The tale of War Horse has gone from beloved children’s book, to successful stage play to Hollywood movie directed by Steven Spielberg.
But whereas this one equine hero’s exploits are fictional those of Warrior who carried General Jack Seely of the Canadian cavalry throughout the horrors of World War I are all true.
The bravery of the thoroughbred were documented in a book written by General Jack Seely, in 1934.
His grandson Brough Scott describes General Seely’s unique relationship with an animal that a group of cavalrymen dubbed ‘The horse the Germans couldn’t kill’ in the Sunday Times.
He describes the Warrior’s life from his birth on the Isle of Wight to how a combination of both the horse’s extraordinary character and some unbelievable twists of fate, helped him survive a war which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of horses.
The first time General Seely rode the Warrior through shell fire, it was at the battle of Mons, on the French border and he was amazed to discover that Warrior did not try to run away and instead the thoroughbred ‘was pretending to be brave and succeeding in his task.’
Over the countless battles the pair fought together, they gained a mascot status among the troops and General Seely recounted:
‘Men would say not “Here comes the general” but “Here’s old Warrior”.’
Mr Scott told the Sunday Times, that Warrior’s loyalty to General Seely was so strong that he began to follow him round like a faithful dog.
But it is also clear that General Seely was just as attached to Warrior and when Warrior went lame and Seely rode another horse, a shell hit him and the animal was killed.
He wrote: ‘I had three ribs broken myself…but my first thought was “What luck it was not Warrior”.’
Warrior managed to survive several near death experiences such as when a sniper missed him by inches and hit a horse he was touching noses with and when the cottage he was stabled in was bombed, he miraculously emerged from the rubble.
At Moreuil Wood in 1918, General Jack Seely believes it was riding Warrior at the enemy which made them retreat, believing there were ‘thousands’ of soldiers following, although in truth, half the group had been hit.
On his return home, Warrior took part in the Hyde Park Canadian cavalry victory parade and even though he was in retirement, he managed to win a race on the Isle of Wight.
Before the war General Seely was an MP and sat in the Cabinet from 1911-1914, alongside his life-long friend Winston Churchill, who also shared his understanding of equine support.
It was Winston Churchill who intervened to secure the safe return of tens of thousands of war horses stranded in Europe after the First World War.
War Office documents found in the National Archives at Kew show that tens of thousands of the animals were at risk of disease, hunger and even death at the hands of French and Belgian butchers because bungling officials couldn’t get them home when hostilities drew to a close.
Churchill, then aged 44 and Secretary of State for War, reacted with fury when he was informed of their treatment and took a personal interest in their plight after the 1914-1918 war.
He secured their speedy return after firing off angry memos to officials within his own department and at the Ministry of Shipping, who had promised to return 12,000 horses a week but were struggling to get a quarter of that number back.
Churchill’s intervention led to extra vessels being used for repatriation, and the number of horses being returned rose to 9,000 a week.
Warrior lived until 1941, when Seely felt that the extra corn rations needed to keep the 33-year-old hero going could not be justified in wartime. On that Good Friday he wrote “I do not believe, to quote Byron on his dog Boatswain, ‘that he is denied in Heaven, the soul he had on earth.’?