Memorial to Bess

Forest Road, Bulls

  • Memorial to Bess, Bulls. 2004.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: R O'Brien.
  • Memorial to Bess, Bulls.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7571 Date Entered 10th September 2004

Locationopen/close

Extent of List Entry

Extent of registration is the land described as Sec 3 SO 37105 (CT WN48B/813), Wellington Land District and the structure known as Memorial to Bess.

City/District Council

Rangitikei District

Region

Horizons (Manawatu-Wanganui) Region

Legal description

Sec 3 SO 37105 (CT WN48B/813) Wellington Land District.

Location description

Please note that this is private property on land used for scientific research, and permission to access the Memorial is required from the land owner: contact the AgResearch Flock House Farm Manager. The memorial can be seen from the road, however. Drive down Parewanui Road from Bulls, turn right into Forest Road; the Memorial is on a hilltop the left hand side near the beginning of the road.

Summaryopen/close

Located on Forest Road in Parewanui, the Memorial to Bess commemorates a horse that served in the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment in the First World War. At the commencement of the First World War in 1914, the New Zealand Parliament sent a Mounted Rifles Brigade of three regiments composed of three squadrons each. The strength of the force was: 354 officers, 7412 other ranks, and 3753 horses When the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment was formed on 8 August 1914, the horse commemorated by the 'Memorial to Bess' was presented to the Regiment. The horse was allocated to Captain Charles Guy Powles, who renamed it 'Bess'. In October 1914, Powles and Bess left New Zealand with the Main Body of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles and 3817 other horses. They served together in Egypt (1915), Sinai (1916), Palestine (1917-1918), France (1918), Germany (1919) and England (1920).

Of the 3817 New Zealand horses that served during the war, Bess was one of a very small number of horses to return home. On her death in 1934, Powles erected the small stone memorial over her grave. A unique and important memorial, the structure is the only one in the country to commemorate the horses that served New Zealand during the First World War. It is also one of the very few to commemorate the role of horses in war in the world. The best-known other example is now located in Albany in Australia. It is a statue of Bess and NZMR Brigade Trooper Clutha MacKenzie and commemorates the war-time contribution of mounted troops. The Memorial to Bess reminds New Zealanders of the strategic role played by horses in the war, and of the strong bonds created between soldiers and their horses, who became 'part of the soldier's very life'. In the absence of other memorials commemorating their contribution, the private Memorial to Bess has become a memorial to all New Zealand's horses that served during the war and has significant commemorative value for the soldiers who were unable to bring their horses back to New Zealand. It is held in high esteem both locally and nationally.

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Historical Significance or Value

The Memorial to Bess is a unique and important memorial. Constructed circa 1934 to commemorate one of less than five horses able to return home after peace was declared, the memorial is the country's only one to commemorate the service of the horses that served New Zealand during the First World War. It is also one of the very few to commemorate the role of horses in war in the world. It serves to remind New Zealanders of the strategic role played by horses in the war, and of the strong bonds created between soldiers and their horses, who became 'part of the soldier's very life'. As Bess was one of a very small number of horses to return home after the war, the Memorial also has significant commemorative value for the soldiers who were unable to bring their horses back to New Zealand. The Memorial also serves as a reminder of the horse's owner, Charles Guy Powles, who served with distinction during the War and who became an important figure in New Zealand upon his return. For all of these reasons, the Memorial to Bess is remembered and recognised at both a local and national level, and remains as an important reminder of some of the lesser-known aspects of New Zealand's history.

(a)The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

The Memorial to Bess is a representative of the important role played by horses in World War One. Horses were an essential means of transport for soldiers and a key part of the Commonwealth's strategy of defence and attack. The New Zealand Expeditionary Force was composed of three squadrons of 7766 men and 3753 horses and to those who were mounted during the war, their horse was 'more than a friend, he is part of the soldier's very life'. Bess was the only horse to remain with the same owner throughout the war and one of a very small number to return to New Zealand after peace was declared. The Memorial is a personal, rather than an official one and was prompted by the death of the horse. Yet, in the absence of other memorials commemorating their contribution, the private Memorial to Bess has become a memorial to all New Zealand's horses that served during the war.

