Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Animals at War - Horses, part I

Shakespeare knew the importance of animals at wartime. His brilliant tragedy, Richard III reaches its climax with Richard begging: "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse." Act 5, scene 4

War exacts a heavy toll on human life. During WWI alone over 2.5 million British soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines were killed or wounded. During the same war, over 8 million horses, donkeys and mules were killed. Of the 1 million horses conscripted in Britain and sent to battle in France, only 62,000 returned. The majority of these animals were not the glorified Charger, bred for war, but the farmer's plow horse, or the gentlemen's hunter, or the family's pet.

When the hostilities broke out between Britain and Germany in 1914, the Hewlett family sent 3 family members and 2 horses. Left to them were their three younger children and a 17-year old pony named Betty. Freda Hewlett (then just a schoolgirl) was particularly worried about what would happen to her dear pony. Would the military call upon the family to give over their pet? After 93 years, letters were found between Freda and Lord Kitchener, then Secretary of War. In them, Freda pleads for the safety of her pony. She tells Lord Kitchener that Betty is small and also with foal and asks him to spare her from service. Lord Kitchener's private secretary sent the following reply:

"Lord Kitchener asks me to say in reply to your letter of the 11th August, that if you will show the enclosed note to anyone who comes to ask about your pony, he thinks it will be left to you quite safely. Lord Kitchener has directed that no horses under 15 hands shall be recruited belonging to the British Family P, L and Freda Hewlett."

The above picture is of Betty, the pony. Right now, another Shakespearean quote seems apt. "The quality of mercy is not strained. It droopeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath." The Merchant of Venice. Act 4, scene 1

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