Truth, Understanding, Insight

ANZAC Day: The sacrifice at Gallipoli

17th April 2011, hej


6) Of Donkeys, Mules and Horses

The imagery of ANZAC day is always associated with a man and a donkey. In 2011 John Simpson is being considered for a Victoria Cross.

Perhaps the whole Anzac tradition is best embodied in the story of Simpson and his Donkey. John Simpson Kirkpatrick was a stretcher-bearer in the Medical Corps, who, although separated from his unit, continued to work on his own initiative. On the night of April 25th, he found and took over a donkey which he used to help evacuate the wounded. Simpson escaped death so many times he was completely fatalistic... No one knows how many men he saved but it certainly numbered in the hundreds. He died with a piece of shrapnel in his heart on May 19th. He was 23.
A New Zealand counterpart. Lieutenant James Henderson also acquired a donkey which he used to move wounded men to the dressing stations behind the trenches.

Woah! Where did the donkeys come from? Why not horses?

It seems a number of donkeys were picked up in Greece to carry water. The British command realised the terrain of the Dardanelles was not very suitable for the big Australian horses, and the light horse brigade was parted from their horses. Instead, nearly a thousand mules were used. A mule is from a donkey father and horse mother. The mules were attached to two units. One was the Indian Mule Cart Transport Corps, the other was the Zion Mule Corps. Both had about 8 officers and 200 men trained to look after the animals.

Jack Simpson who seems to have found and used up to four donkeys, was noted as associating himself with an Indian Unit ( The Indians and Jews were occasionally mistaken for Turks. Many of the Jews could not speak English, speaking Russian, Arabic and even German! Their role, however, was crucial, as using the mules they supplied ammunition and like Private William Henry of the NZ Medical Corps, Simpson and Henderson they evacuated the wounded. They were often exposed to Turkish fire. In the third Battle of Krithia in June a small Orthodox Jew coaxed and lead his mules with necessary ammunition and food through Turkish fire and certain suicide without flinching. He was wounded that day but died in Alexandria.

While the Indians were part of the Commonweath, the Zion Mule Corps was entirely made up of Jews, who were not British subjects. The British commanders of this unit realised they were in the presence of something historic. This was the first all Jewish fighting unit of people, mostly from Palestine, to go into battle since Roman times– with a distinctively Jewish emblem and flag. They went into battle with the ANZACs. Two very young nations who were fighting as a recognisable unit landed at Gallipoli supported by the first recognisable unit of one of the oldest nations reborn, who provided mules for their transport. That landing was extremely significant.

Jewish connection to Donkeys and Mules

The mule or ass was associated with rulership in Israel. Even though the horse was available the kings and judges rode on mules and asses (donkeys). King David rode a mule (1 kings 1:3) and his son Solomon riding on his mule was symbolic of the handing over of the kingship (1 Kings1:38,44) . King David's sons rode mules (2 Samuel 13:29, 18:19). Abimelech's 30 sons rode ass (donkey) colts as symbols of their position as rulers of 30 cities (Jdg 10:1-4), as do the sons of Abdon the son of Hillel who judged Israel (Jdg 12:13-14). The death of the last King of Judah, Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, is likened to the death of an ass (Jer 22:18-19). Zechariah says that the Jewish Messiah would come riding on an ass:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, your King comes unto you: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. (Zechariah 9:9)

Abraham and the fathers of Israel rode asses (Gen 22:3,42,27). Moses rides an ass (Exodus 4:20). The Jewish Law says much about the treatment of the ass, including that it rest on the Sabbath but does not mention the horse. Israel predicts Judah is to be associated with an ass's colt (Gen 49:11) and Issacher is a strong ass (Gen 49:14). Israel is associated with an ox and an ass by Yahweh

The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. (Isa 1:3)

The God of Israel, Yahweh, says when they turn to Assyria that they have become wild asses among the nations.

