The grave of a First World War war horse has been given heritage protection in Britain, the first time such an honour has been bestowed.
There are several other war horse graves in England, but Blackie’s is the only one to be recognised as part of Historic England’s celebration of unusual historical listings.
Blackie’s gravestone is at the RSPCA Liverpool Animal Centre at Hunts Cross, Liverpool. He is thought to have been born in 1905, and served with the 275th Brigade Royal Field Artillery ‘A’ Battery – 55th West Lancashire Division during the war.
Blackie belonged to Lieutenant Leonard Comer Wall, a war poet from Kirby. One of his poems known as ‘The Rose of Lancaster’, which was written in Flanders in April 1917, included the line ‘We win or die who wear the Rose of Lancaster’. The line was adopted later in 1917 as the motto of the 55th West Lancashire Division and encircles the divisional sign. Metal discs were also produced bearing the crest of the division and the poetic line, which were placed on the graves of those in the division killed during the war. The motto is also carved on the monument to the 55th Division in the Grade I-listed Anglican Cathedral Church of Christ, Liverpool.
In Wall’s will he requested that if he did not survive the war that Blackie be buried with his medals or decorations. Lieutenant Wall was killed in action at Ypres whilst riding Blackie on June 9, 1917 at the age of 20. He is buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Poperinge in the Belgian province of West Flanders and his gravestone is inscribed with the line from his poem.
Blackie received severe shrapnel injuries in the same incident, but remained in service on the Front for the rest of the war, and by the end of the war he had taken part in the battles of Arras, Somme, Ypres and Cambrai. He retained the marks of his shrapnel wounds until his death. Driver Francis Frank Wilkinson was Blackie’s groom. He was killed in action on 8 June 1917 at the age of 23 and is also buried at Lijssenthoek.
After the war Lieutenant Wall’s mother Kate bought Blackie from the Army and lent him to the Territorial Riding School in Liverpool. In 1930 he was retired to live at the Horses’ Rest in Halewood where he remained until his death at the age of 37 in December 1942.
It is understood that Blackie used to lead Liverpool’s May Day Horse Parade along with another ex war-horse known as Billy, and was adorned with his master’s medals. Blackie’s death received press coverage across Britain. He was buried in the north-west corner of the western field fronting Higher Road with his master’s medals and a gravestone was erected. The gravestone has been cleaned in recent years making the inscription legible again.
Historic England said the grave has been designated Grade II because of its strong cultural and historic significance in representing the key role animals played, and the sacrifices they made, in the First World War.
Grade II indicates that the site is of “special interest, warranting every effort to preserve”.
“It is a rare memorial commemorating an individual animal that served in, and survived, the major battles of the First World War,” it said.
“Blackie’s close association with his master, the wartime poet Leonard Comer Wall, and the fact that Blackie is buried with his master’s medals, reflects the strong bonds shared between thousands of soldiers and their horses on the western front.”