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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

Forgotten #WWI heroes

Image courtesy of Eva Rinaldi,

Last week we went to see the stage production of Michael Morpurgo's War Horse at The New Theatre, Oxford.

The story of War Horse tells of the horror of the battlefield during WWI through the experience of Joey, a horse from Devon bought by the army to take to war.

The National Theatre production was masterly and extremely moving. The horse "puppets" were magnificent - you didn't even question that it wasn't a real horse on stage! So cleverly done.

There was a fascinating piece in the theatre programme entitled, Forgotten Heroes, written by journalist and historian, Max Hastings (a precis of his article published in The Daily Mail in 2007). It quotes some stark and shocking figures. Of the million horses sent to France between 1914 and 1918, only 62,000 returned.

In this week's episode of BBC One's series Who Do You Think You Are?, Mark Wright discovered that his great-great-grandfather served during WWI as a groom, looking after horses like Joey. So important was the role, given the army's reliance on these animals, a groom's pay was considerably more than that of a foot soldier. (You can read more about what Mark learned in a detailed report of the programme, on The Genealogist website.)

I'd always been told that my great uncle, Tom Diggory, had joined The Royal Gloucester Hussars during WWI and I have a photograph of him on horse back.

On his attestation form, dated August 1915, his clear intent is to be involved with horses, as on question 15, For what Corps are you willing to be enlisted, he's written cavalry.

Thomas Diggory in his "hospital blues" after being wounded.

But it seems that despite the evidence of the above photograph, Tom didn't join the Hussars, but ended up in the infantry wing of The Gloucester Regiment.

He served in Gallipoli where he was badly wounded in the leg - an injury which would go on to plague him all his life.

Medical advice was to amputate the damaged leg but, it seems, Tom wouldn't even consider the option. His oft quoted comment was, "I came into the world with 2 legs and I intend to leave it with 2 legs."

Tom died in 1954, aged 60, sadly having spent many of his final years confined to his bed.



Wendy Percival
Wendy Percival
Sep 13, 2019

Thanks, Helen. The stage show was fabulous, wasn’t it? It got across the message brilliantly, I thought. Really heart-rending stuff.

My gran always kept those 2 photos of her big brother on her mantlepiece. She was the youngest of six and he was the next youngest, at 5 years older. I think she was very proud of him!


Helen Baggott
Helen Baggott
Sep 13, 2019

Fascinating, Wendy. I remember seeing the play in London and crying and crying. Mark Wright's story adds to the details and that was another fascinating insight. Your great uncle was a brave man.

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