China clay war horse

Bill Gould and Punch worked in the china clay industry. Along with many other clay workers Bill enlisted to fight in the war and joined the Royal Field Artillery. Of the three quarters of clay industry horses who went to France, Punch was one of the few who survived.

Credit: Wheal Martyn, near St Austell

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After working with horses in the china clay industry, Bill Gould enlisted to fight in the First World War, along with many other china clay workers. With his horse Punch he joined the Royal Field Artillery, serving with the 28th Division. Together they fought, Bill driving two horses in a troop of six pulling an 18 pounder field gun and limber. Miraculously both Bill and Punch survived the war. Three-quarters of the horses employed in the clay industry were requisitioned for the war effort and Punch was one of the few to return.

After the war Bill, who returned unscathed, worked with a horse and cart in the clay works, and in the late 1920s began driving lorries.  He never spoke of Punch’s later life.  By the Second World War he was too old to fight and spent time in Plymouth during the Blitz transporting prisoners of war.

Bill was the grandfather of one of Wheal Martyn’s volunteers, Malcolm Gould. Although Martin does not have many memories of Bill, he has treasured items such as Bill’s spurs, medals and photographs. In recalling his grandfather Malcolm says ‘I was once told a shell exploded close to Bill’s troop where he was the only one to survive. I think sometimes what dreadful sights and smells of death he must have witnessed’.

Eight million horses and countless mules and donkeys were killed in the First World War. They were used to transport ammunition and supplies to the Front and many died, not only from the horrors of shellfire, but from the terrible weather and appalling conditions. British and Commonwealth forces accounted for about a million of these horses which passed through the Army ‘remount’ service on their way to the front.  Only 60,000 of the million returned.

When the war ended, many horses were killed due to age or illness, while younger ones were sold to slaughterhouses or to locals, often upsetting the soldiers who had to give up their beloved mounts.

Key words: animals

Credit: Wheal Martyn, near St Austell