(b)The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

The Memorial to Bess is associated with both persons and events of importance in New Zealand history. For the major part of her life Bess, the horse commemorated by the Memorial, was owned by Charles Guy Powles. Powles served with distinction in the First World War as part of the Wellington Mounted Rifles. Mounted on Bess, he was part of the campaigns in Egypt (1915), Sinai (1916), Palestine (1917-1918), France (1918), Germany (1919) and England (1920). Powles was mentioned in despatches four times and was awarded the D.S.O and the C.M.G. He became chief of staff of the New Zealand Army in 1923, published two books on the role of Mounted Rifles and their horses in the First World War, and was described as a 'war hero' in a number of contemporary publications. Powles went on to become one of the first headmasters of Flock House, the nationally significant training school established to assist the dependents of war veterans in whose grounds Bess died and was buried in 1934. The Memorial therefore serves as a reminder of Powles, whose name is mentioned on the plaque, and of the important role played by horses in the First World War.

(e)The community association with, or public esteem for, the place

The Memorial to Bess is remembered and recognised at a local and national level. A number of different people in the community have advocated for the recognition of the Memorial by the NZHPT at different times. Although on private land and difficult to access, the Memorial is visited throughout the year. The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Association, for instance, took its Australian guests to visit the cairn in 2002. It also features in books such as MacLean, C., and Phillips, J., The Sorrow and the Pride: New Zealand War Memorials (Wellington: GP books, 1990), and on a number of national and international websites relating to the First World War, such as the New Zealand Mounted Rifles website http://www.equusplazanz.com.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

As one of a very small number of war horses to return to New Zealand after the First World War, Bess stood as a representative of the 3817 horses that originally served with the New Zealand Mounted Rifles. As such, her memorial has significant commemorative value for the soldiers who were unable to bring their horses home. The Memorial is a testimony to the strength of the relationships formed between soldiers and their horses while serving during World War One. As many of these soldiers have since passed on, the memorial has historical commemorative significance their families and all New Zealanders as an important reminder of the role of horses in the First World War.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places:

The Memorial to Bess has rarity value. It is the only memorial in New Zealand that commemorates the horses who served in the First World War, despite the importance of their contribution. The memorial is also one of the very few memorials to animals in the country. It is also one of the few international memorials to the horses that served in World War One. A statue of Bess and NZMR Brigade Trooper Clutha MacKenzie, now located in Albany, Australia, is the best-known example.

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Historical Narrative

Located on Forest Road in Parewanui, in the Rangitikei, the Memorial to Bess marks the grave of a horse that served in the First World War.

At the commencement of the First World War in 1914, the New Zealand Parliament announced that an Expeditionary Force would be sent to assist in the war against Germany. Under the command of Major-General Sir Alexander Godley, a Mounted Rifles Brigade of three regiments composed of three squadrons each was created. The strength of the force was: 354 officers, 7412 other ranks, and 3753 horses, which were then an essential means of transport in battle. According to the soldiers the 'ideal horse should be from 15 to 15.3 and as near 15 hands as possible and should be stout and cobby and if possible with plenty of blood'.

The horse commemorated by the Memorial in Parewanui was born in 1910. Bred by A. D. McMaster of Matawhero in Martinborough, the horse was sired by Sarazen and out of Miss Jury. She was a black thoroughbred, and was known as 'Zelma' by her original owner F. A. Deller. When the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment was formed on 8 August 1914, Zelma was presented to the Regiment. The horse was then allocated to a Captain Charles Guy Powles. Powles, a former sawmiller, attended school in Wellington, and was an enthusiastic senior cadet and platoon commander. Powles renamed the horse 'Bess'. In October 1914, Powles and Bess left New Zealand with the Main Body of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles and 3817 other horses. They served together in Egypt (1915), Sinai (1916), Palestine (1917-1918), France (1918), Germany (1919) and England (1920).

Powles, who was decorated for heroism during the war in Egypt and France, served the entire campaign on his horse Bess. After the war he wrote that 'to no man is a horse so essential as to the mounted soldier. His horse is more than a friend, he is a part of the soldier's very life'...'He who has once ridden into action with the bullets whistling past his ears and the shells bursting around him, will never forget his horse; how the good steed became verily a part of his body, a glorified body that carried withersoever he willed; escaping this danger by a miracle; leaping over that; and, when all seemed lost, by his very energy and the thunder of his hoofs thrilling his rider to renewed effort'.

