Posted in Activity, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Exhibition, History, Literature, Museum, Rural Heritage, World War One

Front Line Post & War Horses – Stories From The Great War Part 1

Women engaged in mending parcels during the First World War. ©Royal Mail Group Ltd., Courtesy British Postal Museum Archive (BPMA).
Women engaged in mending parcels during the First World War.  ‘The Last Post: Remembering The First World War Exhibition’ , at Coalbrookdale Gallery, Ironbridge Gorge Museums, Shropshire.  Exhibition opens 10th April, 2014. ©Royal Mail Group Ltd., Courtesy British Postal Museum Archive (BPMA).

One hundred years on, we are all connected to the First World War, either through our own family history, the heritage of our local communities or because of its long-term impact on society and the world we live in today. From 2014 to 2018, across the world, nations, communities and individuals of all ages will come together to mark, commemorate and remember the lives of those who lived, fought and died in the First World War. IWM (Imperial War Museums) is leading the First World War Centenary Partnership, a network of local, regional, national and international cultural and educational organisations. Together, through the First World War Centenary Programme, a vibrant global programme of cultural events and activities, and online resources, we are connecting current and future generations with the lives, stories and impact of the First World War. Join us and take part in this global commemoration.

(‘First World War Centenary’ website, led by The Imperial War Museum, 2014)

The First World War commenced on 28th July, 1914 and lasted until 11th November, 1918 (Armistice).  2014 is the start of a four year, global programme of cultural events that will commemorate the lives of all of those who died, fought and were effected by the conflict.  In this article, the first of a series focussing upon aspects of The Great War, I feature two exhibitions inspired by the Centenary and that have particularly caught my eye.

Soldiers receiving post at the Western Front during the First World War. 'The Last Post: Remembering The First World War Exhibition' , at Coalbrookdale Gallery, Ironbridge Gorge Museums, Shropshire.  Exhibition opens 10th April, 2014. ©Royal Mail Group Ltd., Courtesy BPMA.
Soldiers receiving post at the Western Front during the First World War. ‘The Last Post: Remembering The First World War Exhibition‘ , at Coalbrookdale Gallery, Ironbridge Gorge Museums, Shropshire. Exhibition opens 10th April, 2014. ©Royal Mail Group Ltd., Courtesy BPMA.

Last Post: Remembering the First World War Exhibition

  • Coalbrookdale Gallery, Ironbridge Gorge, Shropshire (Monday-Friday, 10-5pm);
  • Thursday 10th April 2014 – Friday 27th March 2015;
  • A nationwide touring exhibition of Last Post: Remembering the First World War will run in parallel to the exhibition at Coalbrookdale.

This poignant new free exhibition, Last Post: Remembering the First World War, will explore the effect of the events of 1914-18 on the Post Office, its people and the contribution of postal communications to the war effort. Before 1914 Post Office communications were vital to everyday life through the telegraph, telephone and postal systems. At the outbreak of war, the Post Office, as one of the biggest businesses in the world, contributed to military operations on a scale never seen before, providing a vital means of communication between the fighting fronts and the home front. Tens of thousands of Post Office workers fought in the war and over 8,500 were killed.

A line of motor vans in reverse during World War One.
A line of postal motor vans, in reverse, during the First World War. ‘The Last Post: Remembering The First World War Exhibition’, at Coalbrookdale Gallery, Ironbridge Gorge Museums, Shropshire.©Royal Mail Group Ltd., Courtesy BPMA

Curated by the British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) in partnership with the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, the exhibition will showcase objects of military and postal importance and include stories from a Shropshire perspective. The exhibition encompasses a variety of themes that bring to life the importance of human contact and communication during a time of great suffering and uncertainty. The themes will include communications both at home and on the front line and the working lives of people involved in the postal service during the war, including those of women on War Work.

Dr Matt Thompson, Senior Curator Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust commented “The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust is proud to be able to commemorate the often forgotten role that the Post Office played during the First World War and is grateful to the BPMA and other partners for their hard work in putting this excellent exhibition together”.

“The First World War Centenary is an opportunity to reflect on the impact that this cataclysmic conflict had upon everyone, not just those fighting on the front line”, said Dr Adrian Steel, Director BPMA. “Few organisations had a greater role to play, or a greater impact, over the five years of hostilities than the British postal service. It has been a pleasure as always to work with our friends at Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust to bring this significant exhibition and its often-hidden stories to the people of Shropshire and the wider public.”

