The Day Winston Churchill Saved the War Horses

Churchill and horseIf 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

ChurchillWorld 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.

HorsesDuring 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

Horses in the warThere’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.

ChurchillForty-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

NPG x85330; Sir Travers Edwards Clarke by BassanoPerhaps 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

ChurchillThanks 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!

War HorseThe 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

ChurchillAs 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!
Anita Lequoia

121 Replies to “The Day Winston Churchill Saved the War Horses”

  1. And yet another gem of an article about something I didn’t even know I was interested in. Regarding Churchill’s many quotes, I was looking for a good horse-themed quote to use as an opening for the product description on a western style chair and decided to use this one: “No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.” The man certainly did have a way with words, and with horses too.

    1. Hi Carole, so glad that you enjoyed the story, and thanks so much for the compliment! Sir Winston was a friend to thousands of horses, and they were extremely fortunate to have been so blessed. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I do not believe a person can be of great character without genuine regard for those the Almighty has entrusted to us. While animals provide many things including sustenance, we do not do our duty if they are not treated humanely.

    Sir Winston as a great man, in part due to his regard for those who could not help him personally.

      1. I am so happy he saved them this and other country’s would not be the same if it were not for the wonderful horse they have helped man kind in so many ways and have suffered for it no horse should ever be slaughtered they should be cherished I have had horses my hole life and they are treated like family

  3. Winston Churchill was a great man and kind hearted. I am happy to know that he try to save all of the War Horses that were used in WWI. Tears to the horses that were lost.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Patty. . .it does my heart good to know that Sir Winston cared so much. He is one of the greatest leaders of all time, in my opinion, in addition to being one of the greatest human beings of all time!

  4. Wow, this is so great! Really glad to hear that Churchill stood up for the horses and got so many of them back. They are the most amazing creatures that have had so much to do with history and in helping humans. For me, they help my heart. I’m so thankful to have them in my life.

  5. I never knew the story of Mr. Churchill’s compassionate actions taken for all those Horses that selflessly served along side of the soldiers. A heart warming story that I will pass down to my Grandchildren. Along with his quotes as well!
    Thank you so much for sharing this story about a man who is greater yet than he already was!

  6. What an Awesome story from an Exceptional Human Being!!! People forget about the wars that our American Horses have fought and died in, for freedom. So many thanks to Sir Winston for remembering these brave soldiers, and rescuing them. Great Story!! I love my horses!!!

    1. Hi Laura, they were adopted by other families, and lived out their lives on British soil. There was plenty of room for them! Thanks for stopping by the blog, come back again soon!

  7. So glad Mr. Churchill saved the amazing horses that survived the war. I imagine they all came from great stock to have survived and PERFORMED so well under such extreme circumstances. What well broke horses the lucky people of Britain must have got after the war.

  8. This was nicely done. One thing we need to remember is that Millions of people in Europe, during and after WW I were starving as a result of the destruction of the agricultural system. WW I was a war of horrors for animals, soldiers and civilians. The horses that were used for Human consumption was not a bad thing, there were no other options. All wars are filled with Horrors.

    1. Thanks for the kind compliment, William! I do agree with you about the horrors of war, and it is important for us to judge those events from their own cultural perspective, not our current cultural perspective. It is a product of it’s own time and place. I hope that you come back to visit the blog again, I will welcome your comments!

  9. Wow. A well done article. Thank you–I didn’t know about his saving the War Horses. He was one of the greats! Thanks for this wonderfully done piece.

  10. Thank you for this moving posting about the war horses. Winston Churchill has long been a hero of mine and you have now added another important reason for that to be so.

  11. Oh so heart warming there aren’t enough words to describe how I feel about what Sir Churchill did for all our horses. People don’t realize how far back horses go in our history.They are all heroes.Thanks for sharing this great article. Can’t wait for your next one.

  12. He was a true champion! We could sure use someone like him to champion the animals now, with our networking and technology and awareness of many animals plights today, (factory farming and the likes) imagine what he could have achieved. He spoke for those who had no voices of their own, and I was so happy to come across this article. Thank you so much!!

  13. Great article, and fab webpage! I was pointed here from a UK horse web page and am now signed up. We saw “War Horse” on stage in Edinburgh, Scotland, last month and it was amazing. I recommend it if you get the chance to go.

  14. Absolutely loved this story so awesome, & what a wonderful man Sir Winston Churchill was for what he did for the horses.
    There should be more of this kind & caring actions, i’m very impressed by this story, MAKES ME SMILE 🙂 (except for the war part of it- loss of horses & humans) ;-(

  15. A lovely article, unfortunately we couldn’t get the youtube footage here in England, stumbled across your site via a post on FB, but will definitely come back for regular visits, very interesting.

  16. Thank you for writing this great story. Churchill was definitely an outstanding man and this story proves how compassionate he was too. Horses have helped mankind develop countries, defend countries and enjoy their countries…they deserve respect and excellent care.

