GWENT'S GREAT WAR: The war horsemen who rode to battle

GWENT'S GREAT WAR: The war horsemen who rode to battle

MIDDLE EAST HORSEMAN: Arthur Stewart Honey on his grey horse while with the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars

SADDLE UP: John Evans with fellow soldiers of the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars

IN UNIFORM: John Evans on his mount at Tredegar House

CEREMONIAL DRESS: Percey Lacey looking every inch the cavalryman

WAR PICTURES: Les Lacey with his grandfather's First World War postcards

WOUNDED: Arthur Stewart Greenhow Honey

First published in News
Last updated
South Wales Argus: Photograph of the Author by

THE FIRST World War may have seen the aircraft, the tank and the machine gun established as weapons, but older ways of waging war persisted.

Horses were used throughout the conflict as cavalry, for reconnaissance and for logistics - pulling guns and supplies. One estimate puts the number of horses that served in World War I at around six million.

Their vulnerability became apparent in the face of machine guns, artillery and gas and many cavalry units served dismounted.

If their use was questioned on the Western Front, cavalry was “indispensable" in the Middle East, where the terrain favoured them and they faced a weaker and less technologically advanced enemy.

They were valued still in all theatres. Men at the front understood that to lose a horse was worse than losing a man because “men were replaceable while horses weren't."

It is in the Middle East that some Gwent soldiers saw action as cavalrymen.

Martyn Evans’ grandfather was John Evans, groom to Lord Tredegar’s horses. A keen sportsman, he played rugby for Newport immediately before the war and in 1914, he joined the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars.

As with many cavalry units, he was sent to Gallipoli without their horses, but when that campaign came to a sorry end, was shipped to Egypt to take up their mounts once again to defend the Suez canal against Turkish and German forces.

The 5th Mounted Brigade, of which John's regiment, of which the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars was part, was guarding the building of a railway to strengthen the British defences of the canal and Egypt.

Meanwhile the Germans were pressing the Turks to mount another offensive against the canal to prevent divisions being sent from Egypt to France.

In mid-April, the German General von Kressenstein attacked the rail construction with 3,500 men, and a camel-mounted regiment of Arabs.

Martyn tells how John Evans was one of a squadron of about 87 men who were one of the units defending the railway line on April 23, 1916. They were cut off from the main force by an “overwhelming body of Turks” numbering some 3,000 at Katia. He says: “John was stranded, with reinforcements many miles away, and no hope of reaching them. About half the squadron were wiped out before they finally surrendered.”

He was captured by the Turks. Their horses taken from them and the men were forced to march 200-miles across the desert to Beersheba, in present day Israel.

Martyn adds: "Although the ravages of hunger were in themselves awful to experience, the lot of the unwounded captives was not nearly so bad as the plight of those who were disabled when captured.” In a grotesque parody of their former roles as horsemen, Martyn tells how many badly wounded were put astride upon camels with not one surviving the journey.

John was then taken by train through Syria and then to Turkey, where he survived two years and seven months in captivity. There they worked as forced labour where prisoners were often brutally beaten or as Evans himself was, punched and whipped for talking to another prisoner.

Arthur Stewart Greenhow Honey was born to work with horses. His great-niece, Sally Burge of Newport tells how his father Arthur ran a saddlery on Chepstow Road in Newport. He already served as a Territorial soldier with the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars, in their Newport-based 'C' Squadron. He went on to serve with them during the war.

Sally says a family story was born when he went to fight:"When mobilisation came he wanted to take his own horse with him, but as it was a grey it would have stood out on the battlefield, so he would have to dye it black!"

Like John Evans, he was reunited with his horse in Egypt. His unit too served with the 5th Mounted Brigade.

More fortunate than John Evans, he avoided capture and fought on as the British eventually gained the upper hand in the desert.

German and Ottoman forces had repulsed the British as they tried to move against Palestine in the first and second battles of Gaza in March and April 1917.

But from October to the end of 1917 the British rolled up through the Holy Land, powered by cavalry, capturing Jerusalem and a large part of southern Palestine.

His luck ran out somewhat, as although the British by this time were firmly in the ascendancy, he was wounded at Es Salt , when they were bombed and machine-gunned by enemy aircraft in the Jordan valley on 4th May 1918.

Although the hopes for cavalry were often misplaced as they came up against modern guns, they still were widely used on the western front.

Former Pontypool steelworker Percy Lacey looks every inch the cavalryman in his gleaming breastplate of the Household Cavalry.

For although mounted regiments didn’t often pick metalworkers for their ranks, Percy had seen a different life before he came to work in industrial Gwent.

As a farm labourer in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, he learned to shoe horses, his grandson Les Lacey of Rogerstone says. “He came looking for industrial work, but his skill with horses meant a cavalry unit was a natural home for him.”

After the war, Les recalls: "He kept a horse and cart off Glebe Street in Maindee and is remembered selling his eggs from the cart."

He first joined the 2nd Dragoon Guards, but later was part of the 6th Dragoon Guards before joining the Household Cavalry.

He worked mainly as a shoeing smith, and was entrusted with caring for the hooves of the horse, what in civilian life would be called a farrier.

A sad sight he must have seen many times was the grisly proof required that a horse was dead. So valuable were the animals that if a soldier's horse was killed or died he was required to cut off a hoof and bring it back to his commanding officer to prove that the two had not become separated.

His father collected pictures of many of the places he fought in. One of which was of Peronne which was part of the area fought over for the Battle of at Cambrai in November 1917.

Although one of the first battles to see tanks used, mounted cavalry were also heavily relied upon.

A contemporary of Percy’s in his unit at the time 2nd Dragoon Guards wrote on the eve of the battle: “All that could be heard was the clip-clop of horses' feet, creaking of saddlery and champing of bits. Now and again the sound of a muffled cough. I had never seen so many horses and men together at one parade. It was an awe-inspiring sight. Dragoons, Lancers, Hussars - they were all there, as well as Indian mounted troops.”

It was a sight that would probably never be seen again. For the all the spectacle of the massed ranks of cavalry, the horse’s war was almost always a tragic one, with only a few thousand returning from the war which they helped to fight.

Comments (1)

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4:49pm Wed 6 Aug 14

Katie Re-Registered says...

A very interesting article. Cavalry was used extensively on the eastern front from 1914 to the early 1920s too, with types of soldiers normally associated with the 19th century such as Cossacks, Uhlans and Lancers often participating in battles and skirmishes not only in WWI, but also the Russian civil war, Polish war of independence and other similarly cruel and savage conflicts which followed. We generally consider the end of the first world war to be November 1918 in the west, but it is often forgotten that the horrific fighting raged on in many parts of central and eastern Europe, Russia and Asia until at least the mid-1920s.
A very interesting article. Cavalry was used extensively on the eastern front from 1914 to the early 1920s too, with types of soldiers normally associated with the 19th century such as Cossacks, Uhlans and Lancers often participating in battles and skirmishes not only in WWI, but also the Russian civil war, Polish war of independence and other similarly cruel and savage conflicts which followed. We generally consider the end of the first world war to be November 1918 in the west, but it is often forgotten that the horrific fighting raged on in many parts of central and eastern Europe, Russia and Asia until at least the mid-1920s. Katie Re-Registered
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