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War Horse gives new impetus to animal charity

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BerichtGeplaatst: 11 Dec 2011 22:33    Onderwerp: War Horse gives new impetus to animal charity Reageer met quote

Stage and screen success of Michael Morpurgo's WW1 tale has brought 80-year-old Brooke Trust back to global prominence

A charity begun 80 years ago by a young brigadier's wife who was appalled by the condition of discarded British war horses has leapt to international prominence since the success of Michael Morpurgo's book War Horse, the basis of the acclaimed play now retold by Steven Spielberg in a new film.

The Brooke Trust, founded in Egypt by Dorothy "Dodo" Brooke, is supported by Morpurgo and its trustees hope that interest in the film, released in January and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Emily Watson, will allow it to continue to look after working horses, mules and donkeys across the world, in spite of political and economic instability.

"We've had more inquiries, especially from the public, who are moved by the story of the real war horses," said Kirsty Whitelock of the trust. "The book and show have already opened the Brooke up to new audiences."

The charity, which still runs the Old War Horse Memorial Hospital in Cairo, but now works in Africa, Asia and Latin America, has helped to put together an exhibition, War Horse: Fact & Fiction, currently at the National Army Museum in London.

The fortunes of horses that were requisitioned from fields all over Britain in 1914 and deployed in combat during first world war were the inspiration for Morpurgo's story and led to the genesis of the trust in October 1930.

When Brooke arrived in Cairo as a young bride with her husband, cavalry officer Brigadier Geoffrey Brooke, she was shocked to find the city's streets full of skeletal former farm horses from England. It is thought that 20,000 horses belonging to the British, Australian and US forces were sold into a life of hard labour in Egypt alone. Brooke sent a passionate letter to the Morning Post, setting out her plans to help their plight.

"Out here, in Egypt, there are still many hundreds of old army horses sold of necessity at the cessation of the war," she wrote. "They are all over 20 years of age by now, and to say that the majority of them have fallen on hard times is to express it very mildly."

The horses were sold into drudgery, she explained. "These old horses were, many of them, born and bred in the green fields of England Ė how many years since they have seen a field, heard a stream of water or a kind word in English?"

She ended her public appeal with a call for funds to be sent out to Egypt so she could buy back some of the horses and treat them. The public were so moved they sent her the equivalent of £20,000 in today's money. By 1934, the Memorial Hospital had been founded and Brooke had rescued 5,000 ex-war horses in Egypt.

"Happiness comes like a dream of the past to these old horses when we buy them," she wrote in her diary in 1932. "They cock their ears at an English voice, they even whinny with the old familiar smell of bran mash. Some few, who still possess the physical energy, roll in ecstasy when they find themselves on a soft straw bed."

Dorothy Gibson-Craig was born into an aristocratic family in Melrose, Scotland, in 1884 and she spent a peaceful childhood in Scotland and England, becoming an accomplished horsewoman and developing a love for animals. She continued to work in her charity until her death in 1955, when she was buried in her adopted home of Cairo. Her mission in Egypt survived the Suez crisis in 1956 and aided Egyptian horses, donkeys and mules harmed during the 2011 revolution. Family members are still involved with the charity, of which the Duchess of Cornwall is now president, and it has become a worldwide animal welfare organisation, delivering veterinary and community programmes to some of the estimated 100 million equine animals working in the developing world.

Over the past year, the Brooke has helped 900,000 animals, aid which it believes has benefited more than 5 million people.

Vanessa Thorpe, Sunday 11 December 2011
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