Thursday, 18 September 2014

A need for horsepower

Above: War Horse - Passchendaele, by Budleigh-based photographer Mo Sandford.  
©  Mo Sandford FRPS 2014
The author Michael Morpurgo has described her work as "deeply moving and interesting." More of Mo Sandford's remarkable photos of World War I battlefields can be seen here

There was a need for men. There was also a need for horses.  Thanks in part to novels, plays and documentaries made in recent years their role in the Great War has become more widely known. 

Thousands of them were employed to pull field artillery; six to twelve horses were required to pull each gun.  Men like Trumpeter Reginald Farr from East Budleigh and Gunner Herbert Harding from Budleigh Salterton would have found themselves working alongside horses, serving as they did with the Royal Field Artillery. This, the largest section of the artillery, was responsible for the medium calibre guns and howitzers used near the front line and was a relatively mobile force, supplemented by the Royal Horse Artillery. 

Even more important would have been the role of horses in the Royal Garrison Artillery, in which East Budleigh’s Gunner Thomas Teed from East Budleigh and Bombardier Edward Warren from Budleigh Salterton saw service.  The siege batteries to which they belonged were equipped with heavier, large calibre guns located some way behind the front line. 

This ‘war horse’ themed deckchair was used to publicise the ‘Great War at Fairlynch’ exhibition. It was designed using artwork supplied by 11-year-old Viki, a pupil at Otterton Primary School

At the outset of war the Army had only 25,000 horses and the War Office immediately set about the business of finding half a million more to go into battle.  As a largely rural area the Lower Otter Valley was seen as a prime source of horses.  “Notice was given that they were to be brought to the Rolle Mews at a stated time and if suitable for the army, would be taken and an agreed price was paid,” recalled Jim Gooding in Budleigh in Bygone Days.  “No horse  was allowed to  be  exempt  on personal or sentimental grounds, and there was many a tearful farewell as horses and owners were parted. 

Dr Richard Batten in his study of Devon during the First World War quotes figures which suggest that the county’s agriculture suffered as a result.  “The productivity of Devon’s farmers was compromised due to a shortfall in both manpower and the number of plough horses which had been commandeered for use in the Army,”  he writes. “In 1918, there were only 707 plough horses remaining in Devon compared with the 1,325 plough horses in 1917.”

For some local men used to handling animals the Royal Army Veterinary Corps would have been a suitable unit to join: such was the case of Newton Poppleford’s Burt Smale, whose father was a cattle-dealer. Apparently  wounded in France while serving with the RAVC he was returned home, was discharged with a disability and subsequently lived at Glebe Farm in the village.


Image credit: Fairlynch Museum

Another local man who worked with horses during the Great War was East Budleigh’s Frederick Stickland, seen above.  Ranked as Shoeing Smith, equivalent to a Corporal, he was responsible for making and fitting shoes on horses in the Royal Field Artillery.   


He died on 21 July 1917, and is buried in All Saints’ churchyard in East Budleigh. At an earlier  stage in the war he had served in Mesopotamia, where according to his headstone he contracted an illness which was the cause of his eventual death..


At the time of his death he was based at Haynes Park, Bedfordshire, one of the six depots which made up the Signal Service Training Centre, headquartered at Woburn.  Frederick Stickland’s depot included Riding and Saddlery.

A horse-drawn field ambulance in the Somme district, France, in September 1916. Imperial War Museum copyright image Q1098 

Among the most important roles of horses during the war was the transport of injured soldiers by ambulance from casualty clearing stations to field hospitals.

It was a vital part of units like the 13th Australian Field Ambulance in which former Budleigh Salterton GP Dr Thomas Evans served between 1916 and 1919.  The son of a Budleigh GP, he was the husband of local writer and artist Joyce Dennys and saw action as a Major with the Royal Army Medical Corps at Gallipoli and then in Egypt and France.  After the war he returned to Budleigh where, like his father, he was the town’s GP for many years, known as ‘Dr Tom.’ Perhaps it was his experience with horses during the Great War which made him, as one of his patients recalled, a passionate believer that “every day spent out of the saddle is a day wasted.” 

The patient was the writer R.F. Delderfield, who lived for a time in Budleigh Salterton. “Tom is among the keenest riders to hounds in the county,” he wrote in his autobiography Nobody Shouted Author. “Not long after I started going to him with unclassified illnesses I found out that when in doubt he invariably prescribes hunting. He means ‘hunting’ with the ‘g’ and no nonsense about it, as I found out shortly after I told him about my pain.

Tom is a conscientious doctor and doesn’t leave anything to chance. He went over me like an Army surgeon looking for a loophole in the cast-iron pension claim and, when he had finished and I was putting my shirt on, he said:

‘It’s like I told you, there’s nothing wrong with you that a day on a horse wouldn’t cure!”


For many, recruitment posters such as this evoke celebrated moments in warfare which have made the charge of massed horsemen one of the most awesome sights in battle, and cavalry regiments the most prestigious units in any army.

By the time of World War One, it was clear that the cavalry’s days were numbered, faced with modern machine gun fire, artillery and barbed wire.  Allied cavalry did have some success in the Middle Eastern theatre, possibly because they faced a weaker and less technologically advanced enemy.

Captain Leonard Seymour Lambert Dacres was one officer who enjoyed the prestigious membership of the 21st Prince Albert Victor's Own Cavalry, otherwise known as Daly’s Horse after it was raised as the 1st Punjab Irregular Cavalry by Lieutenant Henry Daly at Peshawar on 18 May 1849. It was one of five regiments of Punjab Cavalry raised to guard the North West Frontier of India, which soon became famous as part of the legendary Punjab Frontier Force or the ‘Piffers.

During the First World War, Daly's Horse served in the Mesopotamian Campaign as part of 6th Indian Cavalry Brigade. It fought on the Tigris Front and took part in the capture of Kut al Amara and Baghdad. It also fought in the actions of Istabulat, Ramadi, Daur and Tikrit in modern-day Iraq.

At some stage Leonard Dacres had joined the Indian Army Reserve of Officers Political Department. The son of a distinguished naval officer, he died of typhus at the age of 34 on 20 April 1919 and was buried in a Baghdad cemetery. His father Captain Seymour Dacres, of HMS Constance, had also died of illness, while serving in Yokohama, Japan. His mother Ethel was living at Park Lodge, in Little Knowle, near Budleigh Salterton.  


 Image credit:

He is not commemorated locally but his name appears on Brighton War Memorial, and also on the above memorial in St Stephen’s Church, Gloucester Road, London.  This was probably because his address at probate was given as 21 Nevem Mansions, Earls Court. 

Visit ‘The Great War at Fairlynch’ exhibition at Budleigh Salterton’s very special museum! Reviews include: “Wonderful display on WW1, informative, bright and relevant. Well done!!!”  


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