrnong.
Before he was put down in 1923, the Committee of the War Museum (later to become the Australian War Memorial) decided to have the horse’s head and neck mounted. He went on display at the Memorial’s Sydney Exhibition, where he represented both his lost master and all the other horses of the AIF. After the main Memorial building opened in 1941, the head remained on display for many years as a tribute to the role these horses played in the war.