‘Last Hurrah’: Military riders honour the fallen of the Great War

  • Military riders and cyclists have taken part in a 100km ride to mark a century since the end of the First World War and raise funds for the Royal British Legion.

    On 10 August 48 riders, cyclists and support crew from the UK, Isle of Man, Channel Islands, Australia, New Zealand and Canada left from Kent to travel across the battlefields of France to conclude in Ypres, Belgium on a ride called The Last Hurrah.

    The ride, organised by historian Andy Smerdon and Major Will McGill, sought to remember the men, women and equines who gave their lives in the Great War.

    Army reservist and military rider Daniel Petho told H&H: “The last 100 days of the First World War was the last big Allied push to break the German lines which ultimately lead to the ending of four long years of severe bloodshed, on Armistice Day in November.

    “The reality of how life was then for cavalry troops is something you can only experience by recreating it, you just don’t get that immersive feel watching it on television, it was surreal.”

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    Andy Smerdon said: “In these last days of the war, it was very much back to the old cavalry days becoming a war of movement again.”

    The ride began in the Amiens region of France, stopping at locations including the Somme memorial at Thiepval, the battlefield of Pozéres, the Tyne Cot War Cemetery and the battlefield of Polygon Wood along the way.

    “The ride was advertised by mayors of the towns. Lots of people came to see us from the local towns and had a procession – it was really spectacular. Some of these towns were central points of the war and the commemoration is really engrained there,” said Daniel.

    The regiments represented in the ride were: The Royal Flying Corps; The Household Cavalry; The Royal Engineers; The 16th Lancers; The Essex Yeomanry; The Duke of Lancasters Own Yeomanry; Northumberland Hussars and The Queens Royal Hussars; The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps; The Royal Artillery; The Canadian Cavalry Divisions; and Royal Service Corps

    Every rider present represented his own regiments or regiments of personal links,” said Daniel “One of the riders is currently a farrier who was supplied by the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery.”

    The riders recreated the Battle of Moreiul Wood (30 March 1918) in full 1918 period kit.

    “With the heavy kit required to be carried for long periods and then taken into battle is a testament to how fit and robust the horses were back in the early 1900s,” said Daniel.

    The ride was also granted access to parade the horses through the Menin Gate at Belgium, where 55,000 names of missing soldiers to 1916 are recorded, the only cavalry unit to have done this since the end of the First World War.

    “The very notion that we have been given this special privilege to be the first and only to parade was very emotional to me as we marched through. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I’ll never forget,” said Daniel.

    Gary Crosbie and Sarah Lentle of Casting Horses and Nikky Willis of Horses4History supplied horses.

    “All the horses supplied were worth their weight in gold, they didn’t put a foot wrong. When we had the cavalry charge, it really felt like a charge – they are jousting horses and knew what was coming.  There were various breeds involved and even a mule,” said Daniel.

    A Cleveland Bay was also represented in the ride owned by RAF Wing Commander Russ Gleeson, who laid a wreath on behalf of the RAF 100 and the Cleveland Bay Horse Society.

    Russ said: “By the early 1900s the breed was in decline, but the matter was made worse by the First World War where many Clevelands were lost on the battlefields of France and Belgium. The fact they adapted well to the role of artillery horses potentially sealed their own fate.”

    “The experience was exhilarating. For me being military, it was having that special connection for those that have perished from my regiment – it really was something nice to commemorate them. We loved every minute of it,” said Daniel.

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