War Horse

I’m absolutely thrilled that the movie War Horse (based on the play with handspring puppets, which was based on the children’s book by Michael Morpurgo) is coming out in the theaters this month.  And it’s not just because I love a horse movie, but because it makes me happy when the general public discovers how important horses were in our history and the sacrifices they made for mankind.

War Horse takes place during World War I (The Great War) and it would be the last major conflict in which military sources used mounted cavalry.  But even so, the horses’ use was restricted due to the wide scale employment of barbed wire strung across the battlefield, not to mention the machine gun, which easily ended any cavalry charge in the most deadly way.  Nevertheless, horses and mules were conscripted and used for transport, supplies and moving artillery.

Here is the very sad part.  Draft horses, light horses, and mules died in great numbers.  Between 1914 and 1918 the US exported nearly a million horses to the war effort in Europe.  6 million equines served in total.  Most of them perished on the battlefields.  Most of the ones who did make it through were slaughtered in France.  Very few made it home.

British author Jilly Cooper, who wrote the scandalous and hysterically funny novel Riders, worked tirelessly to get a war monument to animals installed at Brook Gate, Park Lane, near London’s Hyde Park.  She succeeded in 2004, and the the Animals in War Memorial is beautiful.  The first inscription on the monument reads:

This monument is dedicated to all the animals

that served and died alongside British and allied forces

in war and campaigns throughout time

The second:

They had no choice

Moira and I wrote about warhorses in The Original Horse Bible, and although we knew about the horses’ fate, it still upset us all the same.  Between World War I and II, many breeds neared extinction, such as the Exmoor pony, the Cleveland Bay, and the Trakehner.

I suppose this is why I nearly burst into tears this last weekend when I took my niece and nephews to see the movie Hugo and saw a huge cardboard display advertising War Horse.  I was toast when the first trailers came on TV.  Only last night my husband caught me welling up.  I just can’t help it.  When the part where Joey, the star of the movie, is  on the battlefield in harness, he turns his head and his little face, his white blaze, is covered in mud.  It gets me, it really does.  I just want to run out to the barn and bury my face in my horse’s mane.  See for yourself:

Show of hands.  Who cried?

Horses, The Original Horse Bible
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6 Responses to War Horse

  1. kass lockhart says:

    I cried just reading your narrative. Have you read about the little mare that carried ammunition for American troops in the Korean War? And there are others. Most not celebrated, unless somebody made a movie or wrote a book about it. The horses just keep on truckin. . . .even though it’s not their war.


    • I never knew about that mare. Is it a book?

      I was really proud that Jilly Cooper raised the money for the monument. And it is truly beautiful. All the war memorials in Britain are incredible, but this one is really touching. I would say it’s on par with the Battle of Britain Memorial in Kent. But that one has a dog in it, so there you are!

      • kass lockhart says:

        Yes it is. I’ll see if I can conjure up the title–it’s pretty old. The horse was a little mare, she made it through the war, and I think was retired and kept until she died at one of the army bases in the states. Let me do a little research. Though you’re probably better at it than me.

  2. ridexc says:

    Hey Sharon — just a weensy correction. The original children’s book, War Horse, was written by Michael Morpurgo, in 1982.

    I just got my mitts on it recently (new editions have come out to coincide with the movie, naturally) … had to read it before I saw the movie or the play because I needed to know if Joey survived! Otherwise I’d be a total wreck. 😉

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