Wednesday, 4 November 2009

War Horse

The First World War began with huge optimism, and each reminder of this brings a strange chill in the light of the millions of deaths which were about to follow.

St Nicolas’ has first hand evidence, which I’ve just dug out again preparing to take the service there on Remembrance Sunday. It has detailed drawings prepared in 1913 for a substantial restoration of the church. A letter about the cancellation of the project (from Townsend, the architect, to the Rector) is tucked in with them. It catches the mood in October 1914 just before the full horror of trench warfare was revealed.

I am afraid many good works will have to wait till the war is over. I congratulate you on your son getting a Commission. All this patriotism which has so stirred up Old England is what the German Emperor did not arrange for and I hope it will be his undoing. My brother Alfred’s only son has just got a Commission in a cavalry regiment and is now training on Salisbury Plain.

I have no idea what sort of preparation a cavalry regiment was making that month, whether Alfred Townsend’s son had a horse, or whether he or it survived very long, but a week ago, when we were in London, we watched the dramatic recreation of an early cavalry charge unexpectedly encountering machine guns, and it was chilling.

War Horse, based on Michael Morpurgo’s novel, is at the New London Theatre, and it is well worth looking at for some clips which show the totally convincing way the Handspring Puppet Company staged the horses; it was one of the most effective pieces of theatre we think we’ve seen with every snort, twist of the head or twitch of the flank looking like that of a live animal.

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