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Permanent protection likely for NZ war horse memorial

Bess on the banks of the Jordan River in 1918. She was the only horse to leave New Zealand in 1914 and return at war's end.

Bess on the banks of the Jordan River in 1918.

A memorial that honours one of the handful of New Zealand horses who returned from overseas wartime service may soon have permanent protection.

The Memorial to Bess, located on private land owned by AgResearch, near Bulls,  is one of very few worldwide to commemorate the war service of horses.

The New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) is working with AgResearch to protect and conserve the memorial and its immediate surrounds through a heritage covenant and conservation management plan to ensure it remains much as it was when erected following Bess’ death and her burial on the site in 1934.

The Memorial also serves as a reminder of the horse’s owner, Colonel Charles Guy Powles, who served with distinction and became an equally important figure on his return.

Colonel Powles and Bess were active in Egypt  in1915, Sinai  in 1916, Palestine in 1917-18, France in 1918,  Germany in 1919 and England in 1920 with the Wellington Mounted Rifles.

Colonel Powles went on to become chief of staff of the New Zealand Army in 1923 and a headmaster at Flock House, established to assist the dependents of war veterans.

The Memorial to Bess.

The Memorial to Bess. © NZHPT

Trust heritage adviser Natasha Naus said the memorial was a personal tribute from Colonel Powles to his horse.

It had, over time, become a memorial to all horses that served in the war.

“The New Zealand Expeditionary Force comprised three squadrons of 7766 men and 3753 horses, so for Bess to return home, and with the same owner, was truly remarkable.

“The Historic Places Trust is delighted to be discussing with AgResearch the value of a heritage covenant and conservation management plan that will inform and guide future works on the site.”

Heritage covenants are registered on a property title and require all subsequent owners to consult with the trust if there are any changes to the site considered.

“The covenant will ensure all New Zealanders continue to have access to the site while being mindful and respectful of its location on a working farm and being private property,” Ms Naus said.

Bess poses with trooper Trooper Clutha McKenzie for the ANZAC Memorial sculptors

Bess poses with trooper Trooper Clutha McKenzie for the ANZAC Memorial sculptors after both had returned to New Zealand after the war. Trooper McKenzie had been blinded during an action on Gallipoli and Bess was the only horse to return home that departed with the Main Body - both were selected to represent the New Zealand ANZAC's on the famed memorial.

Marcus Wilson wrote a thesis on the role of the New Zealand military horse during the  Anglo-Boer War and World War 1.

An account of his research can be found here.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Diane says:

    The memorial to Bess is not the only memorial in the country dedicated to the horses of NZ that served in war time. There is plaque in the Birch Hill Cemetary in Canterbury dedicating the memory of the horses of Birch Hill that went to serve and never returned.

  2. Di Johnson says:

    The only other horses who returned were Beautiful, Dolly and Nigger. They came back with Bess, but were not from the original group that went over in 1914, rather going later, but fighting just as hard.

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