The love of three women who changed the world

Taking a small blue hard back book down from my parent’s shelves I began reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s book: “Travels with a Donkey”. I persevered, but the relentless beating and prodding of what he described as the ‘delicate little donkey’ upset me too much to find out how their journey progressed.

I tried it again as an adult, but the same heartless beatings had the same effect on me. Quite different to the way I felt about Black Beauty – that eminently sensible Anglican horse – as H.G. Wells referred to him. Black Beauty is one of the best sellers of all time I’m glad to say, and must have affected the attitudes of people to horses and animals in general for all time too.

Since I read it at ten years old, I’ve always been grateful for the motor car, tractors and other machines, no matter how much they clog up streets, create pollution, or are responsible for dreadful accidents. At least no horses suffer now the way they did, as Quaker Anna Sewell so graphically describes in the one book she wrote, and which was published just before she died, always having suffered from ill health.

It was written in Black Beauty’s voice, itself a sensation at the time, and his story showed how horses were not just the victims of the vagaries or cruelties of their owners, but that if they became scarred they were no longer valued, and then began the downward slide to become worn- out under-fed beaten cab horses, flogged and half-starved until they dropped dead from exhaustion.

Anna, who lived from 1820 to 1871, didn’t live through a major war, so she didn’t mention the use of horses in war. But anyone who has seen the 1970 film of Waterloo, which was filmed in Russia, will have seen the horror of a war horse’s life, as they charged and were shot dead in battle, or left to die untended from their wounds. (No-one is quite sure whether the horses were as endangered as they looked in this violent film, only that fifty circus stunt riders performed with the horses in bloody battle scenes on churned- up muddy slopes. But we do know that a hundred horses died in the making of Ben-Hur)

It wasn’t much better for horses in World War One and even in World War Two, when the Germans were still using horses and mules to pull guns and supply vehicles, and the British took their beautiful hunters and cavalry horses out to the Middle East, and then had to leave them there when their regiments became mechanized -ie supplied with tanks and armoured cars.

In her delicious diary: ‘To War With Whittaker’, Lady Hermione Ranfurly writes a heart-breaking description of going to say goodbye to her husband’s two precious hunters and then going to each other horse in the regimental stables to farewell them.

A decade before Hermione’s description of the Sherwood Foresters’ horses, Dorothy Brooke, another Englishwoman   who loved horses, and whose husband commanded the cavalry in Cairo, discovered the old war horses sold off to local Arab tradesmen and workers after the previous war. She decided to seek out and rescue the starving, broken- down old horses, who had formerly known kindness and consideration instead of blows, but had spent the years since being worked to death by owners who often didn’t know how to care for them or didn’t have the means or the will to feed them well.

In 1934 Dorothy Brooke formed the Old War Horses Memorial Association, and with the help of many people, including senior officers and other wives and locals – and even George V after she wrote to the Telegraph – she tracked down and raised the money to buy back five thousand emaciated old horses from their owners, who she never blamed or judged. They were all that remained of the 22,000 sold off after the Allenby campaigns and other cavalry operations in the First World War. They’d already had a hard war, carrying as much as 22 stone in weight, suffering rationing, piercing cold, extreme heat, dust clouds and exhaustion as well as some wounds.

Now she wrote : “As their ill-shod misshapen hooves felt the deep tibbin [broken barley straw] bed beneath them, there would be another doubting disbelieving halt. Then gradually they would lower their heads and sniff as though they could not believe their own eyes or noses. Memories, long forgotten, would then return when some stepped eagerly forwards towards the mangers piled high, while others, with creaking joints, lowered themselves slowly on to the bed and lay, necks and legs outstretched. There they remained, flat out, until hand fed by the syces ( grooms).”

Dorothy Brooke never gave up, and her small animal hospital continued to grow. She died at her Heliopolis home in 1955, but her work continued and was eventually re-named the Brooke in 1961. It now operates out of London, all over Africa and employs nine hundred people who do their best to rescue and treat horses and donkeys and re-educate their owners.

