If you’re a regular visitor to the Campfire Chronicle, you know that I tend to stick with topics that are strictly Western in nature. There are a lot of good tales to tell and I will never run out of Western material, but it’s a big world out there! Sometimes stories that strike a chord with Westerners don’t actually happen in the West, and that’s why I’ve decided to take a departure in today’s edition. We’re going all the way to jolly ol’ England to talk about horses…war horses, in fact, and their unlikely savior, Sir Winston Churchill.
Hold Your Horses!
In war, resolution; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity. ~ Winston Churchill
World War I left a lot of casualties in its wake, but Winston Churchill didn’t think that tens of thousands of war horses should be added to that number. During the war, the British military had purchased more than 1,100,000 horses from Britain, the U.S. and Canada. The initial investment was over $47 million USD and that didn’t include the amount spent to care for the horses between the years of 1914-1918. In today’s dollars, the initial investment to Britain was a staggering $2.3 billion.
The investment in horses had been worth it for the Brits. They had done the work that war horses do. They were used to transport weapons and supplies, mount cavalry charges, pull heavy guns and transport dead and wounded soldiers. The war horses suffered high mortality rates, often succumbing to exhaustion, harsh winters and direct hits from shelling. The loss of life was actually greater among horses than humans, during the battles of Somme and Passchendaele.
During the war, the British government had done everything possible to maintain a constant supply of horses. Farming horses were requisitioned from families who loved them. And, between the years of 1914-1917, approximately 1000 horses were shipped from the United States on a daily basis.
If Wishes Were Horses
Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones. ~Winston Churchill
There’s no doubt about it; the horses did their part to secure an Allied victory, but, when the war ended and the soldiers returned to their families, the horses were still stranded on foreign soil.
Forty-four-year-old Winston Churchill was Secretary of State for War at the end of WWI, but he had also served his time on the frontlines. When Churchill discovered the plight of the war horses, he refused to accept the status quo. The British military had vowed to return the horses to Britain, but it didn’t appear that they had vowed to do it in a timely manner. Horses who had served so valiantly continued to be at risk of starvation and disease. Many of them had even been sold to French and Belgian butchers, which Churchill found to be unconscionable.
War of Words
Never give in—never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. ~Winston Churchill
Perhaps one of the reasons Winston Churchill is so highly quoted is because he said so much, in so very few words. He knew all about words and he wasn’t afraid to use them, and he knew how to use them in the right way. So, when he discovered the plight of the war horses, he did what he did best . . . he fired off a power-packed message filled with some very carefully chosen words to Lieutenant-General Sir Travers Clarke, who was then Quartermaster-General!
In a document dated February 13, 1919, Churchill wrote, “If it is so serious, what have you been doing about it? The letter of the Commander-In-Chief discloses a complete failure on the part of the Ministry of Shipping to meet its obligations and scores of thousands of horses will be left in France under extremely disadvantageous conditions.”
The man made a good point. I would say that being sold to butchers would be extremely disadvantageous!
Waiting for Their Ships to Come In
You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life. ~ Winston Churchill
Thanks to Churchill’s intervention, additional ships were quickly allocated to return the equine soldiers to the land for which they had so valiantly fought. Up to 9,000 horses per week discovered that their ships had come in!
The plight of the war horses was one that had largely been forgotten until Steven Spielberg decided to make a little movie, which was based on a play, which was based on a 1982 children’s book, by Michael Morpurgo! The book, play and movie are all simply called War Horse. While that story tells of the attempt of a young man to be reunited with his beloved farm horse, the unfortunate fact is that very few horses were actually returned to their original owners.
War and Peace
Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all others. ~ Winston Churchill
As it turned out, World War I was the last time horses were used on such a massive scale in modern warfare. By the time WWII broke out, war horses had largely been replaced by tanks.
Churchill was known as a lover of all creatures great and small, and his most famous quote speaks directly to that:
“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
In the case of Sir Winston Churchill and Britain’s war horses, it would seem to me that there was something about the inside of one man that was very good for the outside of thousands of horses!
Here’s a mini-bio of Sir Winston that I think you’ll enjoy, from the Biography Channel!
Happy Trails y’all!