Here at The Campfire Chronicle we’ve talked about war horses on more than one occasion. There was the story of how Sir Winston Churchill saved the war horses. . .and there was the story about Warrior, the horse the Germans could not kill. But, just like snowflakes and fingerprints, no two stories about war horses could ever be exactly the same, and today’s story will attest to that. . .it is one of the most unique horse stories to come out of World War I. Today I’d like to tell you about a British war horse named, The Sihk, who served for four years during The Great War, dodged shellfire and grenades as she delivered supplies to bloodied and battered troops in the trenches, and after the war ended, she walked all the way back home from southern Russia to Devon, England.
A Globe Trotter
The Sikh was born to be a world traveler. The mare was bred in Australia and grew up in India before being transferred to North China, with the 36th Sikh Regiment. In China, The Sikh met her new owner, British Lieutenant Alexander Craven Vicary. The year was 1913 and although Vicary and his horse may not have realized it, the world was already gearing up for The Great War.
In 1914, when Vicary received his orders to return to Europe for the war, he was granted permission for The Sikh to accompany him. She was the only horse on the ship during the grueling eight-week voyage from China to Europe. And I can assure you that she did not spend her time enjoying traditional cruise activities like sunbathing and shuffleboard or sipping cocktails from coconut shells! Instead, The Sikh spent the eight weeks in an open, wooden box, on the deck. She experienced scorching sun, typhoons, and near misses with German battle ships. Her only breaks occurred when officers went ashore at Hong Kong, Singapore, Port Said, and Gibraltar. During those times, she was allowed to stretch her legs on-deck.
Almost as soon as Vicary’s regiment and The Sikh reached the U.K., they were dispatched to Serbia and Bulgaria, delivering supplies to the front line troops. As she dodged grenades and shellfire, the horse may have been longing for the good old days aboard the ship! The men she served viewed her as a good omen or a lucky charm. And, who can blame them? When you’re on the field of battle, a horse carrying supplies must seem more miraculous than Amazon’s next day delivery service!
For the duration of the war, The Sikh hoofed it across Europe, and she was never far from her owner’s side. When Vicary was in the trenches of Flanders Fields and France, The Sikh was there, too. Toward the end of the war, when Vicary was sent to Southern Russia, she, of course, went along with him.
Vicary was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and became Commanding Officer of the 2nd Battalion. He also received a Military Cross and two Distinguished Service Order medals for gallantry. If you ask me, it’s high time for the Lt. Col.’s noble horse to receive public recognition for gallantry, as well.
Those Hooves Were Made for Walking
You might think that The Sikh’s story ended with the war, but it didn’t. The fighting ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, but The Sikh still had a major battle ahead of her. She had to get home! The Australian bred, Indian raised horse that had lived in China (and seen more countries than Carmen Sandiego) was not going to live out her life in Russia. It would have been a colossal tragedy for the war hero that had delivered supplies to countless soldiers, to end up on the dinner plates of the starving Russians. So she started walking . . . following the Regiment through Turkey, Greece, Italy and France. Like the star of the book, play and movie, War Horse, she walked all the way home. And when she finally reached her destination, The Sikh headed directly to her well-deserved retirement at Vicary’s home in Devon, England . . . and there she remained until her death.
One in a Million
More than one million British war horses served during WWI. A mere 67,000 are believed to have survived to the war’s end. Of course, enemy fire killed many of the equine soldiers, but many more died from exhaustion, starvation and disease . . . and the overall harsh conditions of war. It only took one year for Britain to requisition every suitable horse within its borders. When more horses were needed, the U.S. shipped an average of 1,000 horses per day to support the Allies, between the years of 1914-1917. That is an additional 1,460,000 horses. Other Allied countries sent horses as well, and some estimates on the number of horses that served the Allied Forces during World War I are as high as 6 million. So to say that The Sikh was a “one in a million” kind of horse is a bit of an understatement . . . . . .she was actually one in six million.
Unlike war stories that get more dramatic with the retelling, The Sikh’s story remained untold for almost a century. It wasn’t until earlier this year that her story was discovered by a man named Chris Chatterton, curator of the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum in Gloucester, England. When he uncovered the story about the mare that walked from Russia to England, he knew it needed to be told. The museum is currently working on a program to honor The Sikh, but no matter how they choose to commemorate her, we all need to be sure that her bravery is never again forgotten.
Here is an interesting video with documentary footage of World War I horses. It will give you a much better idea of how remarkable The Siks’ survival actually was.