War Horse!

Thursday November 17th 2011 01:01:25 PM

There is no more worthy subject to touch on today of all days than War Horse. War Horse the book, the film, the exhibition and the reality. Last week I was sent a link to a trailer of the new Steven Spielberg Film of War Horse. The book was written by local author Michael Morpurgo after he met a First World War veteran in his local pub. The old man told Michael that because the soldiers couldn’t even begin to talk to each other about the horrors around them they would go at night and talk to the horses. A seed was sown in the writer’s mind and after researching the use of horses during the war produced his bestselling book. Being of the emotional type when it comes to horses I began to watch the trailer with trepidation, I was right to. This isn’t a ‘bit of a weepy’ it’s a ‘box of tissues’ film. Sweeping views of Widecombe in the Moor opened the trailer, followed by scenes of horses struggling to cope with the horrors of gunfire, mud and explosions. The next scene accompanied by appropriate music shows the glorious image of a horse galloping through No Man’s Land mane and tail flying. My heart galloped with him, so I’m not the one to sit next to at the pictures I shall be in tears before it even starts.
To coincide with the film an exhibition of War Horse is being held in the National Army Museum in London with interactive displays and it’s free with many exhibits having been provided by the Brooke. Regular readers of my column will be aware of the admiration I have for The Brooke, a charity that helps working horses, donkeys and mules throughout the world by educating the people who need them everyday just as we need our delivery trucks and lorries. The Brooke was started after the First World War to help horses that had survived the battlefields but were then sold into a life of hard labour as working horses in Cairo because it was too expensive to bring them home. If I get time before Christmas I’m really going to make the effort to get up to see this exhibition.
Then in preparation to write this column for Remembrance Day I did a little research on the internet on horses in war and out came the tissues again. The first hand descriptions of men and horses struggling to gain a few feet through mud and wire were so terribly moving. The stories of bravery and horror, that I cannot even report here they are too awful, took my breath away. Images of men, horses, ponies and mules dragging supplies through deep mud, working together, dying together in horrific circumstances. I think of my own riding horses who would have been described as ‘Light Draught’ being requisitioned from the green and peaceful pastures of Devon being loaded onto trains and taken into the hell of battle is just too much to bear.
There is a large memorial in London to all the animals who have helped man fight in various wars around the world. Under the main inscription thanking the animals for all they have done there is a second one that simply reads ‘They had no choice.’ But neither did the men and woman who were sent out there by someone sitting faraway in a comfortable office playing chess with real lives. Whenever I hear a news item telling that yet another soldier has died in Afghanistan adding ‘His family have been told’ I bow my head and think, ‘Somebody’s son’. I am free to do what I do, to have freedom of speech to say almost anything because millions of people and horses fought and died in the most appalling conditions. I thank them all and wish for peace in memory of their lives.
Lest we forget? Sometimes I think we haven’t even remembered.

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