Temporary storage of mail bags in readiness for despatching to Malta's military base during the First World War.
Temporary storage of mail bags in readiness for despatching to Malta’s military base during the First World War. A line of postal motor vans, in reverse, during the First World War. ‘The Last Post: Remembering The First World War Exhibition’, at Coalbrookdale Gallery, Ironbridge Gorge Museums, Shropshire. ©Royal Mail Group Ltd., Courtesy BPMA.


  • Film clip in which racing journalist and former jockey, Brough Scott, talks about the Isle of Wight’s most famous ‘War Horse’, Warrior who served in a number of famous battles during the First World War including Somme and Ypres. ‘Warrior’ went on to become a much-loved police horse, patrolling the streets of Southampton. (BBC Countryfile, 2012).

    Lucy Kemp-Welch's 'Mixed Company at a Race Meeting'. Oil on canvas (1905). Image courtesy of  Lucy Kemp-Welch Memorial Trust Collection.
    Lucy Kemp-Welch’s ‘Mixed Company at a Race Meeting’. Oil on canvas (1905). Image courtesy of Lucy Kemp-Welch Memorial Trust Collection.

Home Lad, Home: The War Horse Story – Exhibition

  • St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery, Lymington, Hampshire (Monday-Saturday, 10-4pm);
  • Saturday 1st March – Saturday 26th April, 2014 (closed Sundays):
  • Adults £4, concessions £3, children 5-15 £2.

Save The War Horses! – Mr John Galsworthy’s Appeal

“Honour to the Army Veterinary Corps! As far back as October 16 they had already ‘dealt with some 27,000 horses….saving the lives of many.’ They are a splendid corps doing splendid work. Please help them!” writes Mr John Galsworthy, the author, in a stirring appeal for contributions to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Fund for Sick and Wounded Horses at the Front, which has the approval of the Army Council.

“Twenty-five horse-drawn ambulances and twenty-five motor-lorries are especially required at once. Now that the situation is more in hand we can surely turn a little to the companions  of man. They, poor things, have no option in this business; get no benefit out of it of any kind whatever; know none of the sustaining sentiments of heroism; feel no satisfaction in duty done.”

(Notice placed in a British newspaper during the First World War)

Marking the First World War centenary, this art exhibition will reveal how horses were taken from civilian life and prepared for the military. Home Lad, Home follows horses from peacetime occupations to the Remount Depots and active service, as depicted in paintings by Lucy Kemp-Welch, Cecil Aldin, Lionel Edwards, Algernon Talmage, Lady Butler and Edwin Noble. These artists recorded the work of the Remount Service (including Depots at Romsey and Swaythling), the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, Cavalry, Artillery and transport services. It reveals the contribution of horses to the war effort in a remarkable and moving story.

Artist, Lucy Kemp-Welch (1869-1958), specialised in painting working horses and Cecil Aldin (1870-1935) and Lionel Edwards (1878-1966) are both best known for their paintings of horses as well as other animals. There will also be charcoal and watercolour work by official war artist Edwin Noble, a former resident of nearby Milford-on-Sea who served in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, as well as paintings by Lady Butler (aka Elizabeth Southerden Thompson Butler 1846-1933) and Algernon Talmage (1871-1939). Modern day interpretation of the war horse experience will include a commissioned piece by artist James Aldridge as well as Amy Goodman’s sculpture commemorating the work of the Romsey Remount Depot.

Goodman is also currently working on a life-size statue, part of the Romsey War Horse Project, which it is hoped will be erected in Romsey’s Memorial Park early 2015. On her involvement with the Project she said: “Being involved in the War Horse Project is such an honour. I wish to convey the powerful bond between horse and soldier, despite their hardship through war.”

Aldridge’s work for the Home Lad, Home exhibition will research and explore the Remount, when thousands of horses and mules were gathered in Romsey and Swaythling in Hampshire, before being sent to the front line. He will also mentor a group of young people in creating their own work for exhibition, inspired by their experience of seeing War Horse at The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, and by research into the role and lives of horses in the First World War. The exhibition will be accompanied by a special schools’ programme, developed in partnership with The Mayflower Theatre, to mark the arrival there of acclaimed National Theatre production of War Horse as part of its UK tour.  It is supported by Arts Council England, Hampshire County Council and Thesis Asset Management.

Young artists at Priestlands School, Lymington are creating their own responses to the themes of the Home Lad, Home exhibition and the National Theatre’s production of War Horse.  The students’ work will be included within the exhibition, alongside newly commissioned pieces by Aldridge. To find out more about the Home Lad, Home educational project, Click Here.

Edwin Noble's 'An Injured horse being loaded into a motor ambulance'. Image courtesy of The Imperial War Museum (IWM).
Edwin Noble’s ‘An Injured horse being loaded into a motor ambulance’. Image courtesy of The Imperial War Museum (IWM).

