The Purple Horse | 06 Feb 1915

Yes, you read that correctly. Today we’re going to rejoin Arthur Agius and the Londons, still quartered at Tatinghem, where someone has had a Good Idea.


That someone is one Captain McHoul, the 2nd Londons’ medical officer. He enlivened his time at the Etaples festival by acquiring for himself a fine horse to ride. It’s a massive charger, and its coat is the most beautiful pure white. However, McHoul’s comrades in the Officers’ Mess have not been slow to point out that the horse would make an excellent target for any sharpshooter within a mile of the front line.

McHoul clearly needs to do something about it. And, fortunately, his batman has heard of an old Army trick for this kind of thing, extensively used during the Great Retreat. Quietly, they acquire some potassium permangante and give the horse’s coat a thorough treatment. With luck, it should dye the horse a muddy khaki brown and last for a month or so.

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Damn those Boche tyres!  Rule Britannia!
Damn those Boche tyres! Rule Britannia!

The Purple Horse

Unfortunately, something has gone slightly askew. Exactly what McHoul and his batman did wrong has been lost to posterity. What we do know is that the horse emerged a bright canary yellow. It’s now visible for multiple miles around, and Agius’s 3rd Battalion wastes no time in mercilessly taunting 2nd Battalion with a variety of witticisms and bird-calls.

McHoul attempts to take it in good humour for a few days, but when some of the subalterns begin assaulting him with humourous verse, he can stand the mockery no longer. His next tactic is to apply a mild bleach, which achieves only an interesting yellow-and-white piebald pattern to the poor horse. At this point, a sympathetic farrier sergeant intervenes (it’s not recorded whether his concern was for the officer or the horse). He has a secret recipe that will change the horse’s colour from canary yellow to chestnut brown.

Anyone who likes a good funny story can probably see where this is going. The horse emerges from this latest treatment a truly arresting shade of deep, rich purple. The hilarity will be ceaseless. For another couple of days, at least. 3rd Battalion will soon receive orders for the trenches. 2nd Battalion’s orders will not be far behind them. In just over a month’s time, the hilarity of these days spent in reserve will seem like years ago.

Actions in Progress

Siege of Przemysl

Further Reading

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day.

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

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  1. Pingback: The Middle East theatre | 1 May 1916 | The First World War day-by-day

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