Although cavalry horses get the glory, the war could not have been won without the working horses and mules that were essential to bringing supplies to the front and to enable large-scale troop movements. The huge numbers of horses deployed by the British army (one estimate puts it at one million) required large numbers of men to handle them.
One such man was Thomas Piggin. He was an experienced horse-handler and quartermaster for the Derbyshire Yeomanry. He came from a large farming family, starting his working life on the family’s farm on Sinfin Moor before managing the Derby Racecourse. Although he was over 40 at the start of the War, and running the Alexandra Hotel, he volunteered to use his experience to benefit the war effort.
Lieutenant Piggin was deployed very early to Gallipoli. On the night of September 3rd 1915, he was delivering a convoy of 159 mules to the trenches. He spent the night in a dug-out and was hit by a shell while breakfasting the following morning. His face and shoulders were badly injured and he was sent home in a hospital ship to recuperate. In 1917 he was reassigned to the 4th Reserve Regiment of the Corps of Dragoons Household Regiment, a mounted regiment, training new recruits to the Derbyshire Yeomanry at Aldershot.
He was discharged in 1919 and returned home to run the Bridge Inn at Shelton Lock. He remained active in the Derbyshire Yeomanry and served as a councillor for Alvaston. He remained at the Bridge Inn until his death in 1948.
Right at the beginning of the War, Offilers Brewery sold 20 horses to the army for £616 (equivalent to £44,000 today). Bass in Burton on Trent sold eight horses (including one called Derby) for £65 each in January 1915. In 1917, Offilers sold nine more for £660. Early in the war the loss of their horses caused significant difficulties with supplying their pubs. Later they started to make considerable use of mechanized transport such as steam wagons– vehicles of less value in the mud and shell holes of the trenches.
Some horses were not bought outright. Those suitable for artillery could be retained by their owners but called up at 24 hours’ notice. The owners received £4 a year in compensation. Horses suitable for cavalry, ‘remounts’, also remained with their owners, at 10 shillings (50p) a year, but were expected to be bought by the army in due course. The Derby Daily Telegraph noted that “most of the remounts are prominently connected with the Meynell Hunt.”
Sadly, only about 60,000 horses returned to the UK; the remainder had been killed or sold locally.
The Derbyshire Yeomanry was formed as the Derbyshire Corps of Fencible Cavalry in 1794, a full-time mounted regiment for home defence. It shortly became a part-time force and was ultimately transferred into the Territorial Force (see DWWIPP-4) with its new title in 1908. It was based in Siddals Road. In the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, serving as dismounted infantry, the Derbyshire Yeomanry took heavy losses. More about the Derbyshire Yeomanry can be found at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery.
Since Victorian times, the Alexandra Hotel, has been a popular watering-hole for local drinkers. It has the distinction of being the birthplace of Derby CAMRA in 1974 and remains a popular traditional pub to this day. It retains a connection to horses, in this case the “iron horse”, or rather its successor, the diesel locomotive. The front of end of one graces the car park, and the interior of the pub is adorned with railway memorabilia.
Details of the opening hours and facilities of ‘The Alex’ will be found using the CAMRA Good Beer Guide app. This can be obtained free of charge (basic version) at https://gbgapp.camra.org.uk/ or (free of charge) from WhatPub at https://whatpub.com/
This Wonder is one of a series of thirteen researched by the Derby World War One Pubs Project (DWWIPP). In describing the wonders, we also develop an underlying narrative on how the war lastingly affected pubs and the brewing industry, and society itself. For this reason, it may be preferable to read them in sequence, DWWIPP-1 to DWWIPP-13.
The thirteen wonders in this series and other stories featuring the effects of WWI on pubs and breweries can be found in a special Armistice Centenary Edition of Derby CAMRA’s magazine, Derby Drinker. It, and the current edition, can be downloaded free of charge at https://derby.camra.org.uk/derby-drinker/DerbyDrinker/DerbyDrinker_WW1special.pdf . You can also download an ‘Ale Trail’ leaflet featuring the thirteen Wonders in this series from https://derby.camra.org.uk/
The DWWIPP team are grateful for the support and encouragement of many organizations and individuals, in particular to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), and all National Lottery players, for the funding; the Derby Branch CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale); the Derby Local Studies and Family History Library; and the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery (Wonders of the Peak).
Images may be subject to copyright.