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Real War Horses:
The Experience of the British Cavalry 1814 -1914
by Anthony Leslie Dawson 

Publisher: Pen & Sword (2017)    ISBN: 9781473847071

. . .
with and being around horses. The farmers were probably good shots
too.27 The high rate of volunteering for active service is demonstrated
in a report by the Hull Daily Mail which suggested that by October
1900 the parish of Snaith 'which has only some thousand inhabitants'
had produced 170 'mounted men' for the Yorkshire Dragoons.28
In addition to the old Yeomanry Regiments, new units were formed,
not only in response to General Buller's call for men but as a result of
patriotic fervour and civic or regional pride. In Northumberland a
'Volunteer Fund' was started to raise and equip 250 mounted infantry,
to be named the 'Northumberland Mounted Volunteers' raising a
staggering £6,350 in a matter of weeks. The intention of the 'Volunteer
Fund* was to raise a unit for service which was 'a real and valuable
help, but in no way a burden' upon the government, horses, uniforms
and even four trained cooks being paid for entirely by subscription. It
was *a force consisting of men pre-eminently well-fitted for the
hardships of campaigning, as well as full of patriotic zeal'.29 By the
end of December 1899 the Northumberland Volunteer Fund was
reported to stand at £27,000 and the Durham Fund at E12.005.30 One
hundred fully-equipped mounted riflemen were accepted for service at
New Year 1900?'

Going to War
The first contingent sailed between 27 January and 14 April 1900. The
men of the Yorkshire Dragoons and Yorkshire Hussars, together with
one company from the Sherwood Foresters and the South Nottingham
Yeomanry, formed 3rd Battalion Imperial Yeomanry.

As with other Yeomanry contingents going off to war, those sent
from the Yorkshire Dragoons and Yorkshire Hussars had a lavish send-
off. The Yorkshire Dragoons were sent-off from Sheffield, including a
service at the Parish Church (now the Cathedral),32 and were inspected
by their Colonel the Earl of Scarborough in the presence of a 'vast
number' of spectators. So thronged were the streets that it was hard for
the contingent to march from Sheffield Barracks to the Parish
Church.™ The Yorkshire Hussars paraded dirough the streets of Leeds
to City Square before 'an immense concourse of people thither' on 6
January 1900. The contingent travelled to Liverpool by train from
Leeds, but the press of onlookers was so great that one trooper was left
stranded on the station platform, until he was bodily picked up and
passed ai head height, haiul-over-hand to the train! ' I 'hey sailed Irom
Liverpool on 29 January 1900 and landed at Cape Town on Tuesday 20
February 'in good order'.35

The majority of the Imperial Yeomanry had never seen active
service - the closest they came was their annual summer Training
Camp. Moreover, they had never travelled abroad; their letters home
reflect a naive, almost holiday atmosphere. The voyage was not
necessarily all plain sailing. Charles Marston, from Wrexham, who
enlisted in 29 Company (Denbighshire Yeomanry) sailed from
Woolwich Docks on board SS Kent, along with the Welshmen were
the Leicester Yeomanry (Captain Harrison) and 'Compton's Horse' (28
Company (Bedfordshire)) under Lord Alwynne Compton. The voyage
'began in bright sun', but upon entering the Bay of Biscay:
. . . rough weather began . . . With the result that many of the
officers, non-commissioned and men were laid up with sea
sickness, and in a consequence all the work falls on the men who
are well . . . The work of an Orderly is to fetch the rations, wash
and clean up after every meal, scrub the floor and keep the mess
in general cleanliness. This sort of work I should not to object to
for the sake of my Queen and country under ordinary conditions,
but in a storm at sea one's trials are almost past human endurance.
The other day ... I dropped a whole tinfull [sic] of hot soup down
the ladder leading to our mess on top of a poor trooper who was ill
at the bottom, and nearly fell on top of him myself. I need not
repeat the words uttered. Last night some of us fell out of our
hammocks, and all the crockery that I am made responsible for
went flying about in all directions, to my utter disgust and
annoyance.
36

One member of 8 Company (Derbyshire Yeomanry), who sailed
aboard the SS Cavour, said in a letter home of 3 February 1900 written
at Las Palmas that

Ever since we left Liverpool we have been on the roll, and the
weather has been wretched. I have been all right myself, but some
of the poor beggars suffered badly, and are still suffering, one or
two so badly that they are to be put ashore at Las Palmas. We are
having bad luck with our horses - five so far have had to be shot
and thrown over-board. It is a sad sight to see them go ... It has
been too rough to have drill, and beyond looking after the horses
and inspection of kits we have done nothing. Of course,
everything here in the way of food and accommodation is as
rough as it possibly can be.
37

Whilst the officers enjoyed their mess, food and drink for the other
ranks was a major grumble. Trooper Fred Jones of Chester writing to
his father described the 'feeding and drinking arrangements as very
poor'. There was only one cookhouse for 500 men and each man in a
mess took it in turn to fetch the food in their mess kettles. But, in order
to 'secure a good position in the long line of men who were waiting'
had to leave 45 minutes before opening time. The same was true at the
'Wet Canteen' and to make matters worse, the prices on board ship
were exorbitant: Is for a half-pint bottle of beer.38

The weather did not improve after the ten-day voyage to Las Palmas,
where the troopships took on coal and water. One officer of 21
Company (Cheshire) wrote how:

Our meals were the merriest part of the day; at one moment a dish
of vegetables would flay the fiddles and deposit itself in one's lap;
or a land-born steward would pitch himself across the table. At
night, if one were not careful, he would be hurled from his bunk
across the cabin.
3'1

So sea-sick were many of the officers and men of the Chester
companies, that Trooper Preston (21 Company) reported to his father
that, 'I think they are sending a do/en back when we get to the Cape as
unfit for active service'.40
Suffering even more than the men were the horses:

 


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