Bess was the only horse to remain with a single owner throughout the war. She was also one of a very small number to return to New Zealand after peace had been declared. She returned with Powles, who became the Commander of the G. H. Q. School at Trentham, in July 1920. In 1922, Bess lead a parade at the Carterton Agricultural and Pastoral Show, decked out in the medals and ribbons won by Colonel Powles during the war. She was '... given a thundering ovation by her home district'. She went on to produce four foals and continued to serve as Powles steed during his tenure as headmaster at Flock House, a new agricultural training school that catered for the dependents of war veterans.

In 1932, photographs of blinded Gallipoli veteran NZMR Brigade Trooper Clutha Mackenzie riding Bess served as the inspiration for a stone statue that was to 'commemorate the deeds of Australian and New Zealand mounted troops in the Palestine campaign'. Designed by C. W. Gilbert and sculpted by Sir Bertram Mackennal, the statue, of Bess and Clutha galloping side by side with an Australian horse and veteran, was unveiled at Port Said, by the Suez Canal in Egypt, where the campaigners had commenced their wartime service.

Bess continued to serve Colonel Powles at the agricultural training school at Flock House in Bulls until '... one day in October 1934 he was riding her and she suddenly decided to lie down and die then and there'. What is now known as the Memorial to Bess was erected on the site that she died and was buried. Dedicated by Powles, the square shaped memorial is made of stone and marble and was inscribed with memorial texts on two sides.

In 1956 Egyptian nationalisation of the Suez Canal precipitated war in October 1956 between Egypt and Israel, which was backed by France and Britain, both of whom had strategic interests in the Canal. The UN mediated a truce and Israel withdrew by the end of 1956 and the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) was deployed to the peninsula. The conflict caused damage to the statue of Bess that had been erected at Port Said, and in 1956 the structure was relocated to Albany, in Australia, where it remains a popular visitor attraction. At one stage there were an estimated 100,000 people visiting the statue of Bess, Clutha MacKenzie and the Australian horse and rider each year.

Colonel Powles' Memorial to Bess at Bulls, in New Zealand, remains as a private tribute to the horse. The Memorial is now located on Crown Land. There are no signs marking the road down which it is placed, and access is difficult. Despite this, the Memorial continues to attract visitors. The Memorial is held in high esteem by the local community. It is an important reminder of the horses that played such a crucial part in the First World War, and of the loyal service of one horse who won the gratitude of its owner.

Physical Description

Constructed on the site on which the horse Bess was believed to have died, and where she was later buried, the Memorial was erected by Bess's loyal owner, Colonel Charles Guy Powles. The Memorial is made of stone and marble. It consists of a small stone plinth on a concrete base, with marble stone plaques on two adjacent sides, and a large rock on the top of the plinth. Each of the two marble plaques bear inscriptions to Bess. One plaque is inscribed with the title 'Zelma', which was the horse's Arabic name. This plaque details the countries in which Bess served during the war effort. They include Egypt, Sinai, Palestine, France, Germany and England. The inscription also details the date of her return, July 1920, and the details of her death 'died whilst on duty Oct 1934'. On the other side of the stone the plaque bears an Arabic inscription, which translates to 'In the Name of the Most High God'.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1934 -
Date of Bess' death

Construction Details

The square monument is made of stone and marble.

Completion Date

1st October 2004

Report Written By

Rebecca O'Brien

Information Sources

Wilkie, 1976

A. Wilkie, Official War Official of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment, Wellington, 1976

Henderson, 1978

J. Henderson, Soldier Country, Wellington: Millwood Press Ltd, 1978

MacLean, 1990

Chris MacLean and Jock Phillips, The Sorrow and the Pride: New Zealand War Memorials, Wellington, 1990

Powles, 1922

G. Powles, The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine, Wellington, 1922

Powles, 1928

G. Powles, The History of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles 1914-1919, Wellington, 1928

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Central Region office

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.