Sunday, August 7, 2011

My grandfather's war horse

A touching memorial at Chipilly, France on the bank of the Somme river shows a WW1 soldier comforting his dying horse on the battlefield.

I have no photographs of, nor did I ever meet my Italian grandfather who had to say goodbye to his farm horse after it had returned from WW1.  What I know of my grandparents came from the stories of their history by my Italian born mother.

They came from the region in Italy known as Marche, what is now a resort town on the coast of the Adriatic Sea called San Benedetto del Tronto.  It is a beautiful town lined with palms, long white sandy beaches and the Apennines to it's back.

My mother's recall of the first world war was as a 10 year old girl in 1915.  Running and playing amid the bombing in the piazza, she suffered shrapnel injury to her leg which the doctors wanted to amputate.  My grandmother said no, preferring to take her to a Russian doctor that lived high in the mountains where he used herb poultices to save her leg.  Some of her tales were pretty horrific dealing with death daily, becoming routine. A very different reality than my carefree golden childhood here in America.

I got my love of horses from my grandfather who loved his farm horse and had to give him up to the army for service.  The horse did come home after the war; which was rare since most of the millions of horses used perished.  I have forgotten the name of the horse, but he did not come home unscathed.  He returned without an eye and ill from injuries.  It grieved my grandfather to have to put him down, but he did.  The grave was dug by hand and the horse covered in lime before covering.  Next morning found the horse had been unearthed by hungry neighbors for the meat.

It is a terrible thing to be grieved enough to bury a beloved horse; and yet, people being hungry from the shortages and ravages of war.  Everyone was hungry and my mother remembered her whole life what it felt like to starve.  She would cry for food until she saw her mother cry for her hungry children, then my mother stopped.  Her fondest memories were of the American soldiers giving up their chocolate bars to the children, and the Salvation Army handing out hardtack to stave off hunger.

Such is war...

War Horse...the movie trailer

Saturday, August 6, 2011

War Horse...the movie trailer

This Christmas moviegoers will have a treat from director Steven Spielberg in the movie version of War Horse.  As a movie buff and Horse aficionado, this should be a "home run" movie for me.  The subject matter comes from the 1982 book by Michael Morpurgo and the Tony Award winning play, both of the same name.

From Huffington Post, here is a synopsis:

 "Set against a sweeping canvas of rural England and Europe during the First World War, "War Horse" begins with the remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man called Albert, who tames and trains him. When they are forcefully parted, the film follows the extraordinary journey of the horse as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all those he meets--British cavalry, German soldiers, and a French farmer and his granddaughter--before the story reaches its emotional climax in the heart of No Man's Land."

Oh Lord...I can hear it now..."Is the horse gonna die?   I won't watch it if he dies."

 I haven't read the book yet, but definitely will see the movie or play when it is available.   I owe it to the horses that have died in all human wars to watch and know what they have done for us willingly, or by force.  I despise the concept of war.  I won't go into my personal beliefs here, but I do want to see this story come to life on the screen.

Movies are a recent art form.  If artfully done they reflect, often times more powerfully than books, the reality of life and the human condition.

Reading more about the author Michael Morpurgo, I found it interesting how the book came about.  First of all, it is a children's novel. From the New York Times book review page written by Sarah Lyall and published April, 11, 2011, she writes:

Mr. Morpurgo’s novels, set all around the world, tend to focus on some favorite themes: humans’ extraordinary bond with animals, children’s courage in adversity, and the power and wonder of nature. Many have gone on to win awards, and four have been nominated for the Carnegie Medal, Britain’s best-known children’s literature prize.
“He’s the most respected British children’s writer working today, whether he’s writing for very young readers or for teenagers,” said Jon Howells, a spokesman for Waterstone’s book chain. “He’s a very powerful, very evocative, very insightful writer. He doesn’t patronize or condescend to his readers, and they really respond.”
“War Horse” is published by Scholastic in the United States, with about 200,000 copies in print, said Kyle Good, a spokeswoman for the publisher.
Why has “War Horse” broken out in such a big way? The story resonates now more than when it was written, perhaps because of the era we live in. “In 1982 the only war in Britain was the cold war,” Mr. Morpurgo said. “But times have changed in the last 15 to 20 years. War does seem to be endemic. When it’s possible to do it, we seem to do it. It never ceases to amaze me that we fall into that trap again and again.”
The book, which has been called a great argument for pacifism, is written from the point of view of Joey the horse. It was inspired, in part, by a series of conversations Mr. Morpurgo had had years ago in his village, Iddesleigh, in Devon, with an elderly man who had served in a cavalry unit in World War I. “He told me with tears in his eyes that the only person he could talk to there — and he called this horse a person — was his horse,” Mr. Morpurgo said.
From the Imperial War Museum, Mr. Morpurgo learned that between one million and two million British horses had been sent to the front lines in the first World War, and that only 65,000 or so had come back. He resolved to write about them but struggled to find the right voice.
Then one evening he was at the farm he and his wife run in Devon, where poor children come to work with animals. (There are now three in Britain, and one in Vermont.) He was passing through the stable yard when he saw one of the children, a troubled boy who had a bad stutter and had not uttered a word in school in two years, standing head to head with a horse.
“He started talking,” Mr. Morpurgo recalled. “And he was talking to the horse, and his voice was flowing. It was simply unlocked. And as I listened to this his boy telling the horse everything he’d done on the farm that day, I suddenly had the idea that of course the horse didn’t understand every word, but that she knew it was important for her to stand there and be there for this child.” That became Joey’s role in “War Horse” — observer and witness as much as protagonist.
Mr. Morpurgo’s books have been set in jungles, on islands and in communities torn up by the Arab-Israeli conflict and by the 2004 tsunami. His most recent book, “Shadow,” tells the story of an Afghan boy who flees to Britain, only to be put in a detention center as he fights to stay in the country. One of Mr. Morpurgo’s many campaigns has been to end the practice of incarcerating children in such centers.
He is in demand as a speaker and an advocate for, among other things, libraries, literacy and the rights of children. But it may well be that “War Horse” is his defining piece of work.
“All this should have happened 30 years ago,” he said recently. “It’s all come at completely the wrong time. But better late than never — although I don’t think my wife thinks so, sometimes.” 

Next, I'll tell a family story about my grandfather and his horse that went off to WW1 in war torn Italy.  My Grandfather's War Horse