In 1982, Michael Morpurgo, who lives near Hatherleigh, wrote a story of Joey, a young farm horse, who in 1914 was sold to the Army and thrust into the midst of the War on the Western Front. The book was adapted into a stage play by the National Theatre in 2007, became a sell-out success and is still, in 2015, running to full houses.
In 2011 the story was made into the film War Horse, directed by Steven Spielberg, with much of it being filmed on Dartmoor. Critics described it as ‘technically superb, proudly sentimental, and unabashedly old-fashioned, War Horse is an emotional drama that tugs the heartstrings with Spielberg’s customary flair’.
Joey was not the only horse required for the cavalry, to pull artillery and for the transport of stores. The Army Horse Reserve had 10,000 horses that could be required to serve at 48 hours notice. But for general mobilisation, a further 462,000 horses were identified that would be purchased and impressed for military purposes. Purchase was overseen by 900 War Office Purchasers, who were private gentlemen in prominent positions in the counties and, to a certain extent, retired officers. After purchase, the horses were received by the local magistrate and the police, and sent by rail to Army horse collection centres.
Although mechanical transport with petrol engines was being developed, Britain’s transport was still heavily dependent on horses. According to a national census, over 2 million horses were used to pull carriages, for riding and the transport of good of all kinds. The effect of removing a quarter of the available horses to support the Army had an immediate and massive effect, particularly in rural areas like Dartmoor.
Take a look at the Joey the War Horse resource sheets. What story do the images tell us about how the use of horses changed through the War?
This task is spread across two panels of images.
A suggested way of approaching the task is:
1. Take a look at each panel in turn and consider the questions posed.
2. Panel 1. Reflect upon the importance of horses to the military in an age where motor vehicles were in their infancy. Use picture 3 and see if you can suggest one impact of the loss of horses?
3. Panel 2. Consider the impact of Horsefairs upon the farming community and see if you can balance the feelings of the local community with military needs.
This task is, in part, about making links between images and also about encouraging students to reflect upon differing perspectives of Horsefairs.
The view of the farming community was mixed too. Some farmers welcomed the income, some mourned the loss of a loved horse. The military needed horses urgently and some local landowners wanted to be seen doing “their bit”.
It might be necessary to prompt students to see the Horsefairs from views beyond loss (eg Joey).