Children’s plea to spare pony from war

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THE touching story of three Wigan children who begged Lord Kitchener to spare their pony service in World War One takes a prominent place in an exhibition showing clearly the effect of the conflict on the region’s youngsters.

The letter, sent to the cabinet minister in August 1914 by Freda, Lionel and Poppy Hewlett from Haigh, tells Lord Kitchener the children are “very afraid” for their pony, named Betty, because she “may be taken for your army” and: “Daddy says she is going to be a mother early next year”.

The youngsters, who say they would be heartbroken if they had to let Betty go, then plead: “Please spare her” in underlined writing, explaining that two of the family’s three horses have already been sent to the front line as part of the war effort.

Touchingly, the Hewletts’s penmanship clearly struck a chord with someone in government, as the War Office sent a reply the following day reassuring them Betty was too small to be needed for the British Army and could safely remain in her paddock.

The letter is now going on display at the Imperial War Museum North as part of new exhibition From Street To Trench: A World War That Shaped A Region, alongside several other intriguing items which give a fascinating picture of how the war affected young people across the North West.

Exhibition researcher Charlotte Czyzyk said: “We thought it was a really nice story and it’s quite unusual. It’s an emotional letter with the children desperately wanting to keep their horse.

“You can imagine children would write letters and ask about all sorts of things concerning the war, but you never really expect they will get something back. I think it’s nice and shows the letter made an impact on whoever read it. Two of their horses had already gone, so they were saying they have already made their sacrifice, and losing their pony would be the final straw.”

The letter, which was sent from The Cottage in Haigh, is part of the museum’s permanent collection and has been included in several previous war-related exhibitions.

The British Army required horses which were more than 15 hands in height, which is around 1.5m and measured from the ground to the animal’s withers. Wigan also gets mentioned in the new exhibition with references to the zeppelin raids above the borough which took place in 1918 in the final months of the war.

The skies over Wigan were targeted by the German aircraft on April 12, 1918, one of just two zeppelin attacks on the North West in World War One, with seven people being killed, 16 injured, and extensive damage to buildings.

The exhibitions features numerous examples of children across the region taking a keen interest in what was happening on the battlefields of Europe, with items including letters written by youngsters to their relatives describing how they felt about the conflict and letters sent by schoolchildren to soldiers serving on the front line to keep their morale up.

Charlotte said: “Young people across the North West did everything from fund-raising to write letters to soldiers away from home, and not just people they knew either. One girl got a response from the front line from a serving trooper who said how grateful he was she had been in touch.

“Even though they were children the war was clearly still affecting them.”

From Street To Trench: A World War That Shaped A Region is on at the Imperial War Museum North until the end of May 2015. Entry is free.

To find out more, visit www.iwm.org.uk