Wounded Horse in Stone

58th (London ) Division Memorial, Chipilly, France. (P. Ferguson image, September 2006)

58th (London ) Division Memorial, Chipilly, France.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2006)

A War Horse Story

In 2006 while on tour with an English friend across the landscapes of the Western Front, we happened upon the horse memorial at Chipilly. Time was of the essence, our host and driver wanted to show us as much as possible, I managed to ask for a quick stop to roll down the car window and take a few images of the fine stone sculpture. Then on to the next site. I look forward to a return to Chipilly. Perhaps a few more minutes more above the few minutes of 2006. The sculpture has stood here since dedicated in 1922. In my mind then…how to write the story of one community’s Great War and one that included a war horse.

The 58th (London) Division) Memorial at Chipilly, France. (P. Ferguson image, September 2006)

The 58th (London) Division) Memorial at Chipilly, France.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2006)

Created by French sculptor Henri Désire Gauquié the memorial depicts a British gunner comforting a wounded horse. Millions of horses were brought into service and several thousands lost their lives. Horses served in many capacities as cavalry and officer mounts, but its role was far more varied than that of a charger. Horses were used to carry the wounded, transport rations, supplies, timber, artillery and ammunition and it is estimated that some 368,000 horses were in service on the Western Front in 1917.  Some 130,000 horses came from Canada.

French sculptor Henri Gauquie. (Wiki image)

French sculptor Henri Gauquie.
(Wiki image)

An army horse faced numerous obstacles and dangers. Apart from shell torn work areas and the constant possibility of shellfire and gunfire, gas took its toll and a horse gas mask was eventually developed. The hurt from barbwire led to many horses becoming caught in its spikes and as they struggled to free themselves their injuries only increased. If managing to successfully dislodge themselves many of these injuries became infected and did not heal and resulting in horses having to be put down.

War Horse at the In Flanders Fields Museum, Ieper, Belgium. (P. Ferguson image, August 2018)

War Horse at the In Flanders Fields Museum, Ieper, Belgium.
(P. Ferguson image, August 2018)

With peace the large corps of horses were no longer needed and 500,000 returned to their roles as work horses. More then 60,000 were butchered and sold for human consumption. Of those that returned to the farm, one wonders of their triggers on the fields of peace whilst gently grazing or drawing the plough. What might make them bolt…what may have brought them back to peace?

In Chilliwack, British Columbia a shrapnel scarred war horse came to Canada. The horse, a veteran of battles in France was destined for service in North Russia when acquired by Thomas Prentiss Wicks, a returned soldier whose 21-acre farm in Chilliwack  was located on MacDonald Road (Fairfield Island). Wicks was a Great War veteran having enlisted with the 1st Canadian Pioneer Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Subsequently Wicks served with the 60th Company, Canadian Forestry Corps. Wicks acquired his farm in 1919 through the Soldiers Settlement Board and his farm was a feature news story in the Chilliwack Progress, 28 October 1920, page 2.

War Horse puppet on exhibition at the National Army Museum, London. (P. Ferguson image, April 2012)

War Horse puppet on exhibition at the National Army Museum, London.
(P. Ferguson image, April 2012)

In 1982 Michael Morpurgo wrote the novel War Horse, that in 2007 premiered at the Royal National Theatre, London, England. I was fortunate in 2011 to experience this production that includes life-size horse puppets produced by the Handspring Puppet Company. As we sat in the theatre one patron, a lady who had been many times, brought forth a box of hankies…explaining it would be needed and as the production drew to a close…true to her word there were few dry eyes…we had been witness to a heartfelt remembrance one that all assembled related to. It is time to go again.

Some 8 million horses, donkeys and mules lost their lives during the Great War.

Only Remembered, John Tams, War Horse


About The Author

pferguson
Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and in Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was further amazed by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Film captivated Paul and with time he became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was entranced when he learned Weir had visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. The film "Gallipoli" alone led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii and Gallipoli. It was, however, when Paul watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", that Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests would be a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, he believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.

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