Cartmel’s Ewen Cameron recalls his grandfather’s reminiscences of life as a World War One cavalry soldier and the fate of the horses after the war

STEVEN Spielberg’s film War Horse raised awareness of the use of horses in World War One and also reminded me of the stories I heard from my grandfather, who served as a cavalry soldier.

Samuel Wallis, a countryman who had been brought up with horses, joined up as a yeomanry trooper and was sent to France in 1914 in a similar scenario to the film.

Although he came from the Midlands, many local men and animals served in the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry and the Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry.

Also, as the photograph of horses from George Dickinson’s mill being loaded on to a train at Cark station (above) shows, many local horses were ‘enlisted’ into the army, with hardly any returning home at the end of the war.

In France the armies soon got bogged down in trench warfare and cavalry could not be used effectively. Sam’s unit was one of many sent to fight against the Turkish army in Egypt and Palestine (modern Israel and Gaza).

He was involved in one of the most successful charges at El Mughar in November 1917 which, although it lasted only about one hour, resulted in 129 British soldiers and 265 horses being killed or injured.

Sam was one of the casualties, but luckily recovered quickly from his injuries.

While the soldiers were able to return to Britain after the war, the same did not apply to most of their horses, thousands of which were sold and left in the Middle East.

Twelve years later Dorothy Brooke, wife of an army officer, visited Egypt and was horrified to discover many ex-army horses, still alive and working, that generally were in an appalling condition.

She quickly organised a charity which, in 1934, was able to buy more than 5,000 of these animals. Unfortunately many were past saving and had to be humanely destroyed, but the remainder were able to live out the rest of their lives in the comfortable Brooke Hospital.

My fellow Cartmel resident Geraldine Braithwaite is actively involved in raising money and publicity for the Brooke Hospital for Animals, which continues to care for working horses, donkeys and mules of the very poor in 11 countries across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Their owners are very dependent on the animals for their livelihood and, particularly during the current unrest in the Middle East, the Brooke’s support has been as vital to these people and their families as to their animals.

n Full details of the Brooke’s history and continuing work can be found at and Geraldine’s stand can also be seen regularly a Cartmel Races and other local events.