The War Horse Memorial Service of Blessing

Some members of the Mane Chance team were honoured to attend the Service of Blessing for the War Horse Memorial on Tuesday 17 April.  Held in Windsor, it was an unique opportunity to be part of something historic – a major step towards the installation of the most poignant of commemorations.  The War Horse Memorial will be the first national memorial dedicated exclusively to the millions of UK, Commonwealth and Allied horses, mules and donkeys that were lost during the Great War.

It will consist of a larger than life bronze horse, standing on an inscribed plinth created by the British sculptor, Susan Leyland, and will be officially unveiled in Ascot on Friday June 8.  Poppy is a mare, standing motionless over barbed wire, her body slightly malnourished and with scars from battles seen, her head bowed in mourning with a tear falling from one eye in memory of her fallen comrades.  The only movement is in her tail, to give a sign of life and hope for the future that their sacrifice was not made in vain.

The Service was to allow the blessing of artefacts, generously donated treasured reminders of a war long over, but signifying a wonderful legacy to service and sacrifice.  These objects will be placed at Poppy’s feet as a lasting reminder of the freedom and democracy we all enjoy today.

The Service was extremely moving – in front of the altar stood a maquette of the memorial, surrounded by the artefacts to be blessed.  Readings, hymns, choral pieces and music contributed to a truly fitting respectful recognition of the part that these animals played in the Great War.  The service was held in a Garrison church displaying the names of so many people who gave their lives for this country; so it felt particularly touching to be remembering the animals that also did not come home.

Mane Chance Sanctuary Trustees, Jenny Seagrove and Sir Timothy Ackroyd, both read at the service and were joined by the Worshipful the Mayor of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, mezzo soprano Friederike Krum and representatives of the Military.  Two beautiful horses were present outside with riders in period costume and then Maggie, a mare, walked down the aisle during the service and led the most wonderful of tributes to all of the lost horses, donkeys and mules – she behaved amazingly.  Following her departure from the church, a solo bugle played the Last Post and a minute’s silence was held to honour those who had perished.

Jenny read a poem, written by the sculptor during the project and it encapsulates the whole essence of the memorial.

From our peaceful land
To Hellfire we were sent

Bomb blasts, shellfire and barbed wire
Explosions, fearful gas and groans
Man and beast wrenched and maimed
On foreign soil, last breaths exhaled.

Through horror, fear and pain
Knee-deep mud, cold and rain
We heaved and pulled
With little to sustain
We charged the fight
We braved the guns
We did our best
We carried on
To get the battle won

I am home again at last
My legs are swollen and my body weak
My skin and cuts are healing
But I cannot forget
So here in silence with lowered head
Over bones of fallen friend
Where grass and purple poppies grow
I stand forever
To honour all those
Who came not home

Susan Leyland

Mane Chance Sanctuary, together with the Household Cavalry foundation, is privileged to have been chosen as one of the charities to benefit from this memorial via it’s fundraising initiatives.  We will also benefit from the Purple Poppy appeal, due to be launched later in the year.  This appeal is to become an annual event to remember animal victims of war.  So this project is very close to the heart of our charity and we are proud to have such a prestigious association.

We look forward to the unveiling of Poppy herself in June, in the place she will stand for hundreds of years, as a lasting legacy so that future generations will understand the debt that we all owe to the most noble of animals.

If you would like to find out more information about The War Horse Memorial, please visit the website at www.thewarhorsememorial.org