As ever, there’s a lot been happening at SoldiersandtheirHorses.com.
Earlier in the year, I gave a talk at The Peak Mining Museum, in Matlock Bath, Derbyshire. In April I was guest speaker at The Western Front Association’s Chesterfield branch. Ongoing projects include a chapter for Life With and Without Animals to be published in Humanimalia later next year. In it, I focus on the wartime illustration that ‘started it all’ – as they (who?) say!
Goodbye Old Man: An Incident on the Road to a Battery Position in Southern Flanders, has also been brought to the fore by my tutoring on The Brilliant Club’s Scholars Programme. I have been thoroughly enjoying introducing my students to the myth and reality of the soldier-horse relationship – and the assignments they write are truly inspiring.
There’s been a spot of reviewing of papers (for Society and Animals among others) and I’m now also a reviewer of student assignment nominations for The Scholar – The Brilliant Club’s student magazine.
More recently, I have had a chapter proposal accepted for another edited volume on War and Animals. I’m starting work on this as we speak – because I can’t bear ‘lastminute.com’ panics. Here is a taster of what it will be about:
“Poor Dolly … she also was suffering from shell-shock. … The fact of the matter is she evidently remembers it as keenly as I do.”
In 1918, an article in The New York Times reported on the shared war experiences of horse and man. It described how horses, like soldiers, felt an understandable reluctance to return to a place where they had been ‘frightened or injured’. It argued that horses, like men, were also subject to ‘shell-shock’. Many soldiers not only recognised this shared suffering, but found they were better able to express their own physical and mental strain through the relationships formed with their horses. Conversely, their first-hand accounts also provide us with an opportunity to better understand how their horses responded to the difficult and dangerous conditions of war.
Soldiers and their horses daily encountered dangerous and stressful situations, and likewise a gradual ‘wearing down’ of their physical and mental resilience. During The Great War, it is notable that ‘debility’ was cited as having been a greater cause of ‘horse wastage’ than enemy action. The sympathetic consideration, or empathy, engendered by the soldier-horse relationship significantly slowed, but could not halt entirely, this deterioration of the horse’s well-being. The tragedy was of course that those (human and equine) who proved the most resilient were undoubtedly also those who suffered the hardest and the longest. As General Sir Jack Seely wrote, ‘Truly the horse might cry out more loudly than any other creature, “Give peace in our time O Lord”.’