The four-year-old black thoroughbred mare was with the group of other horses donated to the first World War cause.
Drawn from all over New Zealand, they were picked over as the mounts that would go overseas. Ten thousand were bought by the Government or gifted to be used.
At the time, known as Zelma, the mare was bred at Matawhero near Martinborough. She met the requirements needed, between 4-7 years old, 14-15 hands and of a dark colour.
She was allocated to the Wellington Mounted Rifles regiment and picked by Captain Charles Guy Powles as his mount. He renamed her Bess.
It was a hard uncertain life. A horse first had to survive the trip. Bess and Captain Powles (who had previously served in South Africa) left Wellington in October 1914 heading for Egypt. Bess was in cramped quarters with 3815 other horses.
She served as his personal horse except for the Gallipoli campaign after which she was reunited with him on the men's return.
Bess remained in the Middle East and was assigned to the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade. She and other horses allowed the men to travel quickly between positions.
A horse carried a heavy load - not just their rider, but weapons, ammunition, food and water over difficult terrain, dealing with parasites, poor feed and water and weather they were never bred for.
Along with the appalling conditions was the ever present danger of being wounded by enemy fire.
By the end of the war, most horses had been killed or died under the conditions.
Shortly before the Palestine campaign ended, Powles and Bess joined the New Zealand Division in France. After France, she served with Powles during the occupation of Germany’s Rhineland.
It was near impossible to return the brave mounts to New Zealand. Lack of transport and quarantine requirements made it difficult.
Bess is only one of four known to have returned from the first world war.
The horses were sent to England in March 1919 and to 12 months quarantine. Then they arrived back in New Zealand in July 1920.
After the war Bess was the model for the sculpture of a wounded New Zealand horse on a memorial to the Anzac mounted troops at Port Said in Egypt which was later destroyed. Copies were made and put up at Albany in Western Australia and in Canberra.
Bess was again reunited with Powles while he was a commander at Trentham and later as headmaster at Flock House in Bulls, an agricultural training school for dependents of war veterans. Bess produced several foals, and died on land close to Flock House in 1934.
Powles buried her at Flock House and erected a memorial. The square-shaped memorial, topped by a large rock, features two memorial plaques. One denotes the places where Bess served during and after the war. The other bears an Arabic inscription that translates as ‘In the Name of the Most High God’.
A children’s book called Bess the Brave War Horse was written by Susan Brocker and illustrated by Raymond McGrath.
Fran and Deb's updates