This week for #WickedWomenWed, we're celebrating a great female humanitarian. I got a couple of emails nominating Malala. While she is a stellar wicked awesome woman, we already featured her earlier this year! So, I was intrigued when Clare nominated Dorothy Brooke.
Dorothy Brooke was the founder of The Old War Horse Memorial Hospital in 1934 in Cairo – renamed The Brooke Hospital for Animals in 1961. Developing from a single operation in Cairo into one of the world’s largest equines welfare organisations, at work in many countries, it is known today as Brooke.
In 1919, the cavalry, artillery and draught horses that had served in the British Army in the Egypt and Palestine campaigns of World War I had been sold in their many thousands to a life of continuous hard labour and a painful old age. Many had been requisitioned in England and had served in the British Yeomanry. Some had seen active service on the Western Front before being drafted as remounts to the Near East.
After the Armistice, with 22,000 horses, mostly in Palestine and Sinai, requiring transport or disposal, the Remounts Directorate of the War Office ordered the local sale of all animals of 12 years and under that were deemed up to some work. Those over 12 and the unsound were destroyed.
The surviving horses had not had an easy war. They had carried often far too much weight – up to 22 stone (140 kg). They had experienced rationing, withstood piercing cold, dust clouds and exhaustion. Some may also have suffered both severe and light wounds. They had covered great distances, and some had endured a summer in the heat of the Jordan Valley.
In 1930, Geoffrey Brooke, Dorothy's husband, was appointed to the command of the British Cavalry Brigade in Egypt. Dorothy realized she would have to search for the old war horses, whom “she hated to remember yet could not forget”. She could not be in Egypt and fail to do so. She had been devoted to horses since her childhood. By that time, the war horses, many now of an advanced age, had been lost to view, toiling for the very poorest owners, or at night to avoid the police and Egyptian S.P.C.A., or in the stone quarries. Brooke heard rumors from British residents who spoke of pitiful, emaciated creatures that they suspected were war horses. Their condition was said to be so bad that people could hardly bear to look at them.
There were many challenges and obstacles throughout the early years of Brooke’s efforts. Progress was prolonged, and, as the wife of the senior cavalry officer in Egypt, she had strenuous social duties. Nevertheless, she acquired frail old horses when and where she found them. She raised money from her friends and from her own pocket, got together a Committee, and set in motion the Old War Horse Campaign of Rescue. By April 1931, six months after her arrival in Egypt, she was writing to the Morning Post to appeal for funds. Thousands of readers responded. King George V was one of her many supporters throughout the British Commonwealth. She was advised there could be two hundred. In fact in the years from 1930 to 1934, she bought back 5,000 old army horses and mules.
Here's to you Dorothy Brooke! May we all never forget the things we hate to remember and do something about it in the way that you did.
I write about power dynamics in relationships, the empowerment of women, and the ethical and moral dilemmas love can create in our lives. This is a space where I meditate on those themes and share them with the word. Who knows, my next novel may start right here...