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War horse: A scene of tranquillity in the farm fields of Stortford ahead of the horrors of the battlefields in France



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A photograph more than 100 years old showing hundreds of horses and men gathered in Bishop's Stortford ahead of being sent off to fight in the First World War serves as a poignant reminder in this period of Remembrance of the animals killed in conflict.

The picture came to the attention of Sally Hardwick, who owns Hallingbury Hall Equestrian Centre in Little Hallingbury. She believes it was originally on display at Bishop's Stortford Museum. It moved her to tears.

"It was only recently I found out it was a train pick-up point for every horse over 15 hands in the area to be conscripted into the war," said Sally. "None to talk of returned home to their owners."

Horses and men gather in fields at Great Havers Farm in Bishop's Stortford ahead of being sent off to fight in the First World War (43047886)
Horses and men gather in fields at Great Havers Farm in Bishop's Stortford ahead of being sent off to fight in the First World War (43047886)

"It just made me really, really sad because when you look at that picture you see the young men looking forward to an exciting adventure and all the horses looking relaxed with no idea what's ahead," she said.

"We love our horses and I just cannot imagine having to send them off to war."

According to the Herts Past Policing website, the photo is of the Staffordshire Yeomanry cavalry lines at Great Havers Farm.

More than 16 million horses, donkeys and other animals were made to serve during the war. Picture: Crown Copyright (43066194)
More than 16 million horses, donkeys and other animals were made to serve during the war. Picture: Crown Copyright (43066194)

Men and horses boarded trains from Bishop's Stortford to London, from where they were sent to France. Bishop's Stortford Veterinary Hospital in Rye Street was used by the Army as a base for processing horses being sent off to war; its stable yard can still be seen at the premises.

Some eight million horses, donkeys and mules died during the First World War, three-quarters of them from the conditions in which they worked.

At the start of the conflict in 1914, the British Army had 25,000 horses, but hundreds of thousands more were conscripted. They were needed at the front line to pull guns or lead charges into battle, and they played a vital role in transporting troops and ammunition.

And because military motorised vehicles were relatively new inventions and prone to problems, horses and mules were more reliable – and cheaper.

Some eight million horses, donkeys and mules died during the First World War, three-quarters of them from the conditions in which they worked
Some eight million horses, donkeys and mules died during the First World War, three-quarters of them from the conditions in which they worked

Over the course of the war, between 500 and 1,000 horses were shipped to Europe from Britain every day.

Farm horses and hunters were among those given up by families, never to return home. Some owners took the decision to put down their beloved animals rather than have them face the horrifying conditions of war.

The plight of these animals was highlighted by Michael Morpurgo's 1982 children's novel War Horse, which has been adapted into a West End stage play and a film directed by Steven Spielberg.



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