Tale of county's very own war horses revealed

By Steve Hayes 02/02 Updated: 14/02 13:46

Buy photos » Warwickshire Yeomanry D Squadron leaving their Stratford Headquarters on August 10 1914 (s)

AS STEPHEN Spielberg's Oscar-nominated, box office hit, War Horse brings the contribution of the four-legged in the war effort to the fore - local historian Dr Douglas Bridgewater has revealed the unique story of Warwickshire's very own war horses.

BEFORE the film War Horse many will have been unaware of the vital part the millions of horses used in combat played during the horrors of World War I.

A staggering 480,000 horses from the UK are thought to have been lost between the start of the war in 1914 and its end in 1918 - around one for every two men.

The war marked a transitional period for their use in battle as modern weaponry began to render them more vulnerable - but all major combatants began the conflict with their own cavalry forces.

And Warwickshire's horses were to play their own part in the conflict with more than 1,000 horses initially going to war with the Warwickshire Yeomanry.

The Yeomanry was mobilised on August 4 1914 and assembled in Warwick on August 10 and after spending some months in Newbury and Norfolk, was finally ordered overseas in April 1915.

On April 10 the first party of the regiment left Avonmouth for Alexandria, in Egypt, on HMT Wayfarer, together with over 700 of its horses and 195 officers and men.

But many of the horses were destined not to make it to battle, when the Wayfarer was torpedoed some 60 miles northwest of the Scillies two days into the journey, with the loss of four men.

The rest of the men got away safely in their lifeboats and were picked up by the Framfield, but the horses were left on the Wayfarer.

The ship didn't sink and the horses were saved, but after the ordeal only 80 were fit enough to be sent on and they eventually reached Alexandria on May 14.

One of those horses was Clautoi, the best-known horse during the Great War in Egypt and Palestine, the scene of the last great cavalry campaign.

He was described by the official correspondent with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force as 'a war-scarred veteran with a great heart' and 'the best charger in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force'.

Clautoi belonged to Captain R.F.K. Gooch of the Warwickshire Yeomanry, a trainer before the war.

The remarkable horse survived bullet wounds as it took part in an advance across the Sinai desert and another during a battle in Palestine.

He also won major race meetings which took place in lulls between battles.

Clautoi was fortunate to miss the charge of two squadrons of the Warwickshire Yeomanry on November 8 1917 on a Turkish field in which 15 officers and men of the Warwickshire Yeomanry were killed and 20 wounded out of a total of 76, and some 45 horses were killed.

And Gooch later rode Clautoi to victory in more races in the welcome racing gaps in an arduous campaign.

The Yeomanry would fight in the heat of the Sinai Desert in summer and the bitter cold of the Judaean Hills in winter.

Horses were called upon to march for up to 25 miles a day on soft sand and could find themselves without water for up to 72 hours.

In the course of the campaign Captain Gooch was awarded the Military Cross with the help of Clautoi.

The end of this glittering career as a war horse is not known.

When the Warwickshire Yeomanry left Palestine for France at the end of March 1918 they were obliged to leave their horses behind, usually to be slaughtered or sold into a life of ill-fed drudgery.

To give Clautoi a good chance of survival, Gooch presented him to Lieutenant-General Sir P W Chetwode (commander of the Desert Column).

And in an ending which could be straight from a Hollywood movie, the last recorded sight of the gallant horse was in June 1918, when he was seen being ridden by one of Chetwode’s men on the Mount of Olives, in Jerusalem.

Buy photos» Horse accommodation on the upper deck of HMT Wayfarer - which was later torpedoed. (s)

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