Champion horses such Phar Lap, Black Caviar and Winx, are all well known in the public eye for their great
achievements. Then there are other horses, who have also played a part in Australian history, whose names are not
as common place, but their stories and legends live on….
Mr Francis (Bonner) O’Donnell was from a well known family who lived in Old Tallangatta. Bonner was involved
with the local football team and with his brother Jack, owned and operated a brick kiln in Martin’s Lane.
Bonner owned a horse, a bay standing 16 hands high, with black points and a white blaze on his forehead. His
name was Sandy. A very handy stock horse on the O’Donnell’s farm, having a docile nature and was easy to
manage, being the perfect attributes for rounding up sheep and cattle. Sandy was living the life of a typical farm
Bonner soon met the love of his life, a young lady called Anna Eliza Campbell. He sought permission for Anna’s
hand in marriage from her older brother Jim (Anna’s father had passed away and Jim had become the head of the
Campbell family many years ago). Permission was granted and Mr and Mrs O’Donnell started their life together.
World War 1, had broken out and Jim Campbell joined the forces. Bonner always saw his brother in-law, as a
mentor and was so grateful of Jim to allow his marriage that he too wanted to follow in his footsteps and fight for
his beloved homeland Australia.
Bonner was devastated when he found out that, in the opinion of the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, there
was to be support for a NO vote towards conscription for Roman Catholics to join the forces. Bonner and many
other farmers who were Roman Catholic from the North East area, were encouraged to stay at home and keep
farming and support the troops in this manner.
Bonner still felt strongly compelled to follow Jim and supporting the bigger cause. He then, with a heavy heart,
donated one of his most valuable possessions, his beloved work horse Sandy to the Australian War effort. Little
did Bonner know of the magnitude on Australian history, his decision would have. The Legend of “Sandy the War
horse” would begin.
Major General William Throsby Bridges was a tall statured man at 6ft 7inch. Having already a distinguished
Military Career, he was then appointed to the Command of the Australian Imperial Expeditionary Forces
( A.I.F). There were 169,000 horses shipped to Egypt from Australia for the use of the A.I.F. Bridges initiated a
campaign of intense training. He had three assigned horses for his own private mount and Sandy was one of
them. The quiet stock horse, became his favourite charge. (the image that was taken by Bridges of Sandy, in the
desert Camp, Mena, Egypt in January 1915, is very well known).
Sandy was one of the 6,100 horses sent to Gallipoli.
Commander Bridges landed at Anzac Cove with the 1st Australian Division on 25th April 1915. He was an Officer
who believed in leading from the front and was an inspiration to his troops who would see him in forward areas
showing complete disregards for his own safety, even under heavy fire. This bravery cost him his life. Bridges was
shot in the leg by a Turkish sniper in Gallipoli on 15th May 1915. He died a few days later from his wounds, on the
way to hospital in Egypt.
King George had learned of his fate. The day before he died, Bridges was awarded a Knight Companion of the
Bath (KCB) making him the first Australian to be knighted.
Bridges had only one dying wish: his beloved Sandy, be returned home for retirement at war’s end.
Bridges, became the only Australian killed in The Great War to have his remains returned to Australia. He was
buried at Duntroon. This was fitting, as previously, in 1909 he became Australia’s first Chief of General Staff and
was tasked with founding Australia’s first military college, the Royal Military College at Duntroon, Canberra.
After the death of Bridges, Sandy was in the care of Australian Army Veterinary Corps Office Captain Leslie
Whitfield. They were transported to Egypt, where they both remained until transferring to France in March 1916.
Private Archibald Jordan was then Sandy’s private groom at the Australian Veterinary Hospital, then moving on
together to Swaythling Remount Depot in England.
It wasn’t until the following year October 1917, after months of correspondence between Australian and British
authorities that permission was granted for the War Horse to be returned to Australia. The Major’s dying wish was going to be granted. In May 1918, after 3 months of veterinary observation, Sandy was declared disease free and fit to travel home.
On 7th September 1918, Sandy and Private Jordan, boarded the S.S. Booral at Liverpool in England and after weeks
at sea arrived in Port Melbourne on 13th of November. This was just two days after the war was declared over.
Sandy lived out his days at “Remount Hill” central remount depot at Maribyrnong, in Melbourne’s West.
“Remount Hill” was a place, where many thousands of “Walers”, the general name applied to the Australian
horses abroad, (because most came from NSW), had earlier begun their long one-way journey.
Sandy spent six years at “Remount Hill”, spending his final days in the famous Fisher stables. With his eye sight
failing and debilitating old age, a decision was made in May 1923, to have Sandy humanly put down. His grave is
surrounded by a post and rail, wooden fence and rests beside the famous racehorses, “Fisherman” and “Lantern”.
Sandy’s head and neck was then preserved and mounted and became part of a Memorial collection. Sandy was
on display for many years before deterioration set in and the display was removed. This has recently been
restored. To add a personal touch to the exhibition, Lady Bridges donated a bridle that her late husband had
personally used. Sandy is a current feature of the “A is for animals” exhibition at the Australian War Memorial.
“The Friends of Sandy” (a public Volunteer group) in Melbourne, have also played tribute to the story by
installing a laser cut image of Sandy in Maribyrnong. We feel that Tallangatta, being the only place that can claim
to be the “home of Sandy”, should obviously have it’s own memorial. The Sandy story plays a vital part in
Australia’s and Tallangatta’s own history and to date, has not yet been paid the local recognition it deserves.
The newly formed Sandy the War Horse Memorial Committee, are very passionate and dedicated to install a
bronze life size memorial statue of Sandy in Tallangatta . “Sandy the War Horse” from Old Tallangatta was the
only horse, out of 136,000 to return to Australia after the war.
We are proud to call him one of our own and the legend of Sandy will live on…..