In May 26 the National Theatre’s stage version of War Horse, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, starts a two-week run at the Alhambra.

The play, which uses life-size puppets, depicts the touching story of young Albert and his horse Joey and what happens to both of them on the Western Front in the First World War.

About 8.5 million soldiers were killed in the four-and-half years of the war. As many, if not more, horses were shot, blown to pieces or died of exhaustion hauling field guns, ammunition, rations and casualties though water-logged mud.

In early August 1914, the British Government took over control of the railways and purchased horses. On Wednesday, August 5, War Office officials were in Bradford.

The following morning, the Yorkshire Observer told its readers that these men had been “very busy in Bradford yesterday making purchases of horses for artillery, cavalry and transport purposes, there being a special demand for cavalry mounts.

“The Corporation were able to supply a number of horses, and so were the Bradford Co-operative Society. The Government also took over (from) the Street Cleansing Department of Bradford Corporation two steam wagons which have been for some time used for the removal of clinker, four watering carts, and one motor-car.

“They are purchasing many horses outright, and the drivers have volunteered to take service.”

In spite of the British Army’s use of the Maxim machine-gun in the Sudan against the forces of the Mahdi, and in South Africa against the cessionist Boers, strategists still thought of war in terms of mounted lancers, sabre-swinging cavalry and bayonet-thrusting infantry.

Local historian Frank White opens his book, The British In The First World War, with an account of a skirmish on the morning of August 22, 1914, between a squadron of the 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards (about 160 men) and squadrons of German Uhlans (lancers) and Hussars, close to the Belgian village of Casteau.

During this scrap, Corporal Drummer Edward Thomas aimed his rifle at a mounted German officer 400 yards away and shot him.

“Today, at the side of the road, close to where it all happened, there stand two memorial markers. One marks the sport where Corporal Thomas’ first shot was fired. The other, only a matter of yards away, marks the place where, after four and a quarter years of slaughter and heart-break, the last British shot of the war was fired.”

In his book War Horses, Simon Butler estimates that Britain despatched a million horses to the battlefields of the Western Front.

He quotes General Jack Seely who said of his own war horse, Warrior: “He had to endure everything most hateful to him – violent noise, the bursting of great shells and bright flashes at night, when the white light of bursting shells must have caused violent pain to such sensitive eyes as horses possess. Above all, the smell of blood, terrifying to every horse.”

Only 62,000 of the million horses drafted to the Western Front are thought to have returned to Britain after the war was stopped on November 11, 1918.