Sacrificial Horses

So overwhelming has been the thought of human suffering in Europe, so anxious has the world been to relieve it, that little thought has been bestowed on the dumb sufferers. Various war photographs have shown us the novel sight of the dogs of Belgium impressed into service for dragging the smaller guns; but all contestants use horses, and when we reflect that the average life of a cavalry horse at the front is not more than a week, if that, we gain some idea of the sacrifice of animals which modern warfare demands.

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King Albert of Belgium at the Front, 1914. Image from a vintage postcard.

One of the pleaders for the horse is John Galsworthy, the English novelist, who gives in the London Westminster Gazette this moral aspect of the use of the horse in warfare, with the attendant obligation:

H_cavalry“Man has only a certain capacity for feeling, and that has been strained almost to breaking point by human needs. But now that the wants of our wounded are being seen to with hundreds of motor ambulances and hospitals fully equiped, now that the situation is more in hand, we can surely turn a little to the companions of man. They, poor things, have no option in this business; they had no responsibility, however remote and indirect, for its inception; get no benefit out of it of any kind whatever; know none of the sustaining sentiments of heroism; feel no satisfaction in duty done. They do not even – as the prayer for them untruly says – ‘offer their guileless lives for the wellbeing of their countries.’ They know nothing of countries; they do not offer themselves. Nothing so little pitiable as that. They are pressed into this service, which cuts them down before their time.”

That the European war threatened to deplete the stock of horses even in the United States is emphasized by a careful computation which fixed at 185,023 the number of horses shipped to the warring nations from July 1, 1914, to March 31, 1915.

Buyers representing the British, French and Russian governments were reported as searching the country for more, and, according to estimates made by shippers, at least 120,000 animals were to be shipped to Europe during the summer of 1915.

Shippers were deeply interested when it became known for a certainty that the German government had representatives purchasing horses in the West. Wood Brothers, the largest horse dealers in Nebraska, were asked to bid on a 25,000-head shipment. Ruling prices for the grade of horses desired by foreign buyers have ranged from $175 to $200 per head.

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A German postcard of a munitions train.

The last step before placing the horses on shipboard was to adjust special halters to them, so that, as in the case of many horses purchased by France, it was only necessary, when the animals reached the other side, to snap two straps to his head-stalls and make him instantly ready to be hitched to a gun limber or a wagon of a transport train.
‘Earl Kitchener and the Great War’, Captain Logan Howard-Smith. John C. Winstone Co., Limited, Toronto Canada. 1916.

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A Donkey on the Lawn

Friday Flashback to Arncliffe in 1973.

Arncliffe 2

 

The village of Arncliffe lies in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, England, and is a popular spot today with cyclists, walkers and people who enjoy fly fishing in picturesque streams (even when they don’t catch anything).

Fans of British TV soap operas will know it was the original location for Emmerdale Farm, first broadcast in October ’72 and still running. The Falcon Inn was cast as The Woolpack pub. Arncliffe’s time in the showbusiness spotlight ended four years later when the production moved closer to the television studios in Leeds.

This scene was shot exactly as found. To be clear, I did not hire or position the donkey for rustic effect. Maybe it was an Emmerdale extra on its lunch break.

Military Mascots and Crimean Kittens

The Royal Warwickshire Regiment [originally the 6th Regiment of Foot].
Warwickshire regiment. Image from a 1939 Godfrey Phillips cigarette card.A formation raised by a few adventurous Englishmen to help the Dutch in 1673-4 laid the foundation of the old 6th. In 1685 it was included in the army of James II, but returned again to the Netherlands, appearing next in England when William of Orange became king [1689]. The distinction of “Royal” dates from 1832.

The regiment won its badge* at the battle of Almanza (1707) by capturing a standard with the antelope emblem thereon – antelopes have since become regimental mascots. Allied regiments are the Weyburn Regiment and the Westminster Regiment, both of Canada, and the Hauraki Regiment of New Zealand.
*The origin of the antelope badge is debatable. This is one version.

Official mascots in the British army are not regimental “pets”. They have a number and rank – and can be demoted for bad behaviour, just like Billy Windsor of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

Image from a 1939 cigarette card by Godfrey Phillips.Of comparitively recent origin, the Irish Guards were raised at the wish of Queen Victoria in 1900 as a tribute to the magnificent services rendered by Irish regiments during the South African campaign [Boer War].

An Irish wolfhound which proudly “follows the drum” on ceremonial parades is the treasured mascot of the Irish Guards. The Army chooses its mascots for a variety of reasons, some symbolise regimental badges, others record campaigns, whilst some pets even have utility, like the kittens which the soldiers carried inside their coats for warmth at the battle of Alma [Crimean War, 1854].

That last line, written in 1939 as if we should know the story, is intriguing. I haven’t been able to find any details so far, certainly no eye witness accounts. If you know more, please leave a comment. It might just be an urban myth that grew from the story of Bulgarian Belle, a cat that’s believed to have survived the same battle in a soldier’s back pack. Go to this link and scroll down to read more about her.

Image from a 1934 Valentine's art postcard.

A postcard by Valentine from 1934.

Text and cigarette cards from ‘Soldiers of the King’ by Godfrey Phillips Ltd. 1939.

Advice from a friend

Vintage postcard of a dog chasing geese, posted 1905.

