War Horse - The Real Stories

I saw the stage production of War Horse at the National Theatre on the London’s South Bank. Although attracted by another perspective on the Great War, it was the fascination of seeing full size horse puppets that caught my imagination. It didn’t fail to impress, within minutes one accepts the puppets as real. Based on a book by Michael Morpurgo for children aged 8-12, well, it trimmed 50 years of my age in one evening, which was rather welcomed.
The story is simple but clever, horse leaves his owner, goes to war, serves both sides, is repatriated with its owner, comes home safe and sound.
Back to the veterans in Great War Portraits: Albert ‘Smiler’ Marshall was a First World War cavalryman serving firstly in the Essex Yeomanry. A superb horseman, he was still riding well into his nineties. I photographed him in 1999 at his cottage in Ashtead Surrey where he had worked on the local estate. I spent the day with him chatting about his life and experiences.
When 'Smiler' was wounded in the hand the army deemed him unfit to handle horses so he was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps.
You can listen to ‘Smiler’ talking about the death, in the trenches, of his best friend Lennie Passiful - http://bit.ly/zGBKJY ‘Smiler’ was the last known surviving British cavalryman of the Great War.
Robert ‘Robbie’ Burns - 7th Battalion The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, had quite a different experience. At Loos in 1915 he rode a horse that was infested with fleas, this caused him much discomfort. In 1916 after being wounded on the Somme, he was pushed into the bottom bunk of a horse drawn ambulance, ‘like a loaf into the oven’. There was terrific shell fire which tipped the ambulance over. He could hear the awful naying from one of the badly injured horses. After Robbie was rescued from the ambulance, he saw that the other horse had its head blown off. Listen to Robbie talking about this experience http://bit.ly/wr2nYy
The film version of War Horse, by Steven Spielberg has had good reviews, 4 out of 5 being the average. The criticisms being, light-weight on reality and too much sentimentality, but that’s Spielberg, always tugging the heart strings. I’m looking forward to seeing it on the big screen, but I shall remove my WW1 anorak before I go in!
Below: Albert 'Smiler' Marshall in his cottage 1999 ©Keith Collman 2012

©Keith Collman 2012

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