When it comes to donkeys, they too owe a debt of gratitude to another woman, Doctor Elisabeth Svendson, who died in 2011. Since setting up her Donkey Sanctuary in Devon, starting with one rescued donkey, it’s now visited by over 300,000 people a year, and her donkey rescue missions have also spread all over the world, from Belgium to Egypt, Ethiopia to India, and of course in the British Isles.

The Donkey Sanctuary has given over 15,500 donkeys and mules in need, lifelong care in the UK, Ireland and mainland Europe. Donkeys are rescued and cared for and sometimes re-homed or given to guardians, for donkeys live till fifty, which is a long time to guarantee a pet’s welfare or well-being.

Donkeys have always been overworked and under-valued, unlike their noble cousins the horse, who does get loved and admired. I remember the creaking of a treadmill above a well just below the bedroom window of the hotel where I was staying in Majorca, many years ago. In the blazing afternoon sun while we all took siestas, a little black donkey trudged around the treadmill with no respite. I lay there listening in agony, unable to slip into a happy afternoon nap while he laboured alone and unrelentingly.

The gentle donkey with his big ears and delicate legs, staggering along under huge loads has been the object of derision for centuries, but as Chesterton wrote:

The tattered outlaw of the earth, Of ancient crooked will;

Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,

I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;  One far fierce hour and sweet:

There was a shout about my ears,

And palms before my feet.

. ‘Mighty oaks from little acorns grow,’ and these three women, Anna, Dorothy and Elisabeth, could never have known how their small actions for the creatures they loved would have such great and noble outcomes. In her Christmas speech, Queen Elizabeth quoted Mother Teresa’s words about doing small things with great love. No-one knows how their small actions will change their own world, or the larger world around them, but these women who had so much love, are an inspiration for us all.

Food for Threadbare gourmets

One more day before the turkey would have been past its use-by date, so instead of freezing it, we ate it – a sort of turkey hash, eaten with noodles – I think they’re called Remen noodles in the U.S.

It was very quick and easy. While I fried an onion in olive oil, I chopped some bacon, mushrooms, and the remains of the turkey – in this case just over a cup full. I put one packet of noodles in a basin with boiling water, and put a plate over the basin to keep the steam in.

Cook the bacon, mushrooms with the onion and finally add the turkey when the onion is soft. When the mixture is hot pour over it two beaten eggs. Drain the noodles, and after stirring the eggs through the mix for about a minute, stir in the noodles and add soya sauce and sesame oil to taste. Serve straight away… this makes enough for two, but you could stretch it out to four with another packet of noodles and a bit more turkey…but now: P.S. I forgot to include nutmeg to taste in the recipe for turkey in the last blog. I’ve amended it now in case anyone decides they want to try it…

Food for thought

Looking after oneself, one looks after others.
Looking after others, one looks after oneself.
How does one look after others by looking after oneself?
By practicing mindfulness, developing it, and making it grow.
How does one look after oneself by looking after others?
By patience, non-harming, lovingkindness, and caring.

(Samyutta Nikaya 47.19) a Buddhist scripture


Filed under animals/pets, books, british soldiers, consciousness, cookery/recipes, great days, history, kindness intelligence, life/style, love, military history, Queen Elizabeth, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, world war one, world war two

29 responses to “The love of three women who changed the world

  1. So wonderful to read your stories again. Your new life sounds wonderful, and I’m so grateful you are sharing it with us. Wishing you a healthy, happy new year!


  2. What wonderful women they were, thank you for sharing their stories Valerie, I could never quite bring myself to see Warhorse, suffering in war is one thing, but how shocking that so many suffered in film making as well. So great to see your post pop up this morning, and yet another great piece bringing our attention to some of the worlds caring souls, more of the same please. Happy New Year!


    • Thank you so much Claire for your lovely supportive words. I do know how you fee about Warhorse… I purposefully didn’lt mention it in my story… I saw the stage version which was filmed in the National Theatre series, and the incredible puppets just broke me up… a work of genius I feel, and as far as I can gather the play was much better and more moving than the film… the music and the singing of folk songs all the way through was another powerful aspect of the play.. I often re-play them on Youtube… a happy new year too you Claire and I hope your daughter is happy and healthy this year too.