Approximately, 1.3 million horses and mules were requisitioned for war work and only about one in ten horses survived. A large number of these animals came from Hampshire and Southern England. Some horses had already been working on farms or pulling delivery carts, others were wild horses but all had to be retrained in order that they were ready to meet the demands of front line action. Romsey Remount Depot, Hampshire, witnessed tens of thousands of wild horses passing through its training programme.

The Romsey Camp was located on the summit of Pauncefoot Hill close to Ranvilles Farm. The first horses arrived there in March 1915. For the first two or three weeks, the animals were kept in enclosures called a ‘kraal’. After they had settled in, training would commence alongside their military handlers. This five hundred acre site housed two thousand staff and continued until its closure in 1919.

Edwin Noble's 'A Prisoner of War'. Image courtesy of IWM.
Edwin Noble’s ‘A Prisoner of War’. Image courtesy of IWM.

Swaythling Remount Depot, North Stoneham, Hampshire was built at the start of the First World War. It was the largest of four Depots in England and provided accommodation not only for horses but also mules. These animals were prepared at the Remount Depot for their duties on the Western Front. Swaythling Depot processed nearly four hundred thousand animals between 1914 and its closure in 1920. For more information on the Depot, including some fascinating images of the site in use during wartime, click here. For more information about the unique role that Hampshire played in the First World War, click here (Hampshire’s 1914 The Big Theme).

St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery has recently received initial Heritage Lottery Fund Support (a first-round pass), for a £2million major upgrade of facilities. Improvements will include a new easily accessible public archive, a superb range of interactive displays and an eye-catching new entrance to the building. The old school building will also be re-designed internally to make good use of all the space available, the shop will be improved and an attractive café area will be established.  The project ‘The Future of St. Barbe – Innovative, Inclusive, Resilient’ will create new ways of telling the stories of the people and events that have shaped the area from pre-history to modern-day. Initial development funding of £146,800 has also been awarded by HLF to help St. Barbe move forward with its exciting plans and apply for a full grant at a later date.

Consultation, planning and fundraising has now begun and will continue until 2015 when the museum will apply for the second round of HLF Funding. Building work is scheduled for 2016 and the new shape St. Barbe will be launched in 2017. An important aspect of the upgrade is the installation of an archive. The archive project will allow more access by the public to local history collections, particularly material originally held by eminent local historians, Edward King and Arthur Lloyd. The improvements will also ensure that more historical objects can be displayed, and there will be a changing programme of new displays, helping to create more educational outreach opportunities. Meanwhile the Art Gallery will continue to show national standard exhibitions.

Homeward by Cicely Fox Smith (1882-1954)

Behind a trench in Flanders the sun was dropping low,
With tramp, and creak and jingle I heard the gun-teams go;
And something seemed to ‘mind me, a-dreaming as I lay,
Of my own old Hampshire village at the quiet end of day.

Brown thatch and gardens blooming with lily and with rose,
And the cool shining river so pleasant where he flows,
White fields of oats and barley, and elderflower like foam,
And the sky gold with sunset, and the horses going home!

(Home, lad, home, all among the corn and clover!
Home, lad, home when the time for work is over!
Oh there’s rest for horse and man when the longest day is done
And they go home together at setting of the sun!)

Old Captain, Prince and Blossom, I see them all so plain,
With tasseled ear-caps nodding along the leafy lane,
There’s a bird somewhere calling, and the swallow flying low,
And the lads sitting sideways, and singing as they go.

Well gone is many a lad now, and many a horse gone too,
Off all those lads and horses in those old fields I knew;
There’s Dick that died at Cuinchy and Prince beside the guns
On the red road of glory, a mile or two from Mons!

Dead lads and shadowy horses – I see them just the same,
I see them and I know them, and name them each by name,
Going down to shining waters when all the West’s a-glow,
And the lads sitting sideways and singing as they go.

(Home, lad, home . . . with the sunset on their faces!
Home, lad, home . . . to those quiet happy places!
There’s rest for horse and man when the hardest fight is done,
And they go home together at setting of the sun!)

  • Smith’s poem, Homeward, is the inspiration behind St. Barbe’s Museum & Art Gallery’s forthcoming exhibition, Home Lad, Home : The War Horse Story which opens on Saturday 1st March, 2014. For more information on the exhibition: Click Here.

    Lucy Kemp-Welch's 'Forward -  Enlist Now' poster (1915). Image courtesy of  Bushey Museum & Art Gallery.
    Lucy Kemp-Welch’s ‘Forward – Enlist Now’ poster (1915). Image courtesy of Bushey Museum & Art Gallery.

 

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