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Not only did the twenty or so young women work with horses, but officers’ chargers.Not only was the stable run by women, but the superintendent was the wife of the Director of Army Remounts, Lord Birkbeck.In 1915 he sold both stables to the Secretary of State for War and handed over two stallions, 30 broodmares, 10 yearling fillies and 8 horses in training.The idea was that the government would be able to breed half or three-quarter thoroughbred horses for the cavalry.A wonderful woman she is, with the keenest green eyes in the world and straight brows, almost startlingly black, against her pale face and soft grey hair.She has voice so deep and powerful and clear that you shut your eyes and almost say it is a man’s voice, and then you realise a tender tone in it that no man could have, and you just say to yourself, as I say 100 times a day, ‘what an absolute topper she is! Some of our girls are fine, fearless horsewomen, and before they have been here long we’re all fairly competent grooms; but it is she who tackles the dangerous horse first, she who is always on the spot in every emergency, and she, too, who organises everything from ordering the tons of hay, oats, bedding etc, to noticing that are stray cats get a saucer of milk in the harness room at teatime.
In other words, rural working women for whom the labour was not a patriotic novelty, but a familiar part of the day-to-day grind. I found Kate Adie’s the women, from duchesses downwards, who were involved in the World War One workplace.Of course, by this stage it was rapidly becoming clear that there would not be much call for cavalry horses in the British Army’s future.If you click through to this extract from Hansard, you can see the March 1916 parliamentary discussion over what on earth the nation was supposed to do with Russley Park and Tully.But, then, nobody could deceive our ‘boss’ unless with pen and ink; never face-to-face.I would wager that, is losing meant eating our hundred horses one by one, with their shoes thrown in!In the end, Russley Park was used to care for officers’ chargers and new horses from Ireland and elsewhere.There were a couple of broodmares there, but the plan to turn it into a military stud didn’t materialise.The fragant Mrs Hamilton Osgood visited America in June 1917 to impress these patriotic achievements upon young women on the other side of the pond, and, well, you can read the “It’s a divineness of spirit that’s making little frail-handed girls groom cart horses and marchionesses wait on table in little restaurants – all so that England may give her men… Well-to-do girls who have never soiled their hands before are doing– well, almost unbelievable work. Let me read you the letter of one little girl who, with either other women, is managing the only all-women remount depot in England. ‘This morning,’ she read, ‘I was grooming an eighteen-hand-high cart horse, of whose character I knew nothing. I’m not sure how authentic it is (was it by a woman working at a depot or was it nudged along by the authorities? I am very sorry for the girl who tries to deceive our ‘boss’ about her knowledge of horses.English women are doing marvellous work on farms, and mind you they don’t dress up in absurd pantalettes to do it. We get one pound a week here and get ordered around like everything; no fancy get-ups, either. We’re just glad to be serving.’” What I love most about this extract is turning immediately to the Imperial War Museum’s photos and footage of the “frail-handed girls” at Russley Park – not a khaki skirt to be seen, and they don’t look like they’re bothered about having lily-white mitts either. ), and of course it’s unclear which location it’s talking about, but perhaps it’s Russley: “Women grooms. On your first morning, to arrive in the cold, grey dawn, after rising at the unusual hour of 6 o’clock – to pass through the door into the blackness of the riding school, where 60 horses are tethered in a double line–to look around for someone with authority in the few glaring spots of light that throw strange monster horse shadows onto the gaunt walls–and then to be told, ‘start watering from that end.’ It is disconcerting enough in any case, as you slip by a pair of possibly tactless heels to where you get some horse may own a head and headstall, and then to lead him to the trough, where other dim figures are holding other animals, tramping, snorting, biting, kicking. ) But the effect is weird, grotesque in the darkness, and, as I said before, I am sorry for the girl who comes as a pretender.In 1907 it was purchased by Colonel William Hall Walker, the eccentric third son of a brewery magnate, who bred and trained horses both at Russley and in County Kildare in Ireland.Obsessed with horoscopes, Walker had charts drawn up for all of the foals he bred, and chose lantern-roofs for the stallion block in Tully, Ireland, so that the studs could be influenced by the sun and stars.