  3. Very inspiring indeed. Queen Elizabeth also has a great love of horses and just last week I watched a documentary with her taking great delight in giving them carrots. Thank you, Valerie.


    • Thank you Ardys, it’s always so good to know you’re here !
      Yes, the Queen is fond of horses I know but I never feel the same abut people who breed them and train them for racing…which is a form of exploitation of horses that I abominate, and unfortunately have a close up view of !!!!


  4. thepinkhare

    I wanted to tell you how much I enjoy reading your pieces. Thank you.


  5. Dearest Valerie,

    After a long turn on the dreary treadmill of the internet, it is always a pleasure to rest and recuperate while reading your words, seeing the world through your eyes and learning, learning, learning.

    Thank you for my hay and my day.





    Thankyou very much for sharing this,I really, really enjoyed reading it….!- DR


  7. Dear Valerie,

    As always, it’s a pleasure, if not a learning experience to read your lilting voice. May the new year bring health, happiness and wonders.




  8. As a horse lover, this post touched my heart. We’ve also fostered several rescue dogs in the past and I never fail to be appalled and astonished at how people will treat animals. I smiled when I read about the donkeys, not because of their suffering, but because in the delightful Amelia Peabody books by the late Elizabeth Peters, she makes all the Egyptians from whom she and her husband hire donkeys, take better care of them after she has put salve on their wounds and so forth. What a blessing those people are who raise awareness of mistreatment of animals and those who do something about it, in whatever way.



    • Dear Janet, good to hear from you, and I did enjoy your anecdote about the Amelia Peabody books… any way to get the message across to chlldren when they’re little is always worthwhile in my book…
      Yes, I too have had lots of rescued dogs… seventeen to be exact, and others just for a few weeks until re-homed.. .plus one black cat who ran away from home ( next door) and became my precious companion for years … enhancing my witchy reputation !!!!


      • The Amelia Peabody books are adult mysteries. No adult in the sense of adult movies, but for teen and up readers. Try them if you get a chance. They’re so much fun.

        Good for you to have rescue dogs. Our younger daughter took in a black cat that was without a home and the cat’s a sweetie…and our daughter not a witch. 🙂


  9. You sound so very happy, my dear and wonderful friend! I am so glad for you!



    • Dearest Linda… have you been reading between the lines, my clairvoyant lovely friend??… that letter is still coming… but life has been chasing me into this new year! Happiness and all goodness to you and your loved ones in it, much love, Valerie


  10. What a lovely thing to read in a sodden prairie day.. c


    • Dear Celi, I love to hear from you, and wonder how you manage to do all you do on the farm as well as answer all your own comments and read other people’s blogs and comment…I;m grateful you do… and hope the sodden prairie day soon becomes lighter and brighter, love, Valerie


  11. Kaye Cossar Stokes

    I am also reminded of the horses taken by my Grandfather and all his fellow men of the Rough Riders. They took their horses to the Anglo Boer War but after the war they shot them as they did not want to leave them to be maltreated…..


  12. Thanks for your post, Valerie!

    Did you know Black Beauty was banned under apartheid in South Africa, as censors were too stupid to know it was about a horse?


    • Good to hear from you Peter, thank you for your comment… yes, I had come across the S. African joke – hilarious and tragic at the same time, n’est pas?


      • True. Like many cases of censorship are hilarious and tragic:

        1967″: “Using a NATO plan to protect Greece against a communist invasion, a handful of junior officers led by Colonel George Papadopoulos, fearful of the upcoming election and the rise of the left, overthrow the Greek government and declare martial law, outlawing strikes, labor unions, long hair on men, mini-skirts, the peace symbol, the Beatles, Sophocles, Tolstoy, Aeschylus, Socrates, Eugene Ionesco, Sartre, Chekhov, Mark Twain, Samuel Beckett, free press, new math and the letter Z”


      • that is amazing… just going to read it to my partner…
        Do you go along with Avaaz… love the blog they point us to – ninety nine great things that happened in 2016 … progress on all fronts….

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Yes, it is good to remember good things happened in 2016 as well.


  14. Black Beauty was one of my childhood’s beloved books as well –


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