The village of Fins was captured in early 1917 as the German Army withdrew to the Hindenburg Line and remained in British hands until the German Offensive of March 1918 retook the ground.
This photograph comes from a German source and shows a captured British Theatre in what had been a ‘behind the lines’ location until March 1918. The infrastructure behind the front is often forgotten and the existence of Theatres like this close to the battlefield for troops out on rest largely unknown.
This particular ‘Theatre’ is nothing more than three walls of an old French barn and it appears whatever facilities were on-site for the ‘talent’ are found in the tent!
The Germans were obviously amused to find this particular facility when they retook Fins but probably more concerned with the well stocked supply depots also to be found in the village.
This image games from the same source as one of the first I posted here; it was taken by Lieutenant Ron Short MC of the 2nd Battalion Queen’s Regiment, who had an illicit camera with him on the Western Front in 1917.
The village of Ecoust St Mein was captured by the 7th Division in the Advance to the Hindenburg Line in the Spring of 1917. It then remained in British hands until the following March, and became a staging post for the fighting in front of Bullecourt. By war’s end it was completely destroyed; an insight into that destruction can be seen here.
The two officer’s servants – batmen – are standing at the entrance to one of the officer’s dugouts; in this case the cellar of a partially destroyed house. While they are relaxed and out of view of the Germans here, the presence of war is not far away and both men are carrying their Small Box Respirator; the latest bit of kit at the time the photo was taken in early 1917 that helped to protect the British Tommy against gas attacks. The soldier on the right is wearing a Leather Jerkin, issued in cold periods as a piece of cold weather gear and often all that soldiers had to protect themselves from the extreme temperatures in Northern France.
The children’s author Michael Morpurgo published War Horse in 1982 long before the growth of interest in the Great War began. He has said many times that little did he realise it would morph from a child’s book to a play seen mainly by adults to now a Hollywood film. While some websites are arguing about whether the right uniforms and equipment will be shown, or whether it will be an exaggerated North American view of a war that it barely known of in the US, it seems likely it will bring many with only a passing interest in the subject to ask more, and perhaps remember a few stories of war horses passed down in their own family.
Horses in the Great War are as much a symbol of that conflict as the mud of Passchedaele or the gas mask. Veterans I interviewed in the 1980s had harrowing, often terribly sad memories of animals they had cared for at the front, and in my Great War photo archive I have literally hundreds of images showing a beloved horse, special to a particular soldier who brought them home.
An Army Service Corps Horse Transport limber in France 1918.
The sheer scale of animals used is incredible. The British Official History shows that in August 1914 the army had 165,000 horses on the establishment; doing everything from pulling wagons and ambulances, to serving in mounted regiments or serving as Sir John French’s charger. The same establishment four years later numbered more than 828,000 horses and in those four years millions of animals had been brought into use by the British alone. For the British effort horses were brought from a wide area; 428,00 from North America, 6,000 from South America and some were even sourced in Spain and Portugal. At war’s ending many were sold locally but nearly 95,000 were brought back to Britain for sale, sometimes to their original owners. The cost to the horses was great; more than 225,000 of them died in British service on the Western Front and more than 376,000 died in service with the French Army; figures for the German war effort seem unavailable.
Germans shelter in a dugout with their horse, 1916.
One of the sad facts when I lived on the Great War battlefields was that when a field was ploughed the most common bones found were not human but horse or mule. How these animals were loved can be expressed that many officers wanted to be buried with their horses if they fell; and I know of at least one war grave where that indeed happened.
A French Poilu with his horse, 1915.
War Horse the film will make thousands of people think about the Great War and remember the often forgotten sacrifice of those beautiful animals who marched under the thunder of the guns just like their human masters.