The Unsung Heroes
When we think of the First World War, the typical soldier’s story we tend to think of are those of the trenches and No Man’s Land. However, this was not the whole picture.
In fact, there were over 325,000 soldiers in the ASC (Army Service Corps, later the Royal Army Service Corps or RASC), delivering food, equipment and ammunition to the fronts.
During the war, horses were essential for transport including artillery, supplies and ambulances. They were also used throughout the war for cavalry charges by the British, though the effectiveness of mounted units decreased as the war progressed due to more destructive weaponry and expansive trench systems. The often heartbreaking story of the role of horses in WW1 is famously told by Michael Morpurgo’s book; War Horse – a classic read for many schools teaching about the First World War.
These horses were trained, cared for and delivered to the front lines by the Army Remount Service. At its peak in 1917, the Army had nearly 870,000 horses and mules, with accommodation for 60,000 remount animals.
The men of the Remounts were generally older, more experienced soldiers alongside experienced civilian horsemen, but as the war progressed, those who had formerly been deemed unfit for the front line were called upon to fight.
A Soldier’s Story: Private Hubert William Jay
He enlisted in January 1915 at 27 years old. He was stationed in a number of reserve and training battalions, before he was posted to France in January 1916 with the 13th Welch (the archaic Welsh spelling) battalion.
In the summer of 1917, the battalion was moved to camps on the Belgian border, where they trained for the eventual Third battle of Ypres (more commonly known as Passchendaele) at a replica trench, built to mirror the enemy trenches they would be attacking.
The soldiers were subject to shelling and gas attacks, resulting in deaths and injuries to both soldiers and officers.
On 29th July 1917, Hubert was wounded by a gas shell and began a month-long journey back to the 3rd Western Hospital in Cardiff for treatment.
Two days later, at 3.50 am on 31st July 1917, his comrades of the 13th battalion went over the top in the Battle of Pilckem Ridge. By a perverse stroke of luck, a gas shell had saved Hubert from taking part in one of the bloodiest battles in World War One.
Deemed unfit to return to duty; Hubert was permitted to spend Christmas 1917 at home with his wife, Annie, before he was transferred to the 3rd Welsh Reserves and later the Romsey Remount Depot; caring for horses once again.
Romsey Remount Depot
Romsey Remount Depot covered almost 500 acres, centered around Ranvilles Farm. It was built by private contractors, who employed 800 men to get the Depot ready for the war. There were often more than 4,000 horses and mules in the care of the ten squadrons at Romsey. As the war progressed, it became increasingly difficult to find suitable men for these trades, especially as many men were medically upgraded as fit to fight at the front.
Other aspects of the camp included agriculture, with 40 acres of potatoes being harvested. Also, selling old horse-shoes, horsehair, hoof parings, jam jars, old wire and string was vital in raising money for the camp. The sale of manure alone raised £4,000 from 1916 to 1918. The Depot also had a large impact on local culture, as the Depot Band became a well-known feature of life in the town.
Hubert remained with the remounts until September 1919 when he was demobilised and returned home to his wife, bringing a happy end to our soldier’s story.
Bringing a Solider’s Story to Life
Here at Seymour & Lerhn, we were touched by Hubert’s William Jay’s soldier’s story and the fascinating history of the ‘forgotten’ Army Service Corps of WW1.
To commemorate the Remounts, we decided to create a War Horse Virtual Tour for our interactive e-learning platform, allowing learners to experience a different side to the famous story of War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. This is coming soon for Seymour & Lerhn subscribers.
Whilst you are waiting for the War Horse Virtual Tour, check out our VR WW1 Virtual Trench YouTube video which an immersive, 360 virtual reality experience of the trenches in World War 1.
Discover more about Seymour & Lerhn.