Graham Langer introduces a fascinating project as part of the Great War commemorations. He and his horse Mr Postman engage in schools visits at which Graham talks to the youngsters about the vital roles equines played in the Great War. Graham reports “I have visited primary and secondary schools, both mounted and unmounted, to talk about the role of cavalry and horses in WW1. Michael Morpurgo’s story ‘War Horse’ has generated a lot of interest in the role of equines in the Great War but only told a small part of the story. Attending a school in uniform with a fully accoutered mount is an exceptionally good way to engage with pupils and enrich their experience of the conflict. World War 1 is currently incorporated into both primary and secondary school syllabi with many schools sending parties of children to visit the battlefields and memorials in France and Belgium.
“Having a horse present often encourages pupils to ask questions about subjects that might not be covered by their teachers and I usually start by asking them a series of questions to make them think about the subject such as “Who had family who served in WW1?”, “Who lost a relative, do you know where they are buried/commemorated?”. One of my favourite tricks is ask for a set of bathroom scales on which I then stand, I then ask pupils to start handing me all my kit, saddle, bridle, blanket, sword, pistol, gas mask, etc. while another pupil tells off the increasing weight – they are always astounded to see my weight double once I am carrying all the accoutrements.
“I am very lucky to have an ideal ‘officer’s charger’, a 17hh thoroughbred called ‘Mr. Postman’ who I acquired after his career as a racehorse ended; remarkably for a TB he will stand patiently while a discussion takes place although he prefers to go with his buddy, ‘Anvil’, a 16hh ‘trooper’s horse’ who was retired on us after fifteen years in hunt service. The two different types of mount allows me to demonstrate what was required in an officer’s horse and in that of a trooper’s horse or light draught type. I will normally cover the role of all equines in war, horses and mules, talking about shipping, the remount depots, draught work, pack horses, the unreported role of the cavalry, casualties, veterinary hospitals and repatriation (or not).
“If possible I try to ensure that groups of pupils get to handle some of the kit I bring with me. I have had a teacher express surprise at this, saying that most people doing my job are too “precious” with their stuff to allow anyone to even touch it! Personally I believe there is no substitute to being ‘hands on’ and placing a bit of trust in the pupils.”
We will be hearing more from Graham, including on a recent battlefield ride in France, in a forthcoming Countryside Alliance magazine.