Veteran Tamed Wild Horses in Australia During WWII

Robert Elliott, 93, joined the Army in 1942 at the age of 19. He found himself breaking horses on the Australian outback.

He recently spoke about his nearly four years in World War II. During his service, he spent time in Hawaii, New Zealand, and New Guinea.

He is honest about why he enlisted. “I couldn’t get tires, I couldn’t get gas, and there wasn’t a whole lot of work,” he said. “So I enlisted.”

He was originally intended to be an anti-aircraft gunner. After three months of training on twin and single 50-caliber and 20mm guns, he found himself heading to Angel Island, California while the rest of the soldiers in his class went to New York.

He spent eleven days on the USS Mount Vernon, a former luxury liner refitted for wartime use. His time on the Mount Vernon was no pleasure cruise. Troops were crammed into berthing spaces with their bunks only a foot-and-a-half apart.

The Mount Vernon was headed to the Philippines, but when Allied forces lost the island of Corregidor to the Japanese, the ship was re-routed to Australia. In Australia, Elliott was sent to the 343rd Remount Depot in Townsville, about 100 miles north of Sydney. There he broke wild horses to prepare them to carry supplies through terrain too difficult for vehicles to traverse.

Elliott had no previous experience breaking horses. He found the work difficult and occasionally dangerous. The weather was always hot. “You got up in the morning, you tended to your horses, you cleaned the hooves out, shoed them and fed them,” Elliott said. “Then you went to eat and you went back to your horses.”

Each soldier had nine horses to break. It took approximately 45 days to complete the task. Australia would not allow horses to be shipped into the country, so they made regular trips into the outback to round up wild horses.

“It’s a nice country, you could go for miles and never see a house,” Elliott recalled, adding that the people were equally friendly. “The men all carried a little tin bucket with a tea bag,” he added. “They stopped, had a little fire, had a cup of tea and went about their business.”

Once trained, the horsed were loaded up and sent to where they could be used. Elliott avoided growing attached to most of the horses. The one exception was 098. “That was his serial number,” he said. “He threw me 27 times before I finally rode him.”

After Australia, Elliott was sent to New Guinea where he worked in the Quartermaster Corps. He shipped food, ammunition, and supplies to various parts of the Pacific theater. He finished his service in the Philippines as part of a unit that disinterred American servicemen that were killed on the island.

When he finally was sent home, it took about 90 days to return. The ship he rode on had to navigate carefully through thousands of mines in the Pacific. On New Year’s Eve 1945, his ship finally sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge. From there, he rode a train to Fort Bragg, where he was discharged, having attained the rank of Technician Fifth Grade.

While he was overseas, he purchased a 44-acre farm in Mountain Falls which was to become his home. He began a new career as a plasterer. Several months later, he met his future wife, Bernice. The couple have been married 70 years. They have four children. In 1966, the couple bought the land where they live now.

Elliott’s horse-breaking days are long gone. “No, I don’t miss them,” he said with a smile about the horses. “But you have to respect them. Because if you’re scared, they know.”

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE