Farmers do us proud during the war

NEXT year is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War.

All wars are different in some way and when studying any conflict we should try to discover not only the politics behind the events but what the world was like generally at that time.

This is especially important for people today as we live in a mechanised world where communications are rapid and diverse, where travel is fast and varied, where people are more independent and society is more complex.

Driver Harry Mitchell, d.1917
Driver Harry Mitchell, d.1917

In 1914 Australia had been a unified country for only a few years, and there were still very strong state rivalries.

There was no Federal capital and all decisions were made in Melbourne.

Initially it had been decided to rotate the "capital" between Melbourne and Sydney but this had been found impossible.

Most Australians were of British stock and many had been born in Britain.

In this way Australia was isolated from its "heartland" and so it is not surprising that, when Britain went to war, Australia also called for young men to join the army.

Many of these young men came from our area - Lismore alone enlisted over 3000.

A large number of men came from farms and stations so they knew how to look after animals.

These recruits were ideal not only in the mounted units but also in the transport units.

It should be remembered that this was a war powered heavily by horses. They transported men and they lugged the heavy guns around.

But horses were not the only animals used in the First World War.

Camels were used in the desert and these needed special handlers.

There was a special Camel Corps. There were also people to organize replacement mounts for soldiers when horses or camels died or became ill.

In France and Gallipoli the mud and slush meant that mules or donkeys played a major role.

They could be used where horses could not. Many of our soldiers were responsible for these animals.

We hear some of these stories because soldiers often won the Military Medal for their work.

Hugh Patrick Boyle of Goolmangar, Donald McLaren of Murwillumbah, Harry Mitchell of Ballina and Arthur Harry Mountford of Boatharbour were all involved in carrying supplies including ammunition and food to frontline troops.

They were in charge of mules as part of a mule train and had to keep the animals going through mud and uneven terrain usually under heavy bombardment from the enemy.

Private Arthur Mountford is said to have continued on his way while some others in his group dropped back.

They had to traverse boggy ground where animals were continually being bogged down.

Driver Donald McLaren received his award for "great courage and tenacity of purpose while driving a mule team carrying a hot meal to front line troops…while under heavy fire from enemy artillery".

Lance Corporal Hugh Boyle received his Military Medal when driving and in charge of a pack mule troop carrying urgently needed supplies and ammunition to the front.

He continued going forward in spite of heavy fire and completed his task.

Driver Harry Mitchell won his award for gallantry while delivering ammunition to his field artillery unit.

Topics:  history world war 1

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