There was horse-trading (and horse-rustling, too) at Witley Camp. The historian of the 60th Battery reports that its captain dearly wanted to have a “grey battery” – that is, one with teams of grey horses (white horses to non-horsey people).
“In consequence, trading horses became a popular pastime; whenever a grey horse was seen or heard of, a vigorous effort was made to get possession of it by hook or crook.”(1)
Sometimes horses that were desirable were liberated from other battery’s lines, and one’s own issue of less desirable animals were let loose to wander. When inspection time came, those drivers who found they were missing animals had to take in the wandering ones to make up their numbers. William Calder told his parents how it was done: “if a horse gets away… at night & the picquet does not know it — he will be picked up by another outfit & disguised (clipped). If he is a good animal they keep him & turn loose a bum one so that if a staff Officer comes round to count horses they will have the right nos.”(2)
Neither hook nor crook was sufficient to satisfy Captain Ringwood’s ambition, however, and he had to content himself with only one section (that is, two guns and their equipage) of greys.
The desirability of light-coloured horses on or near the front lines of the Western Front was a matter of dispute. They certainly stand out among the more usual bays and chestnuts. In old-fashioned mobile warfare, they would certainly make a dashing appearance. In entrenched warfare, their visibility might be a distinct disadvantage:
“It may be said in passing that these greys were heartily cursed later by wagon line officers in France, especially on clear moonlight nights, when the enemy bombing planes were overhead.” (1)
(1) 60th C.F.A. Battery Book, 1916-1919.. 21.
(2) Calder, William. Letter to his mother and father. June 14, 1917. Available from the Canadian Letters and Images Project.
The image is a photograph of the 60th Battery: the arrow (in the centre) points out Bertie Cox, driver. Ringwood’s prized greys certainly stand out here.
Copyright 2016. See “More about this project.”