“Their last glimpse of Australian soil”
Sitting on top of Mount Clarence in Albany, Western Australia, is the Desert Mounted Corps memorial. The memorial honours fallen comrades in the Australian Light Horse, the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, the Imperial Camel Corps, and the Australian Flying Corps, who lost their lives in Egypt, Palestine and Syria during the First World War. The memorial hasn’t always been located on Australian soil – it was first constructed at Port Said, Egypt.
In August 1916, the Allied defences fought in the battle of Romani to put a stop to the Turkish advances on Suez Canal. Outnumbered, the 1st Light Horse Brigade waited for backup until infantry reinforcements arrived. The next day, the 1st and 2nd Light Horse Brigades advanced the Turkish positions and the resistance collapsed. In the following days, the 3rd Light Horse Brigade captured retreating Turks who had escaped becoming a prisoner.
On 4 August 1916, Brigadier General J.R. Royston, commander of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade suggested they build a memorial for the fallen. The troops serving in the field raised money for the memorial and the Australian and New Zealand governments also contributed funds for its construction.
In 1923, architects P.H Meldrum and C. Webb Gilbert were commissioned to create the Desert Mounted Corps memorial. On top of the memorial is an Australian trooper on horseback aiding a New Zealand comrade with a wounded horse.
The memorial was unveiled by former Prime Minister William Morris Hughes and remained in its original position at Port Said until 1956.
The memorial’s bronze casting was damaged as a result of the Suez Crisis and only the original plinth survived. The memorial was then sent back to Australia for protection.
The figures of the soldiers and their horses were recast by an artist. But the original granite masonry, covered in bullet holes, was used for the new memorial in Australia.
Albany was chosen as the location for the memorial’s new home. During the First World War, Albany was the assembly point for many of the Australian and New Zealand mounted troops before leaving to fight in Egypt. For some, the town would be their last view of Australian soil.
After months of waiting, the Honourable Sir Robert Menzies and residents of Albany unveiled the restored Desert Mounted Corps memorial in 1964.
Today, the memorial is the site for commemoration services such as the Anzac Day dawn service.
On display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra are the remains of the bronze cast from the original memorial. The statue stands as a tribute to animals in war.