‘Bill’ – the tale of a war horse from WWI

Bill  carried five soldiers to safety in Egypt [Via]

Historians look at the First World War from more than one possible angle. There is no second opinion about the fact that the war brought enormous destruction and suffering. However, the First World War also contributed towards war technology in more than one way.

Probably very few people in the 21st century are aware that empires entered that war riding on horses and left in planes. The images we see in documentaries are mostly of planes and tanks but these ‘inventions’ made it to the centre stage only in the very middle of the war.

Even before the war, Australian horses had been appreciated and used by soldiers and general alike from all over the world.

One such brave horse that made its name during the war was ‘Bill’. The reason behind Bill’s fame was his relationship with his rider, Michael Shanahan.

A large group of Turkish prisoners, being led by an Australian soldier of the Light [Via]

All through modern history, war horses were subjected to extreme cruelty and frequent beatings during the battles. They were dragged and forced to carry extremely heavy loads on their backs for hundreds of miles. During the First World War, for example, horses were used at Gallipoli to fetch the soldiers’ post from the beach, which was 7 kilometres away. Riders had to make this journey through enemy territory; therefore, there was a constant risk of getting shot by the enemy. One such day, the troops bet on Bill and his rider to make the dangerous journey, escaping the Turks’ bullets. Sure enough, while coming back with the post, Bill and his rider came under a hail of bullets. Bill’s rider got shot and died but Bill made it to the post, though badly wounded. Bill was then treated for his wounds, and was appreciated for his bravery.

Shanahan saw all this and felt sympathy for the poor animal, he took control of Bill, after seeing such ill treatment of horses. He treated Bill with compassion, fed him well, washed him regularly and took great care of him. Bill became fit and healthy very quickly under Shanahan’s supervision. They soon developed a strong bond, and Bill proved to be an excellent war horse in battles and soon gained a reputation for bravery and endurance.

Midnight jumps an Ottoman trench [Via]

In the very crucial ‘Battle of Romani’, Shanahan convinced his superiors to take Bill to the battlefields. In this particular battle, more than 100,000 horses were involved, alongside the fighting soldiers. Bill proved to be the best battlefield companion of Shanahan; with his smart moves and endurance, Bill helped Shanahan a great deal in the battle. Both Bill and Shanahan got seriously wounded but not before winning the first battle against the Turks in the Middle East, the News.com.au reports.

Bill was retired from active involvement in the war soon after the ‘Battle of Romani’ but continued his contribution towards the war by carrying soldiers and their equipment. After the war, Bill was left with the villagers in the Middle East, where he was really liked.

Ian Harvey

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