By Sgt. J. Denton Scott

YANK Staff Correspondent

WEST AFRICA—Horses, horses, horses—sure money, slick Arabian speedsters—and not a bookie in sight.

That could be the lament of GIs at this outpost but it isn’t. Here where the sun is hot enough to make your tongue feel like a felt hat most of the time, the Army is going swank and is nudging itself into a place beside the Hitchcocks and the Whitneys. The GIs have left the softball and volleyball ranks and are now swinging elite mallets from native steeds trained to the game of polo.

It all started when some of the guys, having little else to do in their spare time, started to attend native horse races run every two months. Impressed by the fairy-tale beauty of these nags, they dropped occasional queries about price.

Mouths and eyes spread wide open when they learned they could pick one up for a fin.

Then began a run on the market, but the bargain was soon nipped in the bud when the natives sensed the demand and galloped the prices up to where haggling began. Today the “goats” are going for an average of $24 ($35 is high), the supply and demand is good and there are happy entries in the books on both parties.

But something had to be devised to cope with the growing surplus of horses around the camp. It was beginning to look like a Cavalry outfit. GIs tired of simply riding the mustangs. The answer was polo.

There were some English soldiers nearby and our GIs had the ponies, and before they knew it, another oddity came out of a land that’s full of them. It wasn’t the original intention, but the fact that almost every GI in the outfit owned two or three fitted in nicely with Africa’s heat. During a game they would have to change horses at least three times or, as the boys properly say now, “a new horse for about every 2 ½ chukkers.”

wwii army soldiers west africa polo horse

Americans, Englishmen and Africans in some action as hot as the African sun.

They have stable boys and everything that goes with the care of the animals. Native boys do the work for just a few chips more than a dollar per week. Six shillings a week takes care of the horse’s feed bag. Taking everything into consideration, a GI shells out about 60 dollars to become owner of a string of polo ponies.

Two games are played each week. Even the Africans are getting into the spirit of things. Every Saturday afternoon, when the chores are done, three teams get together—American, English and African. No one knows who carries top honors but everyone is having himself quite a time.

wwii army soldiers west africa polo horse

Poloists Sgt. Pete Spaans, Mr. Malilima, S/Sgt. Bill O’Shea, Pfc. Pierce Mitchell

For Further Reading Check Out:

Tales from the Forgotten Front: British West Africa during WWII

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