War Horse, Canadian Cavalry Brigade March 7th 1918
War Horse, Canadian Cavalry Brigade March 7th 1918
War Horse, Canadian Cavalry Brigade March 7th 1918


War Horse, Canadian Cavalry Brigade March 7th 1918

1918 English

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£2,400 gbp
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Towards the end of the First World War Alfred Munnings was selected by the Canadian Government to act as an official war artist attached to General Seely's Canadian Cavalry Brigade. When Munnings arrived in France in January 1918 he wrote, " I was taken by car to meet General Seely, who was then stationed with part of the Brigade near the front line at a place called Small Foot Wood; but there was no sign of a wood only charred stumps of trees standing in desolate wastes with duck-boards about,leading to dug-outs. I was taken to the staff dug-out, where I met General Seely himself, and he arranged there and then that I should paint him on his horse, Warrior."

Early next morning, standing close to enemy lines, Munnings began his portrait of the General astride his celebrated war horse, dubbed " the horse the Germans could not kill".

"He sat on no wooden horse, as many of my sitters had done in civilian life," Munnings recorded, "he was on the patient Warrior, who, as the minutes went on, sank deeper and deeper into the mud, until his fetlocks were covered."
Munnings completed the painting that afternoon and it was much admired by the General and his staff.

When Munnings created the present drawing he was probably with the Canadians at Bernaville. While there was a lull in the fighting he produced a number of sketches of the Fort Garry Horse and Lord Strathcona's horse. Sometimes the troops would pose for him with their mounts, and they took great delight in recognising their portraits in his paintings. Munnings wrote, " I can generally get along with most people, and certainly could get along with the Canadians. They were the finest and best fellows that I have ever met."

The long-awaited German Spring Offensive,Erich von Ludendorff's " Operation Michael", began on 21st March. Munnings was with the Canadian Cavalry Brigade at Ennemain when the German bombardment started.

" I was finishing a picture of the horses as they stood with their heads out, basking in the sun, between tattered camouflage hanging over roughly-built rows of stabling. I had been painting each patient head, with eyes blinking in the sun, and was working on the sixth when suddenly something was happening, men were running; a sergeant came along saying: 'Hurry up, lads, saddle up and stand to!' The order went along the lines, and soon those patient horses were saddled up in full marching order, mounted, and the Brigade rode away. I still have a drawing in a sketchbook of one of the horses standing ready in full marching order, to go where? And what was his end?"

Munnings could almost have been describing the present drawing in which the stirrup and horseshoe symbolise the bond between man and horse. In battle, each relied on the other for their survival and nowhere was this more clearly stated than at Bois de Moreuil nine days later, an event not witnessed by Munnings as the artist had been instructed to withdraw from the front line.

On March 30th the Germans broke through the Allied lines at Mézieres and the remainder of four battalions of the 23rd Saxon Division advanced to Moreuil Wood with commanding views all the way to Amiens and the main railway to Paris.

The two Allied Armies of Britain and France were in immediate danger of being split with their communications cut. The Canadian Cavalry Brigade was nearest to the German breakthrough and received the order to "engage and delay the enemy". The mobility of the cavalry when travelling in open country proved invaluable. Although stationed some seven miles away at Guyencourt, the Brigade moved quickly, crossing the rivers Noye and Avre, and in an hour arrived at Moreuil ready to counter-attack.

By chance, General Seely met the French divisional commander who told him the French would defend the village to the right but suggested Seely could not possibly recapture the ridge with his "little brigade" ( the Brigade had lost half its troops either killed or wounded in the first week of the German offensive). Having served since Ypres 1914, Seely would have been under no illusion about what he was facing and later admitted he thought he was attempting the impossible. The General had enormous respect for the fighting capability of the Saxon and Bavarian infantry and on the morning of 30th March, the Germans had a formidable advantage in troop numbers, armament and position. He decided to divide his remaining force into squadrons of a hundred riders. What ensued was to be the last great cavalry charge in military history.

Seely on Warrior led the advance with the Royal Canadian Dragoons, the Fort Garry Horse and Lord Strathcona's Horse attacking the German positions at the north-west and south-west side of Moreuil Wood, while Lieutenant Gordon Flowerdew of Lord Strathcona's Horse waited with 75 troops to cut off any enemy reinforcements from the south.

Facing withering artillery and heavy machine gun fire, the Canadians fought their way into the wood, dismounted and pressed forward in hand-to-hand combat until the Germans were driven back. A group of some 300 soldiers from the Saxon 101st Grenadiers and the 122nd Fusilier regiment, supported by a machine gun company and a battery of six guns, suddenly broke away at the south side of the wood. Lieutenant Flowerdew immediately called for the charge with sabres drawn. In the 300-yard dash to the German line over half his squadron were either killed or wounded.

It was reported later that the resolve of the Germans soldiers fighting in the woods weakened when they heard the sound of Flowerdew's cavalry behind them, and by 11.am the Canadians had successfully secured the position and stopped the enemy advance. The Brigade suffered 303 dead or wounded with about 800 horses killed. Lieutenant Flowerdew, shot through the chest and thigh, died from his wounds the following morning; he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Munnings commemorated this act of heroism in his painting "Charge of Flowerdew's Squadron" March 1918, which now hangs in the Canadian War Museum,Ottawa.
Private collection
Height 12.50 cm (4.92 inches)
Width 19.70 cm (7.76 inches)
Signed A.J.Munnings and dated March 7, 1918
Hurlingham Fine Arts

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