Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Village installs memorial to horse that survived war

Village installs memorial to horse that survived war

A HORSE that survived the First World War after serving on the front line has had a plaque unveiled in her memory.

Nancy left Lower Farm in Ewelme in 1914 with her owner, Sergeant Thomas Orpwood, who was in the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars.

She endured horrendous conditions in France during the conflict but, against the odds, returned to the village with Sgt Orpwood in 1919.

The plaque was unveiled by his eldest grandson Simon at Ewelme Pound, off Parsons Lane, with Lady Jay of Ewelme, the new High Sheriff of Oxfordshire.

More than 100 people gathered at Friday’s ceremony, including several generations of the Orpwood family, councillors, Thames Valley Police officers and personnel from RAF Benson.

The service including the sounding of the Last Post and Reveille before Rev Patrick Gilday, the rector of Benson with Ewelme, blessed the memorial. It finished with the National Anthem.

Mr Orpwood, who was 15 when his grandfather died, said: “I knew him very well. He loved his horses and he loved his animals.

“You think of all the horses that died during the war and here we have a horse my grandfather was very fond of and managed to bring home.”

Mr Orpwood told those present that on September 19, 1914 a telegram was received from Winston Churchill, himself a member of the Hussars, ordering embarkation to France. They boarded a train for Southampton and then sailed to Dunkirk.

Mr Orpwood said: “Nancy and the other horses had to put up with some awful conditions in heavy mud but grandfather, being a skilled stockman and farmer, would have looked after her.

“The first reality of war came in October 1914. For three years the Oxfordshire Hussars shared the experience of all those fighting around Flanders — extreme
discomfort.”

Hay for the allied horses was sent over from England and on one occasion Sgt Orpwood went to get some for Nancy and found the consignment had come from H W Orpwood, Ewelme, his father’s farm.

Sgt Orpwood also served at the Battle of Guillemont Farm in 1917 before he was demobbed on February 27, 1919. On being decommissioned to Culham station, he rode Nancy back to Ewelme. He went into the pub, leaving his horse outside, but when he came out she had disappeared.

Mr Orpwood said: “Nancy decided to leave early and made her way home and found her stable... having been away for four years, she remembered where to come.

“It is our belief that Nancy was six or seven years old when she went to war and lived to 22 or 23 when she died in 1931 or 1932.”

The horse lived the rest of her life on the farm and is buried behind Lower Farm farmhouse.

The Hussars were keen to enlist farmers as they knew how to ride and had their own horses.

At the outset of the First World War the British army only owned 25,000 horses. However, it compulsory purchased 115,000 horses during the war under the horse mobilisation scheme, shipping out 500 to 1,000 animals a day. The animals lived a harsh and difficult life and about eight million were killed during the conflict.

Another of Sgt Orpwood’s grandsons, David, said: “Nancy was one of the exceptional ones; she survived the entire war and was decommissioned back home alive.

“Thomas was a farmer and we are sure his care and experience with animals was a contributing factor to Nancy’s survival.”

Lady Jay, who was undertaking her first official engagement, said it was a honour to be at the unveiling.

“It is the feeling of gratitude to our fellow beings,” she said. “It’s a momentous moment in the ongoing history of Ewelme.”

After the war Sgt Orpwood farmed Levers Farm in Ewelme, now known as Church Farm. He served as chairman of the parish council and was a school governor. He died in 1965.

He was one of three brothers sent to fight in France. Jack Orpwood went to the front on May 20, 1915 and was shot dead by a sniper on June 22 that year, aged 22. His name is on the Menin Gate.

Jim Orpwood survived the war and returned home. He died in 1964.

The plaque also commemorates all the men and horses that went to the First World War.

In total 26 men left Ewelme at the outbreak of war to join up, many into the Royal Navy. Others followed during the course of the conflict. Twenty men were killed in action.

There is no record of how many horses returned after the war as only cavalry horses were returned by the army. Others, like Nancy, were returned at their owners’ expense. Most were sold for farm work and others were killed for their meat as there was a food shortage after the war.

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