From battlefield to racecourse

By Sara Bryce

Friday, March 28, 2014

 

From battlefield to racecourse

Alfred Munnnings’ painting of Gen Jack Seely on Warrior.

WIGHT LIVING

AS THE horses and riders line up for the Isle of Wight Grand National at Ashey on Sunday, we should think back nearly a century to Warrior’s great victory in the race.

General Jack Seely’s war horse won what was then called the IW Point-to-Point, on March 30, 1922, exactly four years after the pair led the cavalry charge at a First World War battle that was to see the tide start to turn in the Allies favour.

The horse, who has gone down in history as the one the Germans could not kill, was born on the Island in 1908.

One of the last people alive who met Warrior, recalls the big and gentle bay thoroughbred with a white star.

Daphne Worsfold, 93, — known as 'Brown’ — was taken to see the heroic horse at Mottistone Manor as her father was a friend of Patrick Seely, the grandson of Warrior’s owner, Gen Seely.

Brown, who had ridden horses since she was small and was just 11 or 12 when she met Warrior, described him as very well-behaved and quiet.

"He was a lovely animal. We patted him and sat on him and he was only wearing a halter," she said.

Brown, who lives in Brighstone, was presented with a copy of Gen Jack Seely’s book Warrior: The Amazing Story of a Real War Horse, with a message from his grandson, racing expert and former jockey Brough Scott.

He signed it: "To Daphne, a real Warrior rider."

Warrior was foaled in the spring of 1908 at Yafford, and five years later moved with Gen Seely for training as a cavalry horse at Burley-On-The-Hill, in the Midlands.

Gen Seely knew he had a remarkable horse when he rode him at Brook beach in large, breaking surf. The horse had planted his front hooves and put his head down to brace against the waves.

On August 11, 1914, Warrior went to war, landing at Le Havre to join the Allies on the western front.

The General did not want to be parted from his horse and when he returned to the Island during 1915, Warrior came with him.

Later that year, the pair returned to France and joined the Canadian Cavalry Brigade.

On Sunday, it will be exactly 96 years since Warrior and Gen Seely famously led the charge at Moreuil Wood, one of the last great cavalry charges in history.

Around 350 cavalrymen were killed by German machine guns and 800 horses were destroyed.

Gen Seely was reported to have said of Warrior: "In the latter months of the war, nearly all his comrades were killed and nearly all of mine. But we both survived and largely because of him.

"I rode in shell fire so heavy that he was almost the only survivor."

Alfred Munnings, one of England’s finest painters of horses and later a friend of Gen Seely, captured the battle in oil paints — The Charge of Flowerdew’s Squadron — and the work catapulted him into the spotlight.

In the February before the battle, Munnings painted Warrior and Seely, just 1,000 yards from enemy lines. His haste was clear by splashes of paint on the canvas.

At the end of the war, both Gen Seely and Warrior returned home safely to Mottistone Manor.

Warrior won the IW Point-to-point at Ashey on March 30, 1922, exactly four years after he led the charge. He was ridden by Jim Jolliffe.

He had been taken out of retirement the year before to train at Brook and Mottistone for the annual race and in 1921 had stormed home in second place.

Sunday is also the day for this year’s Ashey Scurry and IW Grand National, the scene of Warrior’s victory.

Racing at West Ashey Farm recently marked 130 years after the IW Hunt and the County and Castle Club of Ventnor held their first race meetings there in 1883, under the name The United Isle of Wight Race Meetings.

According to a compendium put together by Howard Johnson, racing had been organised on the Island from the middle of the 19th century after the IW Hunt was established in 1845 and the County and Castle Club 30 years later.

Meetings were held at courses marked out at Gatcombe and Appleford, before the two clubs joined forces.

It is believed the site was chosen because of a nearby railway which ran down to the chalk pit on Ashey Down. Carriages were left on the tracks to provide extra grandstand seating and Mr Johnson’s collection of photographs show some spectators standing on top, trying to get the best view.

The races became hugely popular, even drawing spectators and at least three champion jockeys from the mainland.

The outbreak of the First World War brought racing to sudden halt.

It restarted in 1920 but after a fire destroyed the grandstand in the late 20s, the thundering of hooves fell silent.

In March 1992, local horseman Harold George worked with farmer Alan Aylett to establish the IW Scurry Races and the well-loved event has been held annually ever since, weather permitting.

After his victory at the IW point-to-point, Warrior was honoured at the War Veteran Show at Olympia and enjoyed retirement at home at Mottistone Manor.

After his death at Easter 1941, the Evening Standard famously titled its obituary The Horse the Germans Could Not Kill.

As a tribute to the noble horse, a sketch of him by Alfred Munnings is included in the front of Gen Seely’s book.

Underneath, handwritten by Gen Seely himself, it reads: "The likeness is so striking, the expression so true, that I confess it moves me deeply.

"It is Warrior that I see, the real Warrior with his white star and his fearless eye."

l IW Grand National Preview, see page 96 of the main paper.

Reporter: sarab@iwcpmail.co.uk

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