Warrior – one of the real war horses

In an introductory note to Sidney Galtray’s  The horse and the war Field-Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces, states:

“I hope that this account … will bring home to the peoples of the British Empire …  the wisdom of breeding animals for the two military virtues of hardiness and activity.”

Last night’s Channel 4 Programme War horse: the real story brought home the reality of those two military virtues.  Images of horses pulling enormous loads and passing through the notorious ‘Hellfire Corner’ made harrowing viewing.

To counter this archive footage of soldiers talking warmly about ‘their’ horses and photos of them at rest beside their animals was incredibly moving.

This human-animal bond was clearly important and touchingly the Blue Cross provided advice in its handbook for Drivers, Gunners and Mounted Soldiers on how to comfort and revive a weary horse.  Soldiers were to told to  ‘Pull his ears and hand rub his legs and he will appreciate it.’

As the programme showed this unique relationship between horse and rider was never so clear as in the story of General Jack Seely, and his horse ‘Warrior.’  Seely and Warrior saw active service throughout WW1 as part of the Canadian Cavalry and led one of the last ever cavalry charges.

Much has been written about Seely and Warrior, not least by Seely himself in his book My Horse Warrior, which is beautifully illustrated by Alfred MunningsIn an article in the Veterinary Times Bob Michell says of this book that it is  ‘not just a eulogy, it is the most unusual love story you will ever read.’   It has recently been reprinted and is well worth a read.


Galtrey, Sidney (1918) The horse and the war London : Country Life and George Newnes
Michell, Bob (2010) Equine sacrifice for king and country Veterinary Times 17 May, p22-23
Seely, Jack (1934) My horse warrior London: Hodder & Stoughton.  Reprinted in 2011 with an introduction by Seely’s grandson Brough Scott as Warrior :The Amazing Story of a Real War Horse Racing Post Books

The thrill of ‘The Chace’

William Somervile The Chace 1767 feeding hounds

Feeding hounds

Today is  World Poetry Day, so to mark the occasion we have brought out one of the poetry books we have in our Historical Collection, William Somervile’s The Chace: a poem (id 15172).  This was first published in 1735 and we have a copy of the fifth edition which was published in 1767.

William Somervile (1675–1742), was educated at Winchester College and New College, Oxford.  Showing no early aptitude for literature, Somervile turned his hand to poetry in middle age. For most of his adult life he lived on the family estate in Edstone, Warwickshire where he devoted himself to field sports, the subject of his best known poems.

The Chace is written in four books of blank verse in which Somervile conveys the excitement and dangers of hunting, as well as its place in history. It also covers dog breeding and training, hare and stag hunting and, in one section, even takes in hunting in the ‘magnificent manner of the Great Mogul.’

It starts with the call to the chase: ‘the sport of kings’ from the ‘horse-sounding horn’.  It goes on to describe in detail not only the thrill of the hunt, ‘the huntsman ever gay, robust and bold,’ but what Somervile sees as the cruelty.  The poem also explores the bond between the huntsman and his horse.  The death of  a much loved horse is greatly mourned:

‘Unhappy quadrapede! No more, alas!
Shall thy fond master with his voice applaud
Thy gentleness, thy speed; or with his hand
Stroke the soft dappled sides, as he each day
Visits thy stall, well pleas’d; no more shalt thou
With sprightly neighings  … glad his proud heart’

Want to read more?  You can find the 1802 edition here