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Home Lad Home Commission

by James on October 17th, 2013

kemp-welch recuitment posterHome Lad Home is the title of an upcoming exhibition at St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery in Lymington for which I have been commissioned to make a piece of artwork over the coming months.

The title of the exhibition is taken from a poem called Homeward by Cicely Fox Smith (see below), and will explore the role and experiences of horses in World War One. It will include a combination of artwork from the time by artists such as Lucy Kemp Welch (such as this recruitment poster), contemporary artwork, and relevant period artefacts.

Behind a trench in Flanders the sun was dropping low,
With tramp, and creak and jingle I heard the gun-teams go;
And something seemed to ‘mind me, a-dreaming as I lay,
Of my own old Hampshire village at the quiet end of day.

Brown thatch and gardens blooming with lily and with rose,
And the cool shining river so pleasant  where he flows,
White fields of oats and barley, and elderflower like foam,
And the sky gold with sunset, and the horses going home!

Home, lad, home, all among the corn and clover!
Home, lad, home when the time for work is over!
Oh there’s rest for horse and man when the longest day is done
And they go home together at setting of the sun!

Old Captain, Prince and Blossom, I see them all so plain,
With tasseled ear-caps nodding along the leafy lane,
There’s a bird somewhere calling, and the swallow flying low,
And the lads sitting sideways, and singing as they go.

Well gone is many a lad now, and many a horse gone too,
Off all those lads and horses in those old fields I knew;
There’s Dick that died at Cuinchy and Prince beside the guns
On the red road of glory, a mile or two from Mons!

Dead lads and shadowy horses — I see them just the same,
I see them and I know them, and name them each by name,
Going down to shining waters when all the West’s a-glow,
And the lads sitting sideways and singing as they go.

Home, lad, home . . .  with the sunlight on their faces!
Home, lad, home . . .  to those quiet happy places!
There’s rest for horse and man when the hardest fight is done,
And they go home together at setting of the sun!

By 1917 the British Army were using 530,000 horses and 230,000 mules. They discovered they needed to buy 15,000 horses a month to maintain this level. Estimates vary but in the region of 8 million horses on all sides died in WW1. Horses that worked on farms pulling ploughs or timber and horses that were kept to hunt or pull wagons were preferred for different roles from pulling guns and ambulances to working with the Cavalry or Mounted Infantry. Darker colour horses were preferred, with the British Board of Agriculture and Fisheries producing guidelines for what did and didn’t make an acceptable horse for army remounts:

  • Age – The limits of age for horses entering the army as remounts in time of peace are between 4 and 7 years, and in time of war from 6 to 12 years
  • Soundness – Entire, unmanageable or vicious horses, crib-biters, windsuckers, parrotmouthed, or undershot horses, or horses with capped elbows, damaged knees, injured or deficient teeth are not admissable.

gas-mask-masked-soldier-and-horse-historical-world-war-one-image-438048

Much of my work explores the relationship between people and the more than human world; with ‘nature’ and more specifically with animals. For this piece of work I am going to be spending time with horses and exploring the bond between people and horses, at home and at war. I’m also very interested in the relationship between home landscapes and those of the front, the impact on the land and people at home of so many working horses leaving for war, and the sensory experiences of the men and horses.

I’ll be visiting the site of the remount depot at Romsey in Hampshire from where an estimated 4000 horses and mules were kept at any one time for training, recuperation and conditioning before they were sent to the front (there was also another Hampshire Remount Depot at Swaythling near Southampton). As well as my on-site research around the county and my studio based work, I’ll be resident in the St Barbe gallery for a couple of days in November, working on my commission and spending time talking with interested visitors. I’ll add more dates and details in future posts.

Finally, for now, there is also a brand new, dedicated blog for the project at http://homeladhome.wordpress.com  including a post I wrote this morning on my first session with students from Priestlands School in Lymington, with whom I’m working to help them develop their own artwork for exhibition. Other students from Priestlands will be working on a parallel performance strand, inspired by the play War Horse to develop their own performance supported by performers and puppeteers from The Mayflower Theatre in Southampton.

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