  17. Thank you for posting this. I knew the was another reason Queen Elizabeth liked Sir Winston so much beyond his capabilities as a leader. Found your post through a horse themed FB group. I’ll be returning. Also, check out your local movie house, they may have a screening of National Theatre Live and their production if War Horse. Heading to see it tomorrow that way. Looking forward to your next post. 🙂

  18. Anita….I thoroughly enjoyed your article and video on Winston Churchill, but it was his “quotes” that hit the home run for me…especially the “You have enemies?” quote. This May I go to court to testify in a two day horse abuse case that started with me blowing the whistle. I always admired Mr. Churchill, but now with this new piece of history I just read he is my hero.
    I’m subscribing today to your blog.

    1. Hi Rena, I’m so happy that you subscribed, thank you so much! And may I say that I am happy to know you? I have the deepest admiration for people who step forward to defend those who cannot. . .BRAVA! 🙂

  19. Great article Anita, thank you for sharing it. Being an admirer I have read many books on and by Sir Winston and this is the first time I was aware of his involvement in the saving of these noble creatures. He was truly a great man.

  20. Enjoyed your article re Churchill and the war horses.
    An interesting book involving war horses is “The Fourth Horseman” by Robert Koenig

  21. Thank you so much for sharing. I have read of many good deeds that Sir Winston did while fighting battling WWII but very little of his work in WW1. He already had my utmost loyalty but this was just the icing on the cake. I saw the play War Horse in Ottawa and wept from start to end. Saw it again as a world wide screen showing and managed to only weep 3 or 4 times. Will see it again with new eyes this time.

  22. Thank you so much Anita for posting this!

    What a great man Sir Winston Churchill was! I had read about war horses for Australia and for Japan that accompanied and trusted humans through hardships away and was never brought home. Most of us, especially horse people, know there are no words to describe these knowledge.

    Thank you Anita again for bringing the attention to what was saved. God bless Sir Winston, wherever he is now. I hope he is surrounded by horses and all other little things that he loved.

    1. Hi Maiko, it’s nice to hear the stories with the happy endings. . .and Sir Winston did so much for these deserving horses. I’m really gald that you enjoyed his story, and thanks so much for stopping by!

  23. I had never heard this story and I am moved that Sir Winston Churchill took the time and effort to right this wrong. A great man and a real horse lover. Thanks for the information and I shall try to keep up with your blogs.

  24. Thank you, Anita for a beautiful story. I have heard of the movie War Horse but had no idea of the scale involved. Thank God for visionaries & humanitarians! And, thank you, too, Sir Winston! I too, have tears in my eyes. I’ll be checking back Anita! You are truly a gifted story teller.

  25. My Hero Winston! This was new news to me, although does not surprise me. Every time I read something about him, it’s new and amazing. Thanks you for sharing!

  26. A friend linked this story on Facebook. Makes me interested in seeing the film and perhaps, the stage play which is opening here soon. I want to congratulate you for your web design–warmest and most appealing looking site I’ve landed on in a while.

  27. I grew up riding horses. Truly God’s creature. There is just something amazing about them especially when you are bonded with one. Thank you for the story….I never knew. What an amazing man!

  28. Wow. Where are they now. Politicians who’s actions are greater than their words. Not that his words weren’t powerful, he was a true master at many things. And in his words. I will return. Thankyou.

  29. I am an equestrian. I can’t imagine the citizens who gave up their beloved horses knowing they probably wouldn’t be coming home. Thank you for such a touching story. War Horse is one of my favorite movies.

  30. Very touching! Well done! I have loved horses all my life and it makes me happy that someone with POWER was able to do the right thing! I agree with so many of the others that we need someone like Churchill NOW! I did not know about this, either. I could not watch War Horse because movies/plays about horses make me cry! Glad I found your blog through Facebook! I am going to subscribe!

  31. Thank you for a wonderful article being Scottish born, i was born in 1941 so i grew up with a british vision of the great man and i shared as we all do his love of horses. One of the great joys of living in America was my ability to buy and keep horses and i did so until i was a 71. Horse are i believe the very thread of our American way of live love of country love of horses. Thank you so very much I am proud to say i am an American but in my heart i will always be British.

  32. Thank you for sharing this piece of history. I have seen the movie War Horse and own it on DVD. I cry watching it ,but love it. Reading your blog is always enjoyable. Yes too bad we don’t have politicians out there for the Wild ones.

  33. Winston is from an era of Honorable Men…Teddy Roosevelt was another one…both equestrians

    WWII….Motorcycles, Tanks & Trucks replaced many of the horses

    in present-day wartime, it is our canine warriors who need to be recognized and remembered…if pictures of devoted canines laying on their partner’s grave don’t reduce you to tears, you are a cold-hearted individual

  34. It breaks my heart to see all the articles on animal abuse and especially horses and so nice to be reminded by all the above comments as to how magnificent they are and the important historical role they played. Most of them work harder and are braver then many of us.

