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Light horse

The Australian Light Horse soldiers were mounted infantry who served during the Boer War and World War I. The Light Horse differed from cavalry in that they usually fought dismounted, using their horses as transport to the battlefield and as a means of swift disengagement when retreating or retiring. A famous exception to this rule was the charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade at Beersheba on 31 October, 1917. In 1918 some light horse brigades were equipped with swords, enabling them to fight in a conventional cavalry role during the advance on Damascus.

A light horse regiment is roughly equivalent to a battalion, but containing only about 500 men (whereas an infantry battalion would contain about 1000 men). Around a quarter of this nominal strength (or one man in each section of 4) could be allotted to horse-holding duties when the regiment entered combat. A regiment was divided into three squadrons, designated "A", "B" and "C", (equivalent to a company) and a squadron divided into four troops (equivalent to a platoon). Each troop was divided into about ten 4-man sections. When dismounting for combat, one man from each section would take the reins of the other three mens' horses and lead them out of the firing line where he would remain until called upon.

The Australian waler horses were the common mount for the light horsemen. About 160,000 horses were transported from Australia to all WW1 theatres. Due to quarantine restrictions, only one is known to have been returned to Australia; "Sandy", the mount of Major General W.T. Bridges, who died at Gallipoli in May, 1915. At the end of the war most surplus horses in the Middle East were sold to the British Army as remounts for Egypt and India. Some horses that were categorised as being unfit were destroyed. Also some light horsemen chose to destroy their horses rather than part with them but this was an exception, despite the popular myth that portrays it as the ultimate fate of all the horses.

A number of Australian light horse units are still in existence today, generally as mechanized infantry units.

See Also: Light horse field ambulance