Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Horse transport in WW1

As I mentioned in my last blog, George Simmonds, my great grandfather, agricultural labourer and carman of Heston, Middlesex, joined the Army Service Corps during the Great War and served variously in England, Ireland and Greece. Before the war he was involved in the transport of vegetables from the market gardens around Hounslow to the markets of London. It seems he had a donkey and cart, and possibly a little shop in Heston Road. Horses were the main means of transport at the outbreak of WW1, and George was allocated for a large part of the war to horse transport companies. Max Hastings, in his recent history of the events of 1914, relates the following events, referring to the mobilisation of “wagoners” in Yorkshire:

It is hard to overstate the social and economic impact of the mass mobilisation of horses, which created difficulties not merely for agriculture, but for every form of transport. Though the world would soon become motorised, in 1914 horses and oxen were the customary means of moving goods and people anywhere that a train could not go… In England… horses were ruthlessly commandeered… agricultural workers (were) enlisted as voluntary drivers. These men received no military training, but were subject to call up… By 8pm on 5 August (1914) more than 800 such men had assembled at the Army Service Corps’ Bradford depot, where they drew uniforms and received a little hasty training. Within weeks, most were driving in France.
(Catastrophe. Europe goes to war in 1914, Max Hastings, p.122)

George, of course, was not from Yorkshire, nor was he sent off to France with a few weeks training. Indeed, the whole of 1915 he was apparently in England, though what he was doing during that year I am not certain. When he finally did depart England’s shores it was for Salonika in Greece, early in 1916. There he drove horse transports. Here is a picture I found on another blog of an Army Service Corps Horse Transport limber in France in 1918.

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