  35. Thank you for the inspiring article.
    I am sure the lovely film “WarHorse” and others have brought some insight into the lives of these equines.

    I also think we forget how utterly instrumental horses were on other fronts and ‘police actions’ during more modern times.

    We are now using horses to help veterans and thers who have suffered PTSD and other abuses. Horses do their job and give to us. It is nice to see a politician with a backbone to stand up and ‘dot the right thing’ to save these magnificent creatures.

    Thank you…

    1. Hi Laura, thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the kind compliments on the story. Sir Winston would have been so pleased to see how many equine programs exist today, for the benefit of our war veterans. I think you are referring to the “Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots” program? It is one of my favorites, and I know that Sir Winston would have approved! 🙂

  36. “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”

    Exactly so. My father-in-law once remarked that were the common chigger as large as a fly it would rule the world. Thankfully, God in His wisdom already knew these things, and blessed mankind with ‘obedient’ servants such as the magnificent horse!

    Excellent article with little known information, thank you!

  37. Thanks for sharing this little known account of the war horses, I’ll be sure to share it with friends and family. Churchill did so many great things and this is near the top of the list. Thanks again 🙂

  38. This was excellent. Some qualities of Lord Churchill I did not know as was pleased to learn more about him. Thank you so much.

    Janice Johnson

  39. Thank you for sharing more about this remarkable man. I am English and incredibly proud of my heritage and just plain great fellows like him. We could do with a few more “Churchill’s” in this world to help look about for our beloved marvelous and majestic friends. Thanks again, I thoroughly enjoyed the article. 🙂

    1. Hi Virginia, thanks so much for the compliment. I share your admiration for Sir Winston, I think that he was one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known. . .and how lucky for the horses that he came to their rescue!

  40. Great to read, thank you. Horses are the golden thread in man’s ‘civilization’. This story reminded me of our own veterans: human and horse. I was also reminded of a story my beloved told me when he saw the killed horses in London just after an IRA bombing. Basic military riding is the way all horses should go…and we all know how noble our horses are: even the ones who don’t go to war for us.

  41. What a beautiful article. Sir Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, we need more people like them. Thank you so much Anita!!

    1. Hi Maria, so glad that you enjoyed the story! I agree . . . I often wonder what Ghandi and Churchill would have made of the state of our world today, and what they would have done about it.

  42. Sir Winston may have had a special relationship with War Horses. He was a cavalryman in the Bore War, an Hussar, and he participated in the last cavalry charge of the British Army, during which he was wounded.

  43. My Grandfather was in WWI, USA. He had 2 horses he cared for, Bruce & Shirley. I have old photos my mom gave me of him w/ his horses, He must have loved them as he named 2 of his children after them. My mother used to say disparginaly ” I was named after a horse! ” I think my Grandpa loved those horses. He didn’t talk much of his time in the great war but he did keep those photos. My Mother, Shirley I told her before she died, before WarHorse became a movie that he loved those horses and her too and he was probably very sad as a young man to have to leave them behind. I am now convinced he was. Thanks for the great history. I too like Sir Winston, a truly great man he was!

    1. Hi Sandra, many soldiers owed their lives to their horses, so the emotions must have gone far beyond simple gratitude. Your story is a shining example of that. Thanks so much for sharing it with us!

      1. Thanks for the terrific commemoration to horses, Churchill and Britain. My great uncle was killed in WWI (as were many, after the war was over). My mother and her family went through the WWII War on Britain having to survive bombings in both London and Liverpool. They were all kept hopeful by frequent radio addresses from Winston Churchill. So nice to hear of his contribution to returning horses. What a great man.

  44. Thank you for sharing this gem about Sir Winston Churchill. Sadly a man of his caliber is needed in the U.S. today to straighten out the BLM and their murder of the very horses they are charged to protect and care for. Mustangs, America’s heritage !

  45. Great article!! Thank you! War horse was a movie that showed a lot of emotions for me. I cried, was scared and relieved. I would stop it walk away then would go back to it. What a terrible thing for all to endure

  46. What a wonderful story. Churchill loved animals and the fish pond full of fish still survives today at Chartwell House his country home in Kent. Visitors can sit or stand by it and remember Winston and his family. Their rose garden blooms year on year.
    Celia Lee author of THE CHURCHILLS A Family Portrait and
    HRH THE DUKE OF KENT A Life of Service.

  47. It’s Remembrance Day here in the UK, when we reflect on the sacrifices made in times of conflict, going back to WW1. We call it Poppy Day, and many of us are already in a fairly emotional state.
    Anita, your article couldn’t have come onto my Facebook page at a better time. Fabulous. And all the better for giving credit to Winston Churchill (whose mother was ‘almost’ an American!), a hero to many thinking Brits.
    Thank you so much.
    (PS, I’m a ‘classical’ equestrian/eventer but I really like the rest of your site, too–I’m hooked).

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