War horses remembered: Oxfordshire ceremony pays tribute to equine heroes

ITV Meridian's Mike Pearse reports from Ewelme in Oxfordshire, where a service remembered local horse Nancy, and the millions of animals who have been killed during conflict.

He spoke to Genna Benoliel from Ewelme Parish Council, David Orpwood and Maurice Britnell from Chinnor War Horses.

Among the thousands of Remembrance services this weekend, a unique and special event has taken place to honour the animals who lost their lives in conflict.

In the village of Ewelme near Benson in Oxfordshire, local people gathered to watch a single horse and rider recreate a special homecoming of 1919.

That was the moment Nancy the Ewelme warhorse and Sgt Thomas Orpwood returned home after four years on the frontline in France.

An information board in the village explains Nancy's story

They were members of the Queens Own Oxfordshire Hussars and represented the lucky few who returned safe and well.

It's estimated some 8 million horses, mules and donkeys from all sides lost their lives during the First World War, alongside millions of dogs and pigeons.

This weekend, the community gathered to remember all those who died in the service of their country.

Among those at the service, Thomas Orpward's grandson David Orpwood: "We're hear to commemorate the soldiers of course, but also the animals who had to suffer terrible conditions.

"My grandfather and Nancy were the lucky ones. They came back"

At the start of the First World War the British army only owned 25,000 horses who were badly needed for the conflict to carry troops, goods and weapons.

They compulsory purchased 115,000 under the horse mobilisation scheme, shipping out 500 to 1,000 a day to the battlefields.

Nancy is commemorated with a plaque in the village, and the service was the brainchild of Maurice and Lucinda Britnell who run the Chinnor War Horses charity.

Maurice and Abbie go into schools to tell children about the First World War

They visit local schools in costume with their horse Abbie, to spread the word and show children living history. They also visit residents at local care homes.

"The response is phenomenal,"says Maurice. "It's great to get awareness for Remembrance and the children really respond to seeing us in uniform.

"We go out and talk about our family histories- both of our families served in the First and Second World Wars.

" Abbie loves the attention too. It's just a great way of connecting with people."

Villagers gathered for the memorial service

Gemma Benoliel from Ewelme Parish Council says it's vital for new generations to understand what their ancestors went through.

" It's really important as people get older, and there are fewer people who lived through the wars directly.

"But there are many people whose parents lived through it and it's very important to commemorate their sacrifices.

"But it's just as important to draw younger people in and explain the significance."