Joey’s New Home: Original War Horse Stage Puppet Retired to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum

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Even puppets have to retire, sooner or later. That’s the case for the original War Horse puppet Joey from the National Theatre production in London. The play goes on, but the working pieces of the puppet deserve a rest, so a new Joey puppet is now on stage, while the original one takes up residence in the puppet equivalent of deep green pastures: an exhibit in the famed Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

War Horse has now been staged in Australia, the United States, Canada and Germany and the likeness of Joey is known worldwide.  The phenomenal success of this simple story of a horse caught in the chaos of war transcends its book, stage and cinema interpretations in the way that it resonates with audiences everywhere on the subjects of war, peace, innocence, fear, kindness and love.

Put the Victoria and Albert Museum at the top of your list of places to visit on your next trip to London.

War Horse, Future Edition: High-Tech Storybook iPad App Launches at London Apple Store

Sam Lane reports from London on Michael Morpurgo’s red suit, bumbling fingers, and steadfast storytelling mission

War Horse app title screen

The War Horse app is beautifully designed for use by children and adults alike.

The phenomenon that is War Horse has been brought into the 21st Century as the story-based War Horse iPad App launches for the princely sum of £9.99 ($13.99 in the US iTunes Store).

To celebrate this news, author Michael Morpurgo was brought into the Regent Street Apple Shop in London on Saturday, November 24 to demonstrate and read from the iPad version of the book as well as answer a few questions about his life and work.

Michael Morpurgo marquee at the Apple Store in London

Low-tech Michael Morpurgo on a high-tech marquee at the Apple Store in London (Sam Lane Photo)

Morpurgo was late to arrive, but he eventually showed up, dressed in his crumpled and unfashionable burgundy suit, looking a little like a disheveled schoolteacher.

I remembered that I was not particularly keen about the book and I questioned what I was actually doing there. Then he started to talk…

Michael Morpurgo

Michael Morpurgo always seems to have on a red jacket. For the iPad launch, he was dressed in red from head to toe. (Sam Lane photo)

He’s a humble guy. He’s entertaining and captivating. The evening was a great mix of humor and story-telling. He told of his passion for books inherited from his mother, who read her favorite books to him. He told of his years as a primary school teacher — which made me wonder if he had that suit all these years.

He spoke about his technophobia and even revealed that he still writes in pen and that his wife types for him. And he made no secret of his fears when he confessed that he could not even open the War Horse app! He inviting a boy from the audience up to the stage to do it, and of course it was open in seconds!

Michael Morpurgo is not afraid to belittle himself in public, in spite of his success as the author of over 100 books.

Michael Morpurgo recruits an assistant

Morpurgo claimed to be unable to even open the iPad app for War Horse. But a young boy in the audience was recruited to assist. (Sam Lane photo)

The War Horse phenomenon escalated when Steven Spielberg made the film. Up until then, the book had sold about 1000 copies a year and was translated into just two languages. After the success of the stage show and then “the call” from Steven Spielberg, global success meant that the book is now translated into over 40 languages.

In the United Kingdom in January 2012, War Horse was the bestselling book across both adult and children’s books markets, thirty years after it was first published.

I was interested to hear that Morpurgo never intended for the book to be a children’s book. It was inspired by a conversation he had in his Devonshire village with a First World War veteran in the 1970s. His name was Will. Will had been in the Yeomanry and revealed in some candid conversations that he spoke to his horse about his fears and “the horse listened”.

Sample pages from the War Horse story app

The new War Horse iPad app contains the entire book, beautifully illustrated for children. You can also listen to author Michael Morpurgo read the book. And the book is linked to history pages that tell the story of World War I.

There were moments when I felt real emotion in his account of Will’s story, how he listened to the old man who as a young soldier went to a war where so few came back — men or horses.

We also had a special guest: a British Army Private dressed from the era. His outfit and working conditions were described by a chap from the Imperial War Museum.

Michael Morpurgo and Imperial War Museum experts

The Imperial War Museum played a role in the app and in the evening at the Apple Store. An expert explained some World War I history and an accurately-attired assistant modeled the type of uniform that British soldiers wore. (Sam Lane photo)

Apparently the iPad app isn’t just the story of Joey; it also timelines the First World War, gives details of the uniforms and the locations and explains military decisions that took place.

Michael Morpurgo is genuinely and openly delighted that the story he wrote touches young and old alike whether it’s the book, the play, the film or the app–just don’t ask him how to use it!

Sam Lane is a freelance photographer, blogger and marketer in London. The daughter of a well-known equine veterinarian, she has been a key asset for War Horse News and the Jurga Report with on-the-ground photography and reporting in London. She reported on the London premiere of the film.

Your Horse Is in the Army Now! But Where Did War Horses Go Before They Were Sent to France?

War Horse News is going to take a little detour this week. The detour passes through the Library of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) in London, which offers some clues to something that’s been on my mind about Joey’s path from the farm to the war.

There are two strong settings in the film War Horse. The farm scenes in rural Devon and the trenches and scorched earth of No Man’s Land at The Front.

War Horse News gold logo (small)But one other setting really stuck with me: the extensive stables where Captain Nicholls took Joey after buying him from Albert’s father. In the book version of War Horse, author Michael Morpurgo does into quite a bit of detail of this period of Joey’s life with Captain Nicholls. A war horse needs a lot of training, and Joey was turned over to Corporal Sam Perkins for what we might think of as dressage training.

Corporal Perkins complained, “He’s good out on maneuvers–a real stayer, one of the very best–but inside the school, sir, he’s a devil, and a strong devil, too. Never been properly schooled, sir, you can tell that….If he’s to be a cavalry horse, sir, he’ll have to learn to accept the disciplines. He has to learn to obey instantly and instinctively. You don’t want a prima donna under you when the bullets start flying.”

Joey’s voice tells us “Now there were endless tedious hours circling the school. Gone was the gentle snaffle bit that I was so used to, and in its place was an uncomfortable, cumbersome barbed bit that pinched the corners of my mouth and infuriated me beyond belief.”

It sounds like Joey would have been a good eventer…but maybe not a dressage horse. In the book, Joey complains about the harsh bit and spurs that Corporal Perkins uses to make him submissive.

This part of Joey’s training was most important, and thousands of cavalry horses went through a similar ordeal. They would have been sent to a place like Romsey Remount Depot or Lathom Park in Lancashire. Later in the war, Romsey specialized in turning thousands upon thousands of North American “mustangs” into instant war horses.

Things looked pretty light-hearted for the grooms at Romsey Remount Depot near Southampton during World War I. Notice the hand-cranked clipping machine they're using. Photo from the

We offer a special excerpt today from the Royal College of Veterinary Science (RCVS) Trust Library in London. My fellow blogger there, librarian Clare Boulton, offers some insight into “equine recruits” at the beginning of World War I:

“In his book, The Horse and the War, Sidney Galtrey states that 165,000 horses were ‘impressed’ by the Army in the first twelve days of the war alone.  Records show that during the course of the war some 468,000 horses were purchased in the UK and a further 