Welcome to Remembrance Week. I believe that it is critically important for the next generations to understand why it’s important. To know what the previous generations did so that they can live the way they do.
This February, Mirvish Productions will be presenting the Canadian premier of the smash hit Warhorse, and I was honoured to catch up with Staff Inspector Bill Wardle*, who’s the head of Toronto’s Mounted and Police Dog Services at a presentation David Mirvish was hosting.
As Bill says, “To regenerate interest in Remembrance Day, you don’t want to glorify war, what you want to do is recognize the sacrifice and the service and I think there’s been so much change in the past few years and maybe our losses in Afghanistan have brought back a new meaning to it.
“David Mirvish was saying that Australia sent 380,000 horses over and not one ever returned. We here in Canada sent 18 police horses, 17 were killed in action. Little stories like that, I think people can relate to.”
I add that there’s also something endearing about an animal in war, who is seemingly so defenceless, as opposed to people who usually are making a choice.
“Do you know this history of our services?” Bill asks. “In August 1914, when Toronto offered these horses for military service, the major in charge of the Toronto battery came to our unit, looked around. He was only supposed to take 10 horses, but he picked out 18 that he wanted because they were so good.
5 of our officers volunteered to stay with the horses and go overseas with them as soldiers,
so they enlisted. And the one officer, Dundas -who that horse is named after – went overseas with our horses on August 1914, and served through every battle the Canadians were involved with. His brother rode the horse Bunny, and was then was killed in action. After his brother was killed, Dundas started riding Bunny.
“And you’ve got to remember, he knew that horse back in Toronto before they went overseas, so the attachment was already there. He rode that horse through the rest of the war. And at the end of the war, when they were going to sell off the horses, he made a plea to the mayor of Toronto to bring Bunny home.”
Sadly, before they got the money together, he was sold.
“Imagine how he felt. He was the most decorated Toronto Police Officer in the war. About 180 officers went overseas, and he was the most decorated; but can you imagine how it would have felt for him to have to leave that horse behind?”
He pauses for a moment before he continues.
“It’s a heart wrenching story and really, it’s just peripheral to the war. Those horses served in the front line artillery units, under shell fire and gas attacks and all the other horrible things. I don’t know if we can even relate to the suffering those horses went through. So to me, something like Warhorse, and stories like these that promote the history of the service of the horses, really is a fantastic opportunity to reignite interest. It could spark an interest in the service we’ve done for our country.”
*Bill Wardel is also the author of “The Mounted Squad: An Illustrated History of the Toronto Mounted Police”.