Great emu war

The Great Emu War

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The Great Emu War of 1932! What? You’ve never heard of it?

Major GPW Meredith of the Australian Army took his men and two Lewis machine guns into Western Australia to go to war…. against 20,000 fearsome emus?

It has to be the strangest war in human history.

This is the complete and slightly unbelievable tale of the Great Emu War of 1932!

This is the beautiful thing about history, stories like these you just couldn’t MAKE up! Yet…all 100% true.

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The background behind the Great Emu War of 1932.

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Many Australian soldiers returning home from the trenches in World War One were given tracts of land to farm in Western Australia from the government.

This was a great idea and a win-win all around. The population of the country was expected to explode with the returning soldiers coming home to their wives. The country itself would need more food; these tracts of land given away would be used by the soldiers to farm wheat.

Like many great ideas, there was a problem. A problem that had not been envisaged when the idea was conceived. Nobody took into account migrating emus.

20,000 emus on the migration path decided that these newly grown wheat fields would be excellent, new habitats. They “invaded” and they decimated the wheat crop.

Already, the price of wheat was in trouble because of the Great Depression. The new farmers had a big issue; their new livelihoods were being threatened.

They came up with a cunning plan to solve it.

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The Great Emu War begins.

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They sent a delegation over to see the Minister of Defence, Sir George Pearce. They relayed some of their experiences in the trenches; they knew from horrific personal experience the damage that machine guns could inflict. To save their crops and livelihood, they requested that the Australian military be drafted in with machine guns to sort out the Emu problem. The Minister of Defence readily agreed; it seemed like a very sensible solution.

In October of 1932, major GPW Meredith was drafted in with two men and two Louis machine guns. 

Meredith’s first problem was the driving rain; his battle plans had to be put on hold.

The rains dried up on the second of November, and Meredith and his men moved in for the first engagement. They spotted a flock of between 50 to 100 emus, and they opened fire. When the order to cease firing came, Meredith expected to see in front of him 100 scattered emu bodies. 

But the Emus were far too clever for that. 

As soon as the firing started, they scattered. Meredith’s men found it a lot harder to target a quick-moving emu rather than slow-moving herd feasting on a field of wheat. 

Despite firing 2500 rounds of ammunition, his men killed less than 10 emus. Not a very good return, was it?

On the fourth of November, Meredith and his men moved in on a flock of about 1000 births. Meredith rubbed his hands together; this was it he thought; it would be like shooting fish in a barrel. It turned out that wasn’t the case. 

Firstly one of the machine guns immediately jammed – Meredith was a gun down. And once again, the emus deployed the same tactics – they scattered. Meredith’s men noticed a strange phenomenon; amongst the emus, there were leaders. The leaders were constantly looking out for danger, and as soon as the firing started, they issued a warning. The emus that were following that particular leader then scattered. Again…the number of emus killed was shockingly poor. 

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GPW Meredith’s Plan B

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Meredith then came up with the cunning plan of mounting the machine guns on a truck.

What seemed to have been overlooked was that an emu at full pace could run at just over 50 miles an hour. The truck, on rough Western Australian terrain, could probably only manage about 30 miles an hour. 

This proved to be an unmitigated disaster. 

The emus could easily outrun the truck.

After six days of battle, probably only around 50 emus were killed. 

Major Meredith glibly reported that “if the Australian military had a division with the bullet carrying capacity of these birds, they could defeat any army in the world.” He also reported that even though he’d managed only made 50 kills, they had reported no losses of their own. 

What was he expecting? The emus to pick up the bullets and start throwing them back? 

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Who won the Great Emu War?

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These disasters caused negative press in the media resulted in the Ministry of Defence putting an immediate hold on the operation. But within weeks, with desperate pleas from the farmers, Meredith was back. This time they were moderately more successful, killing almost 1000 emus. However, the number of bullets they spent was estimated to be in the region of 10,000 to 20,000. Not a very good success rate. With an estimated 20,000 emus decimating the wheat crop, the level of success wasn’t sufficient.

Once again, Meredith’s men were withdrawn from duty. 

Instead, the Australian government came up with plan C. They put a bounty on the emus. 

They enlisted private bounty hunters to come in and kill emus; they will be paid a fee in return.

So ended the Great Emu War of 1932. Undoubtedly, a massive victory for the natural world. 

Quite frankly, it is the strangest war in the history of mankind and a story that should never be forgotten. 

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