On the face of it, the subject of this old postcard looks like it might have a limited market but the person who bought it in 1905 thought it would drive home his message to a friend perfectly. It was mailed to a Mr. P. S. Wilson by someone with an illegible signature who added just one line of advice at the bottom – “Dear Pat, Don’t chase a goose, aim for something higher”.

In the 19th and early 20th century, the word goose could be used to describe a “silly person” (Blackie’s Standard Dictionary c.1918) and, it has to be said, was most often aimed at a woman. A shallow or superficial person, easily exited, and not very bright. What some unkind people would call an “airhead” today. Modern dictionaries, by the way, will tell you it means “simpleton” which raises a mere derogatory term to a much higher level of insult.

Was Pat’s friend giving advice about geese in general, knowing Pat’s usual choice of female company? Or did he have one particular goose in mind, which seems likely from his use of the singular? And was he still Pat’s friend after he posted this card?

Landseer’s Lions

Tate; (c) Tate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Duchess of Abercorn and daughter by Landseer. Tate Gallery.

Sir Edwin Landseer, the painter…..was one of my father and mother’s oldest friends, and had been an equally close friend of my grandparents, the Duke and Duchess of Bedford. He had painted three portraits of my father [the Duke of Abercorn], and five of my mother. Two of the latter had been engraved, and, under the titles of “Cottage Industry” and “The Mask,” had a very large sale in mid-Victorian days. His large picture of my two eldest sisters, which hung over our dining-room chimney-piece, had also been engraved, and was a great favourite, under the title of “The Abercorn Children.” Landseer was a most delightful person, and the best company that can be imagined. My father and mother were quite devoted to him, and both of them always addressed him as “Lanny.”

My mother going to call on him at his St. John’s Wood house, found “Lanny” in the garden, working from a ladder on a gigantic mass of clay. Turning the corner, she was somewhat alarmed at finding a full-grown lion stretched out on the lawn.

Trafalgar Square lion

Landseer had been commissioned by the Government to model the four lions for the base of Nelson’s pillar in Trafalgar Square. He had made some studies in the Zoological Gardens, but as he always preferred working from the live model, he arranged that an elderly and peculiarly docile lion should be brought to his house from the zoo in a furniture van attended by two keepers. Should anyone wish to know what that particular lion looked like, they have only to glance at the base of the Nelson pillar.

Vintage postcard of Trafalgar Square, London, by the Photochrom Company.

On paying an afternoon call, it is so unusual to find a live lion included amongst the guests, that my mother’s perturbation at finding herself in such close proximity to a huge loose carnivore is, perhaps, pardonable.
‘The Days Before Yesterday’, Lord Frederic Hamilton, Hodder and Stoughton. 1920.

The photograph of the captive lion was taken by Gambier Bolton, probably in the early 1890s, and published on a postcard by Raphael Tuck & Sons about 1905. This pioneering animal photographer was sometimes described as the Landseer of photography and his original prints fetch high prices from collectors today.

Battleship cats (and rats)

In August 1941 British Prime Minister Winston Churchill embarked on a top-secret mission aboard the battleship H.M.S. Prince of Wales to rendezvous with American President Frankin D. Roosevelt at Placentia Bay, Newfoundland. The accord reached by the two men at that meeting became known as the Atlantic Charter. A few trusted (and sworn to secrecy) media representatives were included in the official party, of whom H. V. Morton was one. Three days into the five day journey Morton decided to explore the ship. His visit to the engine room, “in the temperature of Trinidad”, was brief…….

Ascending with relief to more temperate regions, I was in time to be present at one of those domestic interludes which enliven the existence of a battleship, even in war-time.

Three Marines were holding three cats. They held them not as animal lovers, but as soldiers, as if cats were part of their equipment, as if, indeed, they might be ordered to “for inspection, port cats!”; which is precisely what they were doing. An officer came along and, having scrutinised the cats, solemnly dismissed them.

I was told the explanation. When the Prince of Wales returned from the shipyard after a brief refitment following the Bismarck action, a peculiar smell was noticed on one of the decks. This smell, increasing in volume and pungency, inspired two schools of thought: one, that the shipwrights had used some unusually penetrating glue or other material, the other, that one of the ship’s three cats had chosen an inaccessible hiding-place in which to expire. It was therefore decided to muster the cats and solve at least one of the theories which, as I saw, was happily unfounded.

Churchill and Blackie_2

Winston Churchill discourages ‘Blackie’ from following him on to the American destroyer alongside H.M.S. Prince of Wales.

Until her visit to the shipyard, I was told, the Prince of Wales prided herself on her ratlessness. But when she returned to duty a few rats had come aboard and action was immediately taken. It was proclaimed that any sailor who caught a rat would earn half a day ashore, and this made the life of a rat in the Prince of Wales a brief and hazardous affair. The business was arranged with the usual naval precision. Rats having been caught, the trappers were required to parade with them. An inspecting officer cynically remained until he had seen the rats faithfully destroyed. Then the trappers were able to qualify for their reward. I asked if anyone had thought it worth while to import such desirable quarry but I was answered with a stony and disapproving stare.
‘Atlantic Meeting’, H. V. Morton, Methuen & Co. Ltd., London, 1943.

Four months later, on 7th December 1941, Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbour and America entered WWII. On 10th December H.M.S. Prince of Wales, along with H.M.S. Repulse, was sunk off Malaya by repeated Japanese aerial attacks. 327 men from Prince of Wales died, including Vice-Admiral Sir Tom Phillips and Captain John Leach. The fate of the cats is not recorded.