Israel is swallowed up: now shall they be among the Gentiles as a vessel wherein is no pleasure. For they are gone up to Assyria, a wild ass alone by himself: Ephraim hath hired lovers. Yea, though they have hired among the nations, now will I gather them, and they shall sorrow a little for the burden of the king of princes. (Hos 8:8-10 KJV).

It is extraordinary that the very first time the Jews are again to fight they are not allowed by the British high command to bear arms, but have to accept that if they wished to fight at all they would have to lead asses! Crombie (1998) recounts how Trumpledor, who was negotiating for the Jewish Palestinian refugees in Egypt in 1914 not to be repatriated to other countries, suggested a Jewish Legion to the British. General Maxwell, who saw he had a real need, suggested instead a unit for mule transport. This split the Jews who thought that the re-birth of a nation and the first “really Jewish troops in the whole history of the exile” should not be associated with the humble mule! In addition the mule being the result of the sterile union of a male donkey and a female horse was forbidden in Jewish law (Leviticus 19:19 see also Zootorah Mule) They tried instead to approach France, but were rejected, leading them to accept Maxwell's offer. Further details of this can be found at Jewish Library Gallipoli

If the Jews are inextricably linked to the donkey (ass), the Gentile nations are associated with horse. Solomon writes of the difference between horses and asses. An ass must be led gently, not whipped.

A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass.... (Proverbs 26:3)

That it is a characteristic of the servant of Yahweh that they respond to the word in the ear, not a whip, may be a reason for the association. Also the psalmist writes:

There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength. An horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength. (Psa 33:16-17 KJV)

Nations who are associated with the horse, who rely on its strength. Horses were common in Egypt at the time of Joseph and Pharoah and the army of Egypt rode horses (Exodus 14:23). Israel saw the horse was of no value to them when the waters destroyed Pharoah's hosts. Joshua a number of times speaks of facing enemy horses in battle (Joshua 11). David conquers Hadaezer's horses (2 Sam 8:4). Solomon's horses come out of Egypt (1Kings 10:28). Benhadad of Syria gathers horses (1 kings 2:10). Ezekiel speaks of the Assyrian and the horse (Ezek 23). And so it is the ANZACs who are associated with the horse in the last great cavalry charge in history to take Beersheba.

The Nations of the Horse

New Zealand and Australia were the horse at the turn of the 20th century and the pride of their army was the light horse divisions. 'Banjo' Paterson, who was thought a voice of Australia, published in 1895 an incredibly popular collection of verses, titled “The Man from Snowy River” a quintessential horseman. The “Song of Federation” was about sacrifice in warfare, “there was never prize so costly that we bought it, though we paid for its purchase with our blood”. He also wrote a poem called The Reveille. The Reveille is the trumpet song that wakes the soldier. The last verse reads:

While our Empires Bounds are wide,
Britons all stand side by side.
Boot and saddle, mount and ride
Hear the bold reveille.

The soldier here is one who rides a horse, for Empire.

'Banjo' Paterson contributed directly to the success of the charge of the Light Horse Brigade at Beersheba. He sold his property and went to London when war broke out hoping to be a war correspondent. For some reason he was not able to do this. Instead somehow he ended up as Remount Officer to the A.I.F in Egypt in 1916. He sourced Australian horses, some 50,000, and trained them for the Palestine campaign. He was given also a group of horsemen from bush areas he called 'Australia's last hope' whom he trained and made an effective force. The horse in the era of the machine gun was an anachronism, and in a desert region with limited water, it was even a liability. Paterson writes later in the 1921 “Happy Dispatches”

I arrive at the front with my horses just in time to hand them over and to see the start of the expedition after all Allenby’s months of preparation. Brigadier-General George Onslow,.. is in charge of a brigade of Australian light horse. He comes over for a chat. “It’s all or nothing with us,” he says. “We have to smash right through the Turks and come out on the other side. I think Julius Caesar would have funked trying it. If we get held up we’ll be out of provisions and horse-feed in a couple of days, and then you can write to me at Constantinople. But don’t worry, we’ll get through all right. We’re more frightened of Allenby behind us than we are of the Turks in front. We’ll go through Palestine looking over our shoulders, and the first thing you’ll know we’ll be in Damascus.”

