This week on Radio 4, the book of the week is by Ulrich Raulff whose book ‘Farewell to the Horse’ covers many years of history. I was captured by yesterdays excerpt which focused on the use of horses in warfare over the last 150 years. The story of millions of horses who the British Army recruited and were led to their deaths in both world wars came largely as a result of a failure to learn lessons first experienced in the Boer war where the mainstay of the Army, the Cavalry first lost its impact due to the techniques adopted by the Boers and the terrain in which the battles were fought. Despite the changing tactics in the Boer War, General Haig refused to accept that new technology such as aeroplanes and tanks meant that the role of soldiers on horseback had diminished or indeed become entirely redundant. His thinking and influence led to many horses being sacrificed even during the second world war, more than 10 years after his death. The argument made by Raulff is that the aristocracy could not let go of the sense of separation from ordinary people which the horse offers them. The idea of going into battle using technology rather than the trusted and reliable horse was counter to the thinking of Haig, even in the last year of his life, despite the losses his tactics allowed the first world war to create.
If the book by Raulff is correct in pinpointing the cultural value of the horse to certain parts of the British class system, this surely explains why the Tories are so desperate to reopen the debate over fox hunting. This will once again allow the Aristocracy to look down on everyone else physically as well as attitudinaly and the fox will give them a foe to be able to do battle with. The fox is seen as the hun and this is their opportunity to go to war in England’s Green and Pleasant Land, a war that will avoid casualties amongst the ruling classes. They are the white knight who will rid our land of the vermin that attacks the chickens which lay the eggs that they eat before donning their red coats and pulling on their boots. Without the foe the rest of the adventure becomes too tame and looks foolish. The fox hunting feeds the cultural appetite of our landed gentry and will enable them to feel good about life once more.
It is vital that the Tories are rejected next Thursday and if they do win, that the vote is defeated when it finally takes place.