Desert Mounted Corps Memorial, Mt Clarence

Desert Mounted Corps Memorial Albany WA

Sitting atop of Mount Clarence is a very special memorial to our fallen soldiers. If you are able to manage the steps, park in the lower carpark and walk the series of steps up to the memorial. It gives you time on the uphill walk for reflection on what those brave soldiers sacrificed for us all. For those that can’t manage the steps you can drive up to the memorial and park close by so as not to miss out on the experience.

The Desert Mounted Corps Memorial is actually a recast of the original monument built in 1931 erected in Port Said Egypt. The granite blocks are actually part of the original monument and still bear the bullet marks from the destruction of the original monument. The memorial was erected in Albany after being recast in 1964.

It is said that after the First World War had finished the Australian and New Zealand soldiers donated one day’s pay to commission the building of this beautiful monument to the fallen in Egypt.

This special place has the most amazing views of both King George Sound and Princess Royal Harbour.

It is also the place where hundreds of people come each ANZAC day to celebrate the Dawn Service.

The following is some more historical facts about the memorial.

The Desert Mounted Corp Memorial on Mt Clarence has a colourful history full of strange twists, turns and tragedies. The initial idea for an Anzac memorial was suggested by Australian and New Zealand soldiers based in Egypt in 1916. In 1918 it was mentioned in the May 15 edition of the Kia Ora Coo-ee, the official magazine of the Australian and New Zealand Forces in Egypt.

“Representatives of the Australian and New Zealand Forces then operating in Sinai met at Mazar, and decided that a monument should be erected. Members of the ALH and NZMR responded eagerly when asked to contribute one day's pay towards the cost of the Memorial, which, it was proposed, should take the form of an Anzac horseman in bronze, standing on a base of trachite, whereon would be panels inscribed with the names of the fallen”.

Through this subscription process, Australian light horsemen, New Zealand Mounted Riflemen, the Cameleers and the Australian Army Nurses Service raised £5,400. The Commonwealth Government provided another £11,600 and the New Zealand Government a further share.  A prize of 250 guineas was offered throughout the Commonwealth for a design depicting two horses and two Anzac’s representing the mounted troops, which was won in 1923 by Australian sculptor Charles Webb-Gilbert.

In New Zealand, the idea of contributing to the Anzac memorial and its design of two horsemen representing both nations, was met with approval. Several photographs of blinded Gallipoli veteran, trooper Clutha Mackenzie NZMR and his horse Bess, taken at Trentham Military Camp near Wellington, were sent to Webb-Gilbert to use as visuals.

Unfortunately Webb-Gilbert died before he could finish the memorial, so British sculptor Paul Montford was commissioned to carry on the work. Montford worked steadily but the memorial did not seem to show the results of his efforts, so the task was given to another Australian sculptor, Sir Bertram Mackennal who, with a team of British assistants completed the monument. However, he too died before having the honour of seeing it unveiled.

Finally, on November 23, 1932 the finished statue was unveiled on the waterfront of Port Said in Egypt by Australian Prime Minister W M Hughes. The proceedings were broadcast by radio telephone over the 7,781 miles (12,522km or 6,762 nautical miles) between Egypt and Australia - the first such direct broadcast between the two countries.

However, this original Anzac memorial was damaged beyond repair during the Suez Crisis, on the night of December 26, 1956. The Egyptian newspaper Al Akhbar had earlier reported the memorial would be blown up with dynamite, so police were sent to protect it. However, the authorities failed to prevent a large crowd from pulling the memorial off its base and smashing it with hammers and rocks. During the mayhem, the mob broke off Bess’s legs and tail, sawed off the head, arms and legs of its rider and smashed the legs, tail and half the head of the Australian's horse. The figure of the Australian light horseman disappeared completely.

When peace returned to the area, the United Arab Republic agreed to a request by the Australian and New Zealand governments to release the damaged memorial and shipped it complete with polished Gabo Island granite plinth to Australia. Both governments decided a replacement monument should be built and erected in Australia. The commission was given to Melbourne sculptor and former official war artist Raymond Ewers and his assistant Cliff Reynolds. After first creating a one-sixth size clay model, plaster impressions were taken and a full-size model created which was shipped in sections to the P. Bataglia foundry in Milan, Italy for casting.

Ewers and Reynolds interpretation of the new statue was quite different from the original 1932 version. The 1932 statue depicts an Australian Light Horseman dismounting with rifle in his right hand looking downwards. The New Zealander's rifle is elevated and presented at the ready.  It suggests both soldiers are preparing to begin their assault on foot. In the recreated statue both soldiers are in very different poses. The Australian is now set upright, looking aggressive and forward into the distant horizon. The New Zealander has a less aggressive stance than the original with his rifle dropping away from an advancing pose.

Both the Australian and New Zealand RSL agreed the memorial should be erected in Albany overlooking King George Sound where the first Anzac convoy assembled before departure to Egypt, then Gallipoli. Initially the Albany suggestion met with fierce opposition led by MP Sir Wilfred Kent-Hughes one of only two light-horsemen in the Federal Parliament.  Kent-Hughes claimed all the Desert Mounted Corps associations, except the 10th Light Horse Association based in WA, wanted the memorial erected in Canberra, as it was the capital and more accessible to visitors.

However, Minister for the Interior and Albany MP, Sir Gordon Freeth disagreed and the new memorial on the original’s base was unveiled at Mt Clarence on October 11, 1964, by Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies. Among the huge crowd attending the ceremony were 160 veterans of the Light Horse Brigade and several New Zealand campaigners, who were guests of honour. Political in-fighting about the Albany location continued but was reconciled when a replica erected at Anzac Parade in Canberra was unveiled by Prime Minister John Gorton on August 19, 1968.

After little more than a decade, the base of Albany’s memorial became stained with algae and the statue pitted through weathering. Water was also entering the inside of the casting causing more damage. In February 1977 a $1,000 grant from the Commonwealth Government was used to have the stonework chemically cleaned and the bronze casting repaired. In 1985 a horse's head from the original monument, (the only known remaining fragment), was placed on a 15 year loan from the Australian War Memorial to the Albany Residency Museum.