For anyone who has been watching the new BBC1 drama series, 'The Village,' one of the storylines in last Sunday's episode focused on the Army's requirement for horses during the war, a theme that has garnered much interest since the dramatisation of Michael Morpugo's 'War Horse.' The increasing mechanisation and static nature of trench warfare saw a phasing out of the once pivotal role of the cavalry. The last charge of the First World War on the Western Front took place on 14th July 1916 at High Wood during the Battle of the Somme; an effective but costly strategy which saw 102 men killed and the loss of 130 horses. But horses were still badly needed - for transportation and haulage - and back in Britain, as well in North & South America, New Zealand, Portugal, Indian and China - men from the Army Remount Service, part of the Army Service Corps, would track down available horses which would be acquired through compulsory purchase.
Rimington was the subject of this photo feature in The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News, a magazine which, through its in-depth coverage of racing, hunting and horse-related subjects in peacetime, took a particular interest in the activities of the Army Remount Service. With horses in high demand, Rimington's skills in breaking in unruly and unmanageable mounts were invaluable, and he is pictured here, at the Underdale Hall Remount Department near Shrewsbury, with a group of reprobate equines whose past misdemeanours make gruesome reading. Savage Simon had been described as, 'Vicious and quite unmanageable. Has injured six men, some badly. Savaged the rough rider and tore the saddle to pieces.' Bucking Belle, true to her name, 'bucks viciously when mounting,' Winston Churchill (!) was,'quite unmanageable; very wild in stable; dangerous rearer,' and the malevolently named Crippen had actually struck out and killed an unfortunate groom.
Throughout the war, via four main depots in Britain, the Army Remount Service had over 340,000 horses pass through their hands. Those who joined the service tended to be older, more experienced soldiers such as Lieutenant Mike Rimington, late of the 37th Lancers who had seen action in the Boer War.
Rimington, the horse-whisperer of his day, tamed them all. Having reformed their ways, we can't help wondering if Simon, Belle, Winston, Crippen et al survived the war. Estimates vary but it is thought that around 285,000 horses and mules were killed, or lost at sea during the Great War.