War Horse, a new film by Steven Spielberg opening in the U.S. on Christmas Day, has renewed interest in the Brooke Trust, dedicated to the welfare of working horses, mules and donkeys. How did the Brooke get started? Read on:
When Dorothy Brooke arrived in Cairo in 1930 as a young bride with her husband, cavalry officer Brigadier Geoffrey Brooke, she was shocked to find the city's streets full of skeletal former farm horses from England. It is thought that 20,000 horses belonging to the British, Australian and US forces were sold into a life of hard labor in Egypt alone. Brooke sent a passionate letter to the Morning Post, setting out her plans to help their plight.
"Out here, in Egypt, there are still many hundreds of old army horses sold of necessity at the cessation of the war," she wrote. "They are all over 20 years of age by now, and to say that the majority of them have fallen on hard times is to express it very mildly."
She ended her public appeal with a call for funds to be sent out to Egypt so she could buy back some of the horses and treat them. The public were so moved they sent her the equivalent of £20,000 in today's money. By 1934, the Memorial Hospital had been founded and Brooke had rescued 5,000 ex-war horses in Egypt.
"These old horses were, many of them, born and bred in the green fields of England – how many years since they have seen a field, heard a stream of water or a kind word in English?" Happiness comes like a dream of the past to these old horses when we buy them," she wrote in her diary in 1932.
"They cock their ears at an English voice, they even whinny with the old familiar smell of bran mash. Some few, who still possess the physical energy, roll in ecstasy when they find themselves on a soft straw bed."