World War I often seems like ancient history to a lot of people . . . almost mythical. So ancient and mythical, in fact, that you might as well be talking about a bunch of Greeks climbing into a giant wooden horse! I don’t really blame the schools. We learn about the Civil War. We learn about WWII. We learn about WWI also, but it seems to get lost into a haze of the distant past, almost as though it were nothing more than a prequel to WWII. Eyes glaze over and the lessons taught are easily forgotten.
Today, I’m not going to tell you about a giant wooden horse, but I am going to tell you about a horse that was larger than life! I’m going to tell you about Warrior, a real, flesh and blood, World War I warhorse, whose military career reached almost mythical proportions. He was the horse the Germans could not kill.
What’s in a Name?
What’s in a name? It was a question first asked by Juliet to her Romeo in the mid 1590s. A rose, by any other name, might smell as sweet, but you’ll never convince me that names aren’t important. Case in point: A warhorse named Warrior. Never was a creature more aptly named. Oh sure, he might have served as valiantly had he been named Cuddle Bunny, but then this story would have lost a lot of its oomph.
Warrior was foaled on the Isle of Wight in 1908. At another time and place, Warrior might never have been asked to live up to his name. But, he wasn’t born in another time and place and, in 1914 Warrior went to war. He accompanied the future General Jack Seely, who was a close friend of Winston Churchill.
It wasn’t as if Warrior was going off to war with a complete stranger. He wasn’t purchased by a random person and conscripted into the Army, like the horse in Steven Spielberg’s film, War Horse. To the contrary, the bay thoroughbred gelding had been from Seely’s own mare, Cinderella. Seely and Warrior were family. It was Seely who had given Warrior the very name he would later live up to.
Seely had another name, himself. John Edward Bernard Seely was also the 1st Baron Mottistone. Lord Mottistone was a Member of Parliament, and he had served as Secretary of State for War for the two years prior to World War I.
A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed
Seely took Warrior to France in August of 1914, as part of the original Expeditionary Force. Yes, Warrior hit the ground running, from the very beginning of the war when he found himself joining the allies on the Western Front. At the Marne and during the First Battle of Ypres, Commander-in-Chief Sir John French often rode him.
In February 1915, Seely was appointed to command the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. Warrior accompanied him to England, where the horse completed the training of his new command.
By May of that year, Warrior was the first off the boat in Boulogne and he would not leave the Western Front for a very long time. He was in the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. He was in the cavalry attack at Guyencourt in March 1917. In September 1917, things looked grim when Warrior became stuck in the mud at Passchendaele. Proving that it’s tough to keep a good horse down, two months later Warrior was on the front line during the Battle of Cambrai. In March of 1918, Warrior found himself both in retreat of the last great German offensive, and eight days later, leading a charge near Amiens. On April 1, 1918, Seely was gassed and Warrior continued to fight while Seely recuperated.
Yes, the bay gelding rode through every major battlefield of the Western Front. He served until Christmas Day of 1918, when he returned to the family home on the Isle of Wight. Although he had been buried by the bursting of big shells on the soft ground two different times, Warrior was never seriously injured. Warrior’s service earned him a reputation that would follow him for the rest of his life, and beyond. It was the Canadians who affectionately dubbed him, “The horse the Germans can’t kill.”
That’ll Do, Horse. That’ll Do.
Following the war, Seely retreated into the quiet life and his title of Lord Mottistone, and reminisced about Warrior’s days on the battlefield. He said, “His escapes were quite wonderful. Again and again he survived when death seemed certain and, indeed, befell all his neighbors. It was not all hazard; sometimes it was due to his intelligence. I have seen him, even when a shell has burst with a few feet, stand still without a tremor—just turn his head and, unconcerned, look at the smoke of the burst.”
Warrior lived with the Seely family until his death in 1941, at age thirty-three. For years, the public remained interested in Warrior’s life. Lord Mottistone gave occasional newspaper updates of Warrior’s daily happenings. He also published Warrior’s biography, in 1934, entitled, My Horse Warrior. Upon Warrior’s death, his obituary appeared in all of the local newspapers, and the nation mourned.
In September of 2014, a little over 100 years from the date Warrior went to war, he was posthumously awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal, which is known as the Victoria Cross for Animals. In the ceremony, Brough Scott, grandson of Lord Mottistone, accepted the medal at the Imperial War Museum in London.
Mr. Scott said, “Warrior’s story—which I grew up hearing at my mother’s knee—was lost in time to the wider world. But now he rides again, 100 years later, thanks to PDSA. I only wish Jack Seely were here today to witness Warrior receiving the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.”
More than sixteen million animals served during World War One. The great champion of the war horse, Steven Spielberg, issued a statement concerning Warrior’s honor. He said, “Warrior is an extraordinary example of the resilience, strength, and profound contribution that horses made to the Great War. Recognizing him with an Honorary PDSA Dickin Medal is a fitting and poignant tribute not only to this remarkable animal, but to all animals that served.”
Well said, Mr. Spielberg. Well said. Just like the Trojan horse, the warhorses that served so faithfully are the stuff of legends.
Watch this moving video about Warrior, filmed at his home on the Isle of Wight and narrated by Brough Scott.