Here’s one family’s story of how a war horse ended up on their farm near Essex

Beverly Kelk of Lakeshore, Ont., got a surprise when she visited her uncle Wallace in Florida in 1994. Wallace told her that when he was 10 years old his dad, who was Kelk’s grandfather, acquired a war horse at the Essex Train Station just after the First World War.

“When the train got to Essex, there was only one horse left. No farmer wanted her, and according to my uncle, her name was Kate,” said the 82-year-old.

Kelk said the horse was the last one left of a shipment of surplus war horses that were being distributed to farmers from Halifax back here to Essex County.

She said the horse was acting up and that’s why no one wanted her. However, she said her grandfather, Ephriam Hensman, was known to be “good with horses” so people at the train station sent for him.

Historic photo of the Essex Train Station. (Essex and Community Historical Research Society)

“He was able to get the horse off of the train car and they wanted him to take the horse if he would, because they knew the next stop was Windsor, and they would have to euthanize this horse because nobody wanted her,” said Kelk.

Kelk said Wallace walked the horse back to the family farm about a kilometre away, using grain to coax the horse along.

“[Ephriam] said to my uncle, go fill your pockets with grain and I want you to walk her home. And he says anytime she stops, just give her a handful of grain,” said Kelk.

Beverly Kelk's grandfather Ephriam Hensman poses with two of his horses. Neither horse is Kate the war horse
Beverly Kelk’s grandfather Ephriam Hensman poses with two of his horses. Neither horse is Kate the war horse. (Beverly Kelk)

Teresa Iacobelli, a war historian with The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa tells CBC News there was no official program where ex-war horses were distributed to Canadian farmers.

“In most cases, it wouldn’t have been worth getting the horses back in terms of cost of shipping them overseas again, said Iacobelli, adding the horses would have been sold overseas after the war.

Members of the 20th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, stand beside their pack horses, loaded with 18-pounder shells. This photograph was taken before the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917. At Vimy, the Canadian gunners had an estimated 1.6 million shells and every one had to be carried forward to the guns.
Members of the 20th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, stand beside their pack horses, loaded with 18-pounder shells. This photograph was taken before the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917. At Vimy, the Canadian gunners had an estimated 1.6 million shells and every one had to be carried forward to the guns. (The Canadian War Museum, George Metcalf Archival Collection CWM 19920044-848)

However, war historian and novelist Susan Raby-Dunne said Kate may have been on a trainload of horses sent to Halifax to be shipped to Europe but the war ended before that could happen. She said the horses may been distributed to farmers because there was no longer anywhere else to take them.

There are no pictures of Kate but Kelk has a horseshoe that was on one of Kate’s hooves when she arrived in Essex.

Kelk says Kate was a good horse. She isn’t sure when she died but she says Kate is buried in the field behind her house using a stone boat, which was like a raft with runners on the bottom that farmers pulled behind tractors and loaded with stones from the fields.

“And they took her back on this stone boat to a place he told me about where it was in the field and they dug a big hole and they buried her there,” said Kelk, who uses a house on another road as a reference point to find the burial spot. There is no marker. It is currently in a field where crops are still planted.

According to Iacobelli, if Kate did see action she was very lucky to survive. She said two horses were killed on the battlefield for every soldier that was killed.

Kate’s horseshoe hangs in Kelk’s home office as a memorial.