Hilton Mitchell

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Ever wondered what it was like at the Light Horse Regiment Armidale Camp at the Armidale Racecouse During the 1940s? Hilton Mitchell takes us back to a time from  February – May, when Armidale prepared for World War II.

It was in the early 1940s when we trucked our horses at Macksville railway station for Armidale. We continued to travel by train to Telarah station, took our horses off the rail carriages, fed and watered them, loaded up again and proceeded to Armidale. We arrived the day that Billy Lappin, a top jockey from Sydney, won the Armidale Cup on Cigarette. Tragically though, we learnt the next day he was killed in a race fall in Sydney. We camped on the Armidale race course and also had the horses lined and tied up to the head rope and at the rear the heel rope, where one leg was tied to it. These horses were on their feet for 3 months without lying down.

The 12th Light Horse Regiment was camped on the show ground; the 16th and the 24th Light Horse Regiment  was camped in the area at Armidale. Our regiment, the 15th Light Horse, were from the North Coast. The 12th Light Horse were from the New England, the 16th Light Horse from the Hunter Valley and the 24th Light Horse from Moree.

Midway through the camp of three months, the disease Strangles broke out; a lot of our horses got the disease and had to be isolated from the horse lines and were put in a separate area to be treated, fed and watered.

One night it is believed they were frightened by a mob of sheep. They took off, smashed the fence down and took off onto the streets, frightened, and some were running into cars. Many were left badly injured and had to be shot, and it was quite a job in rounding them up again.

One night we were out on manoeuvres, and Major Masterson’s ‘Galloper’, in other words, a dispatch rider, was killed. Both Pte Dick Helliker and his horse had galloped into a huge drain on the Gara Road.

Divisional sigs were attached to our regiment; a section of signallers were allotted horses to ride with us. One morning they were behind us feeding and grooming

their horses, then they saddled and lined up to go for a ride. They were from the city and were not good horsemen. These horses were from Mount Depot and had not been ridden for a long time and also were not broken properly, which didn’t help these city boys.

Lieutenant Pelling, their officer, gave the order “prepare to mount”. The riders reined up and feet were in their stirrups when the officer said “mount“, so they mounted. About four were thrown off; it took buck jump riders to ride them from our regiment and every morning we would see the buck jumpers in action, as we were just in front of the sig lines.

I ended up with one of them as my horse, Wattle Stick. Even with the Strangles and 226 burns to his foot, he turned out to a beauty.

One of the highlights of the 3 month camp was the brigade review on Goswick Plains, where Lord Gowerie VC, the Governor General of Australia and the official party took the salute at the dais.

It was a canter past in troop line – 33 horses in line, led by the OC of the squadron and behind him the lieutenant of the troop and behind each squadron the Sergeant Major of each squadron. Our troop, no. 4 troop, was riding in the last line of ‘c’ squadron, and we were about 30 yards from the dais when our sergeant Major yelled out, “Down on the bastards and ride them”. We did just that, and galloped past with Lord Gowrie VC and his party with big smiles on their faces. Sgt Major Nick Hanly and us blokes thought it great.

The 12th, 16th and 24th blokes said we were mad the way we would gallop down ridges between trees and steep country, whereas most of the other regiments came from the flat country and they and their horses were not used to the high country.

We broke camp in May 1940 and left for home by train. In February 1941, we were sent to Rutherford Camp for 3 months. In 1939 we went to Grafton for two camps – one for two weeks and the other for one month.

At the end of 1941 we went mechanised and were then the 15th Australia Motor Regiment N1716.

On March 18 in 1945 I sailed to Moritai, Papa New Guinea and served until the war ended on 10 December.

Trooper Hilton Mitchell, No 4 ‘C’ SQN.

This article can be found in issue 71 of New England Focus


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