By the end of The Horses Didn’t Come Home, young adults and other readers would have a good understanding of the ANZACs’ Middle Eastern campaign of WW1, including the battles at Beersheba and Gallipoli.
The Horses Didn’t Come Home focuses on the historical story of the cavalry charge at Beersheba, in the Sinai Desert, now in Israel, by the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade in 1917. It tells the historical story through the personal stories of Harry and Jack, two 16-year-olds who lie about their age and enlist in western Queensland.
The reader follows the two boys through their training outside Brisbane. Then Harry, Jack and their horses ship out from Pinkenba in Brisbane and arrive at a camp near the Pyramids.
There are many interesting historical snippets dropped into the narrative to explain the context of the story, eg. about how the Ottoman Turkish Empire had controlled Egypt for 400 years but was weakening, and the British had moved their forces into Egypt 30 years before WW1.
Through the characters’ eyes, the reader sees how events like the Gallipoli campaign fit into the bigger picture: Harry and Jack watch as other Australian and New Zealand soldiers are sent from Egypt to the Dardanelles for the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign. Then they witness the wounded survivors being brought back to Egypt.
Then the two boys are sent on to their own battle: the Beersheba cavalry charge. The story then continues as the ANZACs pursue the Turks and Germans as they retreat north through the Holy Land.
Much of the novel is epistolary, with Harry corresponding with his younger sister Laura back on the family’s western Queensland property Henderson’s Run, and later when she attends Brisbane Ladies’ College. The letters give Harry some much-needed comfort (he says he isn’t religious), and he keeps his sister informed about her horse Bunty which Harry took with him to the war. The soldiers brought their own horses on the understanding that the army would let them take the horses back to Australia with them.
The novel is well researched, using war diaries and letters, as well the author’s travels to Beersheba and other locations in the Middle East, plus a lot of reading on WW1 and horses like the Walers. The Horses Didn’t Come Home is a very good way for young adults to understand an important era in Australian history.
As for favorite novels, Ms Rushby said that being a writer of young adult books, she read these constantly, spending a lot of time in libraries hunting down the latest YA novels.
Pamela Rushby recommended some of her favorite historical writers. She liked Jackie French (A Waltz for Matilda; A Rose for the Anzac Boys); Anthony Hill (Captain Cook’s Apprentice; Soldier Boy); Allan Baillie (Krakatoa Lighthouse); David McRobbie (Vinnie’s War); Catherine Jinks (Pagan’s Crusade and other Pagan books); Mary Hooper (Fallen Grace; At the Sign of the Sugared Plum); Dianne Wolfer (Lighthouse Girl); and Michelle Cooper (author of The FitzOsborne trilogy, the latest of which is The FitzOsbornes at War).
“But my absolute favourite for young adults is I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. An oldie, but you can’t beat it!”
- copyright Simon Sandall