There are soldiers, there are horses, and then there are heroes. In some families, you find all three.
Like Guy Haydon of Bloomfield in the upper Hunter Valley in NSW, his young brother Barney and their war horses.
Their story has not been widely told but when the brothers, whose forebears arrived in NSW in 1830, enlisted for the Great War, they took their horses with them.
According to the family archives, their mother insisted, believing that Haydon horses — already a superior breed — would keep her boys safe. And so it proved: both survived Gallipoli, and then, on October 31, 1917, both took part in the awe-inspiring charge of the Australian Light Horse brigade, bolting at blistering pace across a flat, open plain, toward Turkish soldiers in the trenches at Beersheba.
It is the centenary of this victorious charge that Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, this week invited Malcolm Turnbull to commemorate in October.
Brothers, horses and heroes.
Undaunted, and apparently unafraid, the Light Horse brigade tore towards the trenches, then leapt. Many of the horses were shot or bayoneted in their bellies, as they flew overhead.
Guy Haydon, aboard his black mare Midnight, was shot, but Midnight took the brunt of the assault. The bullet passed through the horse’s stomach, through her saddle, then through the bed roll, into the soft flesh near Guy’s spine — and there the bullet stopped, the impact deadened.
Horse and rider fell to the ground. Midnight was killed, but Guy’s life had been saved by a horse he learned to ride on, as a boy. He would carry the hole from that bullet for the rest of his life, a flesh memento of the day the Australians seized the city of Beersheba, the beginning of the end of the Ottoman Empire.
The bullet, removed during an operation in Cairo without anaesthetic, can today be found in a special tin in a newly renovated hut on the land on which Guy was raised.
Remarkably, the property is still in the hands of the Haydons, and when the patriarch of the current generation, Peter Haydon, 62, steps out to bridle a horse in the corrugated iron stables, he’s handling descendants of those Light Horse brigade animals.
“We can trace the bloodlines of the horses we have today to Beersheba,” he says. “We believe that makes them unique in Australia.
“My family has been on this land since 1832. We have reached seven generations and it’s continuous ownership.”
The Haydon story starts with resolute Irishman Peter Haydon, who took up a grant of “safe land” — plenty of water, plenty of grass — near the Pages River in the upper Hunter in 1832. It’s where magpies still warble, and the neighbourhood platypus still makes an occasional appearance. Peter prospered — besides the property in the Hunter, he also built the mansion that now forms part of the elite Sydney girls’ boarding school Kambala — and was soon joined by brother Thomas and sister Matilda.
From there, a dynasty grew. Besides grazing sheep and cattle, the Haydons bred horses notable for their speed and endurance.
In 1843, to use just one example, the sturdy Thomas Haydon rode from Bloomfield to the township of Maitland — that’s almost 150km — to do the family’s banking. While in Maitland, he entered the horse, Young Dover, in the Maitland Cup, and it won. Thomas then rode it home again.
The current generation of Haydons — Peter, wife Ali, their now-grown sons, Henry, Nick and David, and five grandchildren — are today one of a handful of Australian families still occupying the original homestead, on the original grant of land.
Their neighbours now include Malcolm Turnbull, who has his own pastoral property in the region.
Historic Houses Association chairman Tim Duddy holds pioneer families such as the Haydons in high esteem, saying: “They’ve survived it all. Flood, fire, pestilence!
“It’s remarkably hard work, keeping a property together … I’ve heard of some spectacular fallings-out, and yet it’s because these families still exist, and still maintain their archives, that we are able to know so much about what it was like for the first settlers: how hard people worked, and how much they sacrificed.”