Lest We Forget

Commemorating the day of Armistice with positive news for horse welfare – including a unique Battlefield Centenary Tour Ride which raised £22,000 for the largest horse rescue and rehoming charity in Britain

World War One killed some ten million men, almost 800,000 of them British. But much less known was the fate of a million hapless horses, sent to France between 1914 and 1918, with only 62,000 returning home. These forgotten heroes were remembered during one of World Horse Welfare’s 2014 Challenge Rides – a unique Battlefield Centenary Tour which took participants on a journey through significant sites of the early days of WW1.

Following part of the famous Retreat from Mons (23 August – 5 September 1914) the charity’s bespoke ride took horses and their riders to notable cavalry battlefields such as Mauberge, Le Cateau, Maretz, Saint Quentin, Ham, Compeigne, Villers Cotterets and Nery.  There were many miles of riding each day combined with visits to battle sites, cemeteries, museums and Wilfred Owen’s room and grave. The trip was mainly on horseback but did include bus rides in the evenings, always accompanied by the group’s very own Battlefield Tour Guide who not only brought the events of one hundred years ago to life, but also rode every inch of the ride with the participants.

There was even a trip to a local brewery that was commemorating the centenary of WW1 in their own way by producing a special local ale which the group were able to try.

From the September trip, the group helped to raise nearly £22,000 for World Horse Welfare with the funds helping the many neglected horses across the UK today – and those across the globe. Funds were raised by each individual rider via sponsors in aid of this historic ride.

Organiser of the trip and fundraising officer at World Horse Welfare, Fran Plume, says:

“Our thanks go to all the riders for their enthusiasm and dedication to this cause; our talented guide, former chief executive of the charity and Brigadier, John Smales; and Cerf Cheval for providing our accommodation and the horses. But most of all, we give thanks to the countless horses who gave their lives a century ago and whose sacrifice inspired this moving and challenging event.”

So many of the riders took so much from the event:

“It was a wonderful experience and one I was so glad to be part of,” says Emma Sitch, one of the participant riders.

“Most obediently and often most painfully they died – faithful unto death. I felt privileged to be able to remember our equine friends in such an inspiring way,” says one of the dedicated fundraisers.

“A unique trip to France, but I probably underestimated the power of a shared joy in horses, enquiring minds and team spirit to provide an experience of a lifetime. What more can I say? I can’t. It was amazing,” says Polly Thomas who joined the ride.

It’s not just the charity who organises events to remember horses and the men who fought so bravely – and the long-awaited truce during WW1 – but its supporters too.

One of the charity’s fundraisers, Janet Stewart, is selling enamel purple poppy badges in memory of the horses who fought in the ‘Great War’. She is also holding a series of sponsored rides herself over the summer and special Armistice events. The funds raised from these activities will go towards World Horse Welfare, The Blue Cross and The Romsey War Memorial Project.

NOV14 Images from the Battlefield Centenary Tour Ride