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Bess The Brave War Horse by Susan Brocker


During World War One, New Zealand sent some 10,000 horses overseas to battle.


The true experiences of one of these remarkable horses, Bess, is explored in this new picture book.


Written by accomplished author Susan Brocker, Bess The Brave War Horse follows Bess from New Zealand, to war in the Middle East, and back again.


She was one of more than 1000 horses donated to the Government for military purposes when the war broke out. The four-year-old thoroughbred was allocated to the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment, and was renamed from Zelma to Bess. She served Captain Guy Powles throughout the war in Egypt, Sinai, Palestine and France.

Sadly, at the end of the war the horses could not return home to New Zealand. Quarantine laws and a lack of ships meant they had to be left in Egypt. Fortunately for Bess, her master was a captain with clout and he managed to have her returned home. She was quarantined with just three other horses before returning to New Zealand.


Brocker tells the story simply and matter-of-factly. Her story sensitively recounts the war in an accessible way for younger readers – from the eyes of Bess. She keeps the horror of war subdued, while effortlessly showing the immense bond the soldiers formed with their horses.


Illustrator Raymond McGrath uses a muted palette to accompany the text. Rich browns, ochre and inky blues skilfully portray the atmosphere of war. However, when Bess finally returns home the pages burst with colour. It is a wonderful case study in the power of colour use.


Brocker also includes a note from herself giving more indepth details and documents a little of Bess’s life once she returned from war.


Bess The Brave War Horse is a sensitive retelling of an important part of our history.


Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser

Scholastic, RRP $27.99

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