Winifred Holtby’s ‘South Riding’ – and Soldiers – and Horses

I found a fascinating article the other day on Heritage Calling about Winifred Holtby. It set me thinking, and remembering. There was that bit I wrote after reading South Riding. I’d almost forgotten about the horses! If you’ve never read it, and you fancy something to keep you out of trouble in the current circumstances, give it a go. I was interested in Carne particularly, because of how he comes to embody the old world that must be swept away to make space for the new. Here is something I wrote at the time. I think the quote from South Riding is both beautiful, and tragic. Especially when viewed alongside the soldier-horse relationship’s similar fate.

In post-war Britain, but for a few exceptions, the soldier’s horse had become an irrelevance. Those who remained its champions were, like Carne and his fellow veterans,  increasingly dismissed as a reactionary and misguided minority.[1] Winifred Holtby’s novel South Riding captures the complexity of this period between the wars. Here progress sweeps away the ‘old world’, and with it horsemen like Carne, but we are left questioning whether the changes wrought are necessarily for the better:

She could not see the ghosts marching through their minds as they laughed and listened. … That time we got that lift in a mule-wagon, along the Rouen Road, and the driver half-boiled and the mules took fright and we ran right into a staff car and the mule put his head in at the window and ole Turnip Face thought he was having D.T.s … All their dreams for the future, all their memories of the past, swarmed around them, wounding them, mocking them, as the comedian replaced his gloves, whistling pensively, and strolled again off the stage. It was their memories that they applauded.

[1] ‘Everyone knows Colonel Blimp. … Blimp gave the order for the charge of the Light Brigade … Blimp it was, too, who wrote to the papers in 1934 to insist that the cavalry go on wearing spurs after they were mechanized…, Seymour-Ure C., in Bryant M. ed., The Complete Colonel Blimp, Bellew, London, 1991, p.13.

[2] Holtby W., South Riding, An English Landscape, Virago, London, first ed. 1939, 2000, p.106-107.

Horse Silhouette


Find out more about Winifred Holtby here:

Many have heard of the Bronte’s, but are you familiar with Winifred Holtby, one of Yorkshire’s lesser-known literary daughters?Read more

via The Story of Winifred Holtby and the Yorkshire Wolds — Heritage CallingS Continue reading “Winifred Holtby’s ‘South Riding’ – and Soldiers – and Horses”

The Big Day – ‘Soldiers and their Horses’ is finally here!

41doGfGb2jL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_After weeks of proof checking. Having learned the mysterious art of indexing. Not to mention, writing it in the first place! Soldiers and their Horses is here. Tomorrow is the BIG day. Please spread the word!

Flynn, J. (2020). Soldiers and Their Horses. New York: Routledge,


Hold your horses and check your sources

This is a fantastic blog post warning of the perils that lie in wait for the unwary historian. Indeed, we could argue that The Great War was being mythologised even as it was happening. This is just such an example, and beautifully illustrates how events become history, and how history transforms over time. Especially in memory and in the public consciousness.

Oh, What a Ladylike War

The image above is frequently circulated on social media, usually accompanied with a caption such as ‘1916 – soldiers pay tribute to the horses who died in the Great War’ which, whilst a lovely idea, is a bit of duff history I’m afraid. I’m fed up of seeing it do the rounds, so thought I’d explain a little about the real story behind the photo…

The photo is actually part of a series of shots taken by Michigan photographer, Almeron Newman. Newman was born in Portland in 1875 and began professionally taking photos in 1899. By 1918 he was living in New Mexico, where he registered for the draft for the First World War. Newman had developed a reputation as a specialist in panoramic and forced perspective photography, which suited the fashion at the time for ‘living photography’ – the technique of using people to create scenes and objects. In…

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CFP: Equine Cultures in Transition 2020, Deadline January 31 — Equine History Collective

There is still time to submit an abstract to the Equine Cultures in Transition Conference – Past, Present and Future Challenges (deadline: January 31). This conference will be held June 16–18 at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala and the Swedish Equestrian Centre of Excellence at Strömsholm, Sweden. From the conference website: “Questions […]

via CFP: Equine Cultures in Transition 2020, Deadline January 31 — Equine History Collective

2019 Equine History Conference Recap — Equine History Collective

Above: The group after the tour of the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center The second Equine History Conference (#EqHist2019) brought together a fantastic group of scholars Nov. 13–15, 2019 at Cal Poly Pomona (see final program). Hosted by the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library, the event opened with a welcome from Emma Gibson, Interim Dean of […]

via 2019 Equine History Conference Recap — Equine History Collective

Soldiers and their Horses – Forthcoming Spring 2020!

The soldier-horse relationship was nurtured by The British Army because it made the soldier and his horse into an effective fighting unit. Soldiers and their Horses explores a complex relationship forged between horses and humans in extreme conditions. As both a social history of Britain in the early twentieth century and a history of the British Army, Soldiers and their Horses reconciles the hard pragmatism of war with the imaginative and emotional. By carefully overlapping the civilian and the military, by juxtaposing “sense” and “sentimentality,” and by considering institutional policy alongside individual experience, the soldier and his horse are re-instated as co-participators in The Great War. Soldiers and their Horses provides a valuable contribution to current thinking about the role of horses in history.

Soldiers and Their Horses: Sense, Sentimentality and the Soldier-Horse Relationship in The Great War, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Please follow the link to find out more…

Embodied Equines

I am excited to announce that I have been invited to speak at the forthcoming Equestrian History Conference at Cal-Poly Pomona, November 2019. My paper is entitled: ‘Most Frightful People’ – How Mules Earned their Names in The Great War’. I am particularly looking forward to meeting Sandra Swart, Professor of History at Stellenbosch University, and author of Riding High: Horses, Humans and History in South Africa, Wits University Press, 2010.

More details:

Where would we be without our Horses?

This week I am guest writer on Eland Lodge Equestrian’s new blog site. Eland are marking the centenary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles – June 28th 2019 – with my short piece about war horses.

“On 4th August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany. The British Army of 1914 was the most mechanised of all the army’s involved, but it still needed horses – and this demand only increased as the War progressed. When war was declared, the British Army immediately set about mobilizing its equine resources.”

Read the full article here:

Where would we be without our Horses?

Horses pull a Royal Army Veterinary Corps Ambulance.

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On ‘The Queen’s Cavalry’ – “It’s the hardest thing I’ve done without a doubt.”

Today I thought I’d share this link to the BBC’s brilliant TV series The Queen’s Cavalry. I heartily recommend watching the entire episode – and indeed the whole series. I’ve recently been writing about recruits’ experiences of learning to ride in the Army Riding Schools during The Great War, and was struck (not for the first time) by how similar these modern soldiers’ experiences are to those of men over one hundred years ago.  From the Riding Instructor Sergeant’s brilliant observations: “Are you sure that’s the right way round?” To the quite literal ‘ups and downs’ of Riding School. Absolutely brilliant. A reminder that horses are certainly not ‘hairy motorbikes’ (to quote myself!) and that learning to ride is not easy.

Enjoy! Share! Comment! Like!


#SourceSaturday: National Agricultural Library — Equine History Collective

USDA National Agricultural Library hold resources that might be of interest to equine historians with a broader interest in US history and agricultural history. They offer a database for government documents in Agricola, an assortment of Digital Collections, and even an internship program. Man O’ War Photograph Collection Collection Number: 297 Linear Feet: 1.25 Collection Description: […]

via #SourceSaturday: National Agricultural Library — Equine History Collective