A famous horse revered on Anzac Day

Each Anzac Day, Covid restrictions allowing, there is a special gathering at the grave site in Parewanui, Bulls, to pay tribute to a horse that survived World War I and returned to New Zealand from the Western Front - one of only four horses to do so at war’s end.

Stone memorial to Bess the horse with grass in the background.
The Memorial to Bess. Photo: HNZPTexpand/collapse

Bess was one of more than 10,000 horses that New Zealand sent overseas to serve in World War I. A four-year-old thoroughbred at the start of the war in 1914, Bess became the best known of horses with the New Zealand forces in the Middle East and on the Western Front.

She is commemorated each year by Rangitikei residents at a private memorial on farmland near Parewanui. Originally named Zelma, Bess belonged to Fred Deller, an accountant in Carterton. She was selected by Lt Colonel Charles Guy Powles, father of former New Zealand diplomat and New Zealand’s first Ombudsman, Sir Guy Powles, to be his horse for the duration of the war. Powles and Bess served together in Egypt, the Sinai, Palestine and in France.

After returning from the war Charles Guy Powles became headmaster at Flock House, a Category 1-listed property in nearby Bulls. Flock House became an agricultural school for sons whose fathers had died in the war. Bess was brought to Charles Guy Powles at Flock House. She died suddenly one day in 1934 while Powles was riding her, and he buried her where she fell on the farm, aged 24.

As a tribute to Bess, Powles created a memorial cairn out of white marble with her war record listing the countries in which Bess served, with a text in Arabic “In the name of the Most High God”.

Heather Thorby and Tony Simms from the local Bulls community, who have worked closely with Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga on many heritage projects, say the local community has great pride in the Memorial to Bess which is listed Category 1, and take part in community tributes on Anzac Day. The full story of Bess is told in a permanent display at the Bulls Museum, open daily to the public.

Local residents and others are looking forward to celebrating the 100th anniversary of Flock House in 2024, on a date to be determined. Organisers of the event hope to contact as many families as possible with connections to Flock House to attend the centenary.

- David Watt