15th January 2016
Whilst researching Edward Horner’s memorial on the internet, we came across an unexpectedly fascinating book with a relevance to our project for a number of reasons.
Written by Reginald Hancock in 1954, ‘Memoirs of Veterinary Surgeon’ recalls a lifetime working as a vet, the beginning of which coincided with the outbreak of the First World War.
Hancock describes the horse-powered world of the early 1900s, destined to change dramatically within twenty years. Although he describes Uxbridge, where he grew up, it could equally be Frome and Mells.
“Picture the horse population of Uxbridge say in 1900, when a motor car was a startling site in its High Street. The half dozen butchers would use a dozen or more active cobs to do their delivery. The milkmen and the bakers maintained stables. The brewery had a stud of twenty or thirty heavy draught horses, as did the timber merchants. Most of these studs were cared for by my father under yearly contract at so much per horse per year. Thus within ten minutes walk of his surgery were several hundred horses, most of which he had been concerned over as adviser when they were purchased, and whose career he followed until they were disposed of. The local doctors and other professional folk all had their carriages and pairs, either for their professional purposes or for their womenfolk to do their shopping and visiting. Through the town passed day and night a stream of horse-drawn traffic, which called for first aid in colic and lameness, and for shoeing.”
Reginald reluctantly followed his father into the veterinary profession (he would have preferred to have been a professional singer), which led to him, in September 1914, being called to the 11th Reserve Cavalry Regiment at Tidworth Barracks, a regiment “full of elder sons of wealthy and titled people”, including Edward Horner.
“My introduction to Edward Horner, who was to influence me quite considerably, was not very fortunate. While I was unpacking…. I heard voices in the corridor outside. The burden of the conversation was that the speaker had just been informed that he was no longer to have his room to himself, but was to share it henceforth with some bloody awful vet who was to arrive shortly.
I had hardly time to take in this depressing observation when the speaker entered the room. A man of great height, with fastidious disdain written all over his Apollo-like features, looked me up and down for quite half a minute without speaking. He was unusually handsome with blue eyes and fair hair. The only weakness one could detect was a certain petulance round the set of the mouth, and on this occasion, after such a speech within my hearing, he was no doubt exceedingly mortified and angry both with me and with himself.”
The two men ultimately got on very well for the brief time they were billeted together, but it is a fascinating sideways glance at Horner, as we look at Munnings’ bronze depiction of a young subaltern in Mells Church, and the context of class and social / cultural change being driven and challenged by the First World War.