Saturday, 28 January 2012

Gladeye the War Horse

I'm afraid that I have this post all out of context as I meant to write about this book just after I had seen the film War Horse recently. Then the book got overlaid by a pile of other books and has only just resurfaced again.

It was written by Brigadier Walter Brooke, a lesser-known brother of Brigadier Geoffrey Brooke whose books on horses I have on my shelves from teenage times. Geoffrey Brooke married Dorothy Gibson-Craig and they set up the Brooke Hospital for Animals. Primarily they wanted to rescue horses which had been sold into slavery in Egypt following the end of WW1. Many of the officers took their horses out into the Desert and shot them, rather than have them sold to the locals, as they knew the fate which awaited them. Many thousands upon thousands of horses remained in Egypt, and even by 1930 when the Brookes first started their Hospital, many were still alive, though aged and half-crippled by work. Amazingly her appeal for funds in 1930 (time of the Great Depression) raised sufficient funds to rescue 5,000 ex War Horses and is still doing good work today. You have probably seen their adverts in National newspapers and magazines.

Anyway, Gladeye was Walter's horse, and was his partner from the age of 4 years, to the day of his death aged 29 - a good age for a horse. He was bred in Ireland and was a chestnut with three white stockings and a blaze. Walter was ADC to General Sir John Keir at the outbreak of the war and they were shipped out, horses and men, to the Aisne front, near Rheims. Gladeye tells of his warmtime experiences in the book - being saddled up after dark and taken to the trenches to bring his master back, and how they used to find their way home on the transport tracks, across country, passing columns of limbered wagons drawn by pairs of teams of 4 horses, loaded up with rations and letters for the men, or more mundane things like barbed wire or ammnition.

Gladeye was then sent to Egypt with his master. After the cold and mud of Flander, being camped by the seashore with its golden sands and stunningly blue sea was wonderful, the beauty only being spoilt by the flies and the trams, which had screaming horns. From here, they later sailed for Salonica, which was described as being a true melting-pot of huymanity, with soldiers from France, Greece, Russia, Italy, Serbia and England. If you ever doubt the fitness of Army horses in those days, think of Walter and a fellow officer deciding they would like to go and explore the country a bit - they rode for 50 miles (landing up in the French part of the line), and then they rode 50 miles home again. All in the same day, and because there were no roads, only grassy tracks, they cantered much of the time - certainly on all the flat stretches - although their riders got off and rested their backs walking up and down the hills,

He must have been a pretty unflappable horse as on one occasion his groom took his saddle off and put it to one side, when a shell came and blew the saddle to kingdom-come. Gladeye carried on eating his rations as if he were deaf . . .

This marvellous old war horse went on to lead a full life, hunting, playing polo, show jumping, showing and even ploughing! back on Walter Brooke's West Country farm. One of the lucky ones.


  1. Very interesting. Similar story to the book My Horse Warrior by Jack Seely (now re-published by his nephew Brough Scott). My landlady's father bred Warrior at his farm up the road from me. Unfortunately my elderly landlady thinks the film is a true story of the book, and as a result her father is famous. Just hope she's not expecting an invitation to a celeb party!

    1. My father was a groom to gladeye. He had the book but sold it years, ago. Would love to have it back.

  2. What an amazing story and an unusually good long life for a real-life War Horse.

  3. chine - I read Warrior's story many years ago and I think I probably still have the book. I'm not surprised it's been republished on the back of the film.

    DW - He was quite a character, was Gladeye.

  4. Sounds like something I'd like to read, will look for it on Amazon.

  5. What a wonderful tale, I will never see War Horse, would be in floods of tears all through the film....