Grave Marker for Songster, the Oldest War Horse

A remarkable horse's role in World War One

This resource is one of a series created to commemorate the First World War Centenary in 2014-2018.

The role of horses during WW1 is often over-looked. It is estimated that around 1.2 million horses were sent to France, with 15% killed during the conflict. Despite the harsh realities of warfare, such as disease, gunfire and poisonous gas, the horses were well cared for. After the war, some horses were retained by the army, while others were purchased by farmers in France or sold for their meat. 

(You can find out more about the role of horses in WW1 via the links at the bottom of this page.)

Songster in the First World War
One horse that did return home was called ‘Songster’, a handsome chestnut gelding whose story begins in Loughborough’s Market Place on 4 August 1914, waiting alongside many other horses to be mobilized for war. Although originally turned down due to his age (he was 14 at the outbreak of war), he was transported to France with the Leicestershire Yeomanry, along with Trooper Bert Main as his mount. 

During Songster’s time in France, Trooper Bert Main would recall how he and Songster won a cross-country race. He was also clearly an intelligent horse. When the horse lines were hit by artillery, and many horses were killed, Songster was nowhere to be seen. He had broken free, only to return to the lines once the shelling was over, and therefore avoiding injury. 

After the War
Songster was returned to England in 1919, and he later lived on a farm, cared for by ex-Squadron Sergeant-Major Harry Poole. Once every year until 1935 he was claimed by the Leicestershire Yeomanry unit for their annual camp. Afterwards, he led a more leisurely life drawing a milk float to Loughborough Market once a week. 

Songster passed away on 11 January 1940 in the company of an old Yeomanry companion, RQMS ‘Fred’ Hunter, who remarked: 

'That horse knew every trumpet call. It was one of the finest I ever saw in the last war.'

A faithful animal
Songster was buried beneath a mound with the specially made wooden grave marker shown above, along with his medals: two Mons Stars, the General Service Medal, the Victory Medal, and two Territorial Long Service Medals with ribbons. These were awarded to Songster by the Regiment. He had been the oldest warhorse from the 1914-1918 War. Leicestershire Yeomanry had indeed lost a faithful animal. 

Artillery - weapons of war such as cannons, rocket launchers, shell-firing guns etc
Shelling - explosive missiles fired through the air
Yeomanry - units of the British Territorial Army (used to be cavalry regiments)

View other relevant My Learning WW1 resources.

Scroll down for a list of links and resources on this topic or see the 
teachers' notes  page for discussion and activity ideas.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Loughborough Carillon Tower and War Memorial Museum | 
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