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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veterans Day for a Forgotten Hero: The Farrier at Compiègne



The memory of war is harsh, but the memory of a hero's deeds often improve with age. An anonymous World War I hero is still in the books but you have to dig to find him.

World War I began on August 1, 1914 when Germany declared war on Russia. Three days later, Great Britain declared war on Germany. And three days after that, the first British troops arrived in France. They would soon become mired in one of the longest, bloodiest wars in history.


Britain had sent some elite cavalry units directly to the front in August, including the Sixth Dragoon Guards, known as "The Inniskillens".  They had been at Waterloo with Wellington, and at the Battle of Balaklava in Crimea. Going forward, they would be in most of the major battles of World War I.

But first, there was the matter of one of their farriers, who had a war of his own to wage.

Here's how it is described in a gazetteer-type book of the day, The War Illustrated (1920):

A newspaper clipping from Australia
"At the French battle of Compiègne on September 1st, during the great retreat, when the overwhelming odds of the Kaiser's hosts forced the little British army back and back and back, fighting one of the most brilliant rearguard battles in the history of war, the 6th Dragoons charged the Germans.

"The regimental shoeing smith was, of course, not a combatant, but he was a man of undaunted courage and brilliant daring, as well as being possessed of a forearm with the strength of an engine piston.

"He was unarmed with any conventional weapon of war. But that did not prevent him joining the charge. He took the first weapon that came to hand--the hammer with which he shod the horses of the regiment, and which he knew so well how to wield.

"And he put it to a use for which it was never intended. It was essentially a weapon of attack, not of defense, and was by its very nature unsuited to afford its bearer protection against the bayonets and swords of the enemy attacked. 

"Nevertheless, in the hands of the intrepid blacksmith, who wielded it as if inspired by ten thousand devils, it cracked many German skulls, and no man in the charge had a greater toll of German loss to his credit than the farrier turned warrior for the nonce.

"He came through his adventure unhurt and with the head of his hammer moist and red with the evidence of his prowess. He returned to his anvil, prepared to repeat the performance should need arise."

Who was this farrier? What was his name? So far, there is no name written anywhere, even though the story appeared in newspapers as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

But the farrier of Compiegne has gone down in history as a legendary hero, perhaps the very hero that the people at home needed to read about in the dark days when they began to realize what they'd gotten into. The war would drag on for five more years. 

But heroes live forever.

--Fran Jurga


© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing; Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is the news service for Hoofcare and Lameness Publishing. Please, no re-use of text or images on other sites or social media without permission--please link instead. (Please ask if you need help.) The Hoof Blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a headlines-link email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page). Use the little envelope symbol below to email this article to others. The "translator" tool in the right sidebar will convert this article (roughly) to the language of your choice. To share this article on Facebook and other social media, click on the small symbols below the labels. Be sure to "like" the Hoofcare and Lameness Facebook page and click on "get notifications" under the page's "like" button to keep up with the hoof news on Facebook. 

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5 comments:

Mrs Shoes said...

I loved this story Fran, just loved it. I only wish the Farrier/Warrior were known by name.
I also wrote about a special soldier yesterday - one who will one day be my Son-in-Law. Whatever nationality, a brave soldier deserves his accolades and more.

ada gates said...

Dear Fran
As always you dig up the most unique stories about a unique group of craftsman. Always a joy to read what you impart. Thank you!
Ada Gates Patton

Fran Jurga said...

Thank you, Mrs Shoes and Ada. It makes me very happy when people enjoy these historical articles, there are so many stories to tell! Stay tuned, and thanks for reading The Hoof Blog!

Anonymous said...

I think I have read this tale before, except it involved a farrier from Chester PA and the Battle of the Brandywine in the American Revolution...

Fran Jurga said...

Hi Anonymous,
Yes, this story has an eerie similarity to the "Blacksmith of Brandywine" legend, which we wrote about here: https://hoofcare.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-blacksmith-of-brandywine-story-of.html
back in 2013.

However, at Brandywine, the British were on the receiving end of the hammer blows!