Thursday 28 September 2023

War horses


War horses

'Goodbye, Old Man' by Fortunino Matania (1881-1963) 

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I am indebted to Joan(Devon) for introducing me to the Brooke Charity for horses, donkeys and mules. I must also thank her and Willie for telling me about the poem, ‘A Soldier’s Kiss’ by Henry Lang Chappell (1874-1937)

Henry Chappell worked at Bath railway station for most of his life and was a prolific poet.


A Soldier’s Kiss


Only a dying horse! pull off the gear,

And slip the needless bit from frothing jaws,

Drag it aside there, leaving the road clear.

The battery thunders on with scarce a pause.


Prone by the shell-swept highway there it lies

With quivering limbs, as fast the life-tide fails,

Dark films are closing o’er the faithful eyes

That mutely plead for aid where none avails.


Onward the battery rolls, but one there speeds

Heedlessly of comrades voice or bursting shell,

Back to the wounded friend who lonely bleeds

Beside the stony highway where he fell.


Only a dying horse! he swiftly kneels,

Lifts the limp head and hears the shivering sigh

Kisses his friend, while down his cheek there steals

Sweet pity’s tear, ‘Goodbye old man. Goodbye’.


No honours wait him, medal, badge or star,

Though scarce could war a kindlier deed unfold;

He bears within his breast, more precious far

Beyond the gift of kings, a heart of gold.

The Brooke Charity owes its existence to Dorothy Brooke. Living in Egypt and knowing of the plight of war horses abandoned at the end of the First World War she appealed for funds to alleviate their suffering. With generous donations, she was able to found the Old War Horse Memorial Hospital in Cairo. The work expanded and today the charity helps to care for working horses, donkeys and mules in countries including Ethiopia, Latin America and India.


  1. The poem is very sad. Oh what we have done and we do to animals.

  2. Not used to shedding a little tear this
    early in the morning...l've read this
    over and over, over the years...still has
    the same effect...! :).

    And the painting does it for me to....
    Reproductions of Matania's painting were sold
    throughout the war to raise funds for the cause...
    The original still hangs in the charity's animal hospital
    in London....!

    1. His paintings are beautiful. The poem is heart-breaking.

  3. I'd not heard of the poem. Sad. I'd not seen the painting. Even sadder. However I have read quite a bit about the war horses and those left behind.

    1. Both were new to me until yesterday. I've ordered a book of Chappell's poems.

  4. I am not so sure if in the African countries the horses and donkeys are well treated, despite all efforts mostly from British organizations. I once had a fight with a donkey owner the carriage was overloaded. I started shouting and all the other tourists followed, the police came and I don't know what happened next to the donkey owner. Hope he will be treated how he treated his donkey !

  5. All life is cheap in some countries and the animals fare worst of all.

  6. I first came across this many years ago in a quarterlly magazine I used to get called This England, which just focuses on England. It did say, or one of the commenters said, that the painting and poem weren't done together and no-one knew which came first. I still have that cutting and the feeling of sadness when I look at it and it's because of this I sponsor The Brook.

    1. Both Chappell and Matania were new to me until yesterday, so thank you, Joan, for introducing them to me.

  7. What a beautifully touching, poignant poem. Gave me a lump in my throat. The things of war we never even think of........

  8. Heart wrenching. My son is in the Army. He told us that the Army service dogs are always one rank higher than their handler, so it's an instant court martial if you strike the animal. There is a close bond between soldiers and the fur babies who accompany them.

    1. The 'one rank higher' is brilliant. My husband (ex-military) says he doesn't think it happens in the British army, though it should. Well done, your son, on all counts.

  9. Such a poignant poem, I'm afraid I couldn't read it without shedding a little tear! xxx

  10. Every time I read it I shed tears. War is so wasteful, though sometimes necessary. x x x


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