By Louise Jeffery
Joey hadn’t seen a crowd like this before, let alone heard so much noise and chatter. So many people waiting on the platform for the carriages to arrive. Mothers and fathers waving off their children, and loved ones not knowing when they would be reunited.
There was a sense of excitement, but also anticipation. For no-one really knew what lay ahead. Parents were putting on their stiff upper lip whilst trying to remain light-hearted, and fight back the tears. The young men and women were keen and eager to get on with the job.
Joey had no idea what was about to face him. Here he was about to give up his quiet country life. The green fields all around where he lived, the bright blue skies, the birds singing and the flowers and trees in full bloom. Joey was loved by his family and was well known by all his neighbours. He was very popular.
Little did he know the reality of what was to come. The journey was long and bumpy. The carriages were crowded and smelly, but worse was to follow. Everything was dark…. He felt as though the light had been turned out and he was seeing the world in monochrome. But it wasn’t just the lack of colour, the warm texture of the grass had been replaced by the slippery ground. The mud was the worst. Trenches full of dirty water, where men lived for weeks and months. Everything was done in those trenches. Eating, sleeping, washing, toileting. Then came the rats. The stench.
This was a long way from home. After a while the colour drained from Joey’s memory. No more green fields or yellow flowers. The sounds of the birds were replaced by gun fire. Even the sky was grey. The men’s clothes were a browny grey, the food was beige and the mood reflected their surroundings. Occasionally the men would sing or play games but spirits were generally low.
There were regular loud bangs and the sky would light up a brilliant white. The fences that Joey was so familiar with at home had been replaced by barbed wire…. Awful sharp wires that would stick into your flesh and rip you apart. And then there was the gas… a strange sensation that would sting your eyes and affect your breathing.
The only other colour around was the white of the nurses uniforms… and often it was stained a vivid red.
Where was this hell?
Joey had many jobs in the years he spent here… he was one of the stronger guys, so he was used to haul the guns, often up to 12 of them for each gun. He was used to working alongside his friends transporting the men and the ammunition. But his friends were becoming less and less.
But Joey had a fighting spirit and he wouldn’t let this place beat him. He was determined to survive and he had to support his colleagues.
Eventually, one day to Joey’s surprise the bangs stopped. The troops started to cheer and hugged each other and their horses. Joey was free to return home. He was going home minus a lot of friends but he’d learnt a lot and would appreciate everything he’d previously left behind.
(Britain lost over 484,000 horses in World War 1 – one horse for every two men.
Eight million horses, donkeys and mules died; three-quarters of them from the extreme conditions they worked in.)