Thirty three years ago, in 1982, former Children’s Laureate and award-winning author of children’s books Michael Morpurgo introduced the world to War Horse, in his story of how the fictional Joey and farmer’s son Albert Narracott were lost and then reunited during the horrors of World War One.
A stage play opened at the National Theatre 25 years later, and was followed four years after that by War Horse the movie directed by Steven Spielberg.
What the Isle of Wight has possessed for almost a century, however, is the story of a “real” War Horse – a courageous thoroughbred called Warrior – raised on the Island by Winston Churchill’s great friend Jack Seely, who lived first at Brook House and then at Mottistone Manor (in the headlines recently, as the venue where Benedict Cumberbatch married Jack Seely’s great, great grand-daughter Sophie Hunter).
Dubbed by the newspapers of the day as the “Horse the Germans Could Not Kill”,Warrior was first led into battle in 1914 on the Western Front by General Jack Seely, and survived some of the First World War’s most famous conflicts, and actually led a famous cavalry charge near Amiens on March 30th, 1918.
After returning to the Isle of Wight at the end of 1918, Warrior became a local hero and then went on to win The Lightweight Race at the Isle of Wight Point to Point on March 30th, 1922, exactly four years on from that heroic day in France. He was ridden that day by young Jim Jolliffe, who had known him as a foal.
This year, Warrior’s achievements will be recognized – on March 30th – through the launch of a new trail, which follows much of the route he once followed while being exercised, from Brook Beach to Carisbrooke Castle – where the museum now has an exhibition dedicated to his story, and a small statue erected in his honour.
The new 6-mile, circular Warrior Trail can be tackled on foot, by bike, and even on horseback, and now leads visitors around the West Wight and along to the beach at Brook Bay, where Warrior once trained to confront the dangers of battle in the surf.
Warrior himself lived in happy retirement at Mottistone until his death in 1941 at the remarkable age of 33. In 2014, Warrior was honoured with the presentation of a prestigious PDSA Dickin medal – the animals’ Victoria Cross – the first WW1 recipient of ‘animal’ VC on behalf of all animals that served.
Visit Isle of Wight has helped to create the new 6-miles trail, and will be producing a free leaflet for visitors to follow in Warrior’s hoof-prints. Further details will also be available online.