Only One Returned

Image: Public Domain – Australian Light Horse

This poem was inspired by the story of SANDY, the only horse of some 130,000 sent overseas during WWI to ever return to Australian shores. I tried to keep this story as close to the facts as I could. It is from a series of poems I wrote about animals at war…


The old horse waits

at the re-mount gates

where the vets are standing by.

His legs are frail and his eyes are dim

but he lifts his head up high.

The time has passed

on its ceaseless march

since the early days of war

when years ago, in his eager youth,

he had stood here once before.


A big boned bay with a tiny star

and a height of sixteen hands,

he’d been the pride

of O’Donnell’s farm

and was born upon their lands.

He’d spent his days

on the highland plains

where the Bogong moths would fly

and eagles soared

by the mountain peaks

and the Murray danced nearby.


He carted bricks in Tallangatta

on a back both young and strong

then given free to the army’s call

and the battle’s endless throng.

Once standing proud

in these army yards

on a Melbourne afternoon

he drew the eye of the commandant

and the founder of Duntroon.


With Major General

Sir William Bridges

a farm horse went to war

and crossed the seas to a stony beach

where the major strode ashore.

But room was scarce

on that Anzac cove

and the horses stayed behind

to later sail to the desert lands

and from there be re-assigned.


The hills were steep

and the Turks dug deep

up above the crowded beach

A bullet arced and it found its mark

with the Major in its reach.

He later died on a mercy ship

but his body sent in June

to rest in peace on his homeland soil

in the hills above Duntroon.

But wheels were turned for the safe

return of the major’s favoured horse.

It took some time with the paperwork

but they set his homeward course.

He served that time

with the vets’ advance

where he helped to aid the sick

and nearly lost to the mounting costs

when the mustard gas blew thick.


But only he who had been to war

had been granted passage home

to live his life on a grassy patch

with the pasture’s length to roam.

The rest were left to uncertain fates

and depended on a score

while men were left with the deep

disdain for the senselessness of war.





The old horse waits

at the re-mount gates

and prepares his last goodbye.

His legs are frail and his eyes are dim

but he lifts his head up high.

He snuffs the air with a parting snort

as he pricks his weary ears

and paws the ground

to the silent sound

of the echoes that he hears.


They gather now

on the highland plains

and the bogong moths take flight.

The Murray leaps from the riverbeds

where the mountains catch the light.

The horses charge

down the valley sides

from the ghostly times long past,

the thunder roars

and the eagle soars –

Sandy runs with mates at last.


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