By Jilly Cooper
Jilly Cooper has written a tribute to the position of animals in wartime. From the pigeons wearing important messages to and from the beleaguered urban through the Seige of Paris to canines sniffing out mines for the British invasion strength in international battle II. A vibrant checklist of man's inhumanity to animals, and an miraculous tale of braveness.
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He only judged by appearances. Sailor wasn’t worth much to look at, but was worth six horses in the battery. If a gun team jibbed, we hitched old Sailor and he pulled through the whole show. If a vehicle got stuck in a ditch, or was too heavy to start, old Sailor moved it. He would work for 24 hours without winking, and he was as quiet as a lamb and as clever as a thoroughbred, but he looked like nothing on earth, so we lost him, and the whole battery kissed him goodbye and the drivers and gunners, who fed him, nearly cried.
For a start, I knew very little about military history. Being married to a military history publisher, Leo Cooper, for twenty-one years, has been rather like working in a sweet shop. I soon developed a complete block about the subject, and out of the 400 military books he has published, I had shamefully to confess I had read less than half a dozen. As a woman, I suspect I am not alone in having this block. In the same way that some men spurn novels, particularly romantic fiction, women tend to avoid war books, as being an exclusively guts-and-glory male province.
His driver would make heroic attempts to rescue him, but there was always a risk that the rest of the team might be sucked under too, so a bullet through the head was usually the most the horse could hope for. Mr Sydney Smith, aged eighty, remembers being a private on the Somme: Nothing as far as the eye could see except waves rippling the mud as the wind blew, I had the terrible experience to witness three horses and six men disappear completely under the mud. It was a sight that will live for ever in my memory, the cries of the trapped soldiers were indescribable, as they struggled to free themselves.