In fact the victory may be due to Australians knowing they had to break through to the water at Beersheba that very day to water the horses. Paterson was of that opinion,

The New Zealanders whose horses had not had a drink for seventy hours and the Australians who were in much the same fix, rode right over the Turkish trenches at full gallop—against the principles of war you understand—but still it came off.

Fortuitously, circumstances were such that the horse was used effectively to win Beersheba.

The battle for Beersheba is a remarkable battle, so remarkable, it would not be forgotten. This would mean the world would know that to win Beersheba from the Ottomans was special. The ancestor of the Israelis, Isaac, dwelt there as a sojourner. His son Jacob returned to the altar there before he goes to Egypt, and is there re-assured they would come back out of Egypt to that place. Beersheba is the definition of the edge of ancient Israel, which was defined as being from Dan to Beersheba. To take Beersheba from the Ottomans was to begin to conquer Israel.

But, more importantly, Beersheba is the place where the Father of Israel, Abraham dug a well and made a covenant over that well of water with the inhabitants of the land to allow them to dwell as strangers (Genesis 21:21-33). This was repeated with Isaac who also dug a well for water there (Genesis 26). It is at Beersheba God appeared to Isaac and said,

I am the God of Abraham your father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply your descendants for my servant Abraham's sake. And he built an altar there, and called upon the name of Yahweh, and pitched his tent there: and there Isaac's servants digged a well. (Genesis 26:24-25)

Beersheba means the “well of the oath” and the covenant made there was the following, suggested by the king Abimelek who ruled the land.

That thou wilt do us no hurt, as we have not touched you, and as we have done unto thee nothing but good, and have sent you away in peace: you are now the blessed of Yahweh. (Genesis 26:28-29)

Note this covenant was suggested and brokered by those in possession of the land to the fathers of Israel who had been promised that Land.

The covenant after striving for the wells of water was repeated over Beersheva in 1917. On October 31, at the same time the wells of Beersheva were being secured from the Ottomans and the horses were being watered, Balfour was proposing to the War Cabinet that a move be made to establish a Jewish national home with some form of British, American or other protectorate, where Jews could “built up by means of education, agriculture and industry a real centre of national culture” (Crombie, 1998). This offer was not that of an independent state. Note the parallel, the people possessing the wells of Beersheba offer to the descendants of Israel a covenant that will allow them to dwell as sojourners there. The descendants of Abraham were to be a stranger once again in the Land promised to the Fathers. Crombie points out it was on the very day that the newspapers announced the victory at Beersheba, that the Balfour declaration or 'covenant' was made to the Zionists. But there is more, just as Abimelek was asking Isaac to do them “no hurt”, so the British were making the declaration to ensure the Jewish communities support, in effect to “do us no hurt”.

The means of offering this declaration was the role of the nation's horses. Isaiah says

Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal, and Javan, to the isles afar off... they shall declare my glory among the Nations. And they shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the LORD out of all nations upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, said Yahweh... (Isaiah 66:20)

This is in the future, but at Beersheba, it was the efforts “upon horses” that allowed those “of the isles afar off” to start to bring the brethren “out of all nations”. Without the victory at Beersheba the Balfour Declaration may not have meant anything. Until that point there was no surety the British could offer anything. The ANZAC push to Jerusalem featured work upon a huge number of horses, 50,000 and also upon 10,000 mules (Paterson, 1921).

And all accounts agree that the taking of Beersheba was extraordinary. Perhaps in this case it can be said.

The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the LORD. (Proverbs 21:31)

Certainly a lot of dedicated work went into the preparation and training of the horses. But on the day, the attack came from a direction the Turks did not expect (the East), and, this was due to the unexpected success of a decoy indicating the British would be attacking Gaza and that preparations remained secret.

Topics: sacrifice, WW1, Israel

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