Jack and Hopit: A Cavalryman and his war horse in the Great War

By Serena Merton

Jack and Hopit tells the story of Second Lieutenant John Forrester Colvin and his charger Hopit who arrived in France in November 1914 and returned home together in April 1919. Their relationship began in 1912 when Jack was still a schoolboy and his father bought the horse at Tattersalls for the grand sum of £162.15.00 but the true rapport began when the Remount Department bought Hopit for £70 and he and Jack entrained for France and joined the 9th Lancers at the beginning of December 1914. Hopit survived the war unscathed whilst Jack was gassed three times; family history tells of his being the only trench survivor of one attack, and hospitalised once with a gunshot wound.

A snapshot of life in the trenches and beyond the front line for the cavalrymen and their mounts; their day-to-day lives of endurance, discomfort, mundanity and great bravery as well as the behind-the-lines entertainment that they put on for themselves. The regiment arranged football matches, polo, gymkhanas, marathon races, pheasant shooting, harrier and greyhound coursing. They designed and built a point-to-point course which had to be abandoned thanks to the mud but when billeted in drier spots race meetings were held. Culture was not forgotten either with a concert troupe and a regimental orchestra.

Jack on Hopit in Cologne in 1919.

I knew my grandfather well but I knew nothing about the horse Hopit until researching Jack’s award of the Military Cross in 1918 after the battle of Rosiéres, I discovered Hopit’s impressive grave which set me off on a voyage of research and discovery into the life of one World War One officer and his war horse. Jack, and his father Forrester, left a great number of photograph albums but few letters and no diaries. It took five to six years of part-time research and I did the bulk of it in the Imperial War Museum, the 9th/12th Lancers’ Museum in Derby and online as well as writing countless letters and emails to recipients in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Researching Hopit and his sire Popoff involved contact with bloodstock agents, a bloodstock journalist, a helpful Irish historian cousin, members of the local Historical Society in Sussex, Tattersalls, Weatherbys, the Irish Golden Pages, the grandsons of Tipperary farmers and horse breeders, the granddaughter of the man who sold him at auction in 1912, Sussex hunts and point-to-points. I interviewed elderly relations for their memories of Jack enquiring if he ever spoke of his experiences in the war – he did not. His daughter, my mother, is still alive at 95 but the ingrained silence of “not talking about the war” is still there after all these years.

General Plumer’s staff in Cologne in 1919. Jack on the left when serving as ADC to the Army Commander.

This was my first attempt at research and writing and I had the great good fortune to be published by Helion & Company. Having finished my education with A Levels, research and time spent in libraries was unknown to me but I found the entire process thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding.

Hopit’s grave in West Sussex.

Jack and Hopit is now available here.

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2 Responses to Jack and Hopit: A Cavalryman and his war horse in the Great War

  1. Steve Brookwell says:

    I stumbled upon the grave whilst dog walking this week. I live in partridge green West Sussex. Why is the headstone in a small woodland? Very interesting story

    • Serena Merton says:

      I’ve only just seen your comment; a slow reply! The small wood that the grave is in was once a pristine oak walk from Shermanbury Grange but since the sale of the house and land, the oak walk has declined into the small, scrubby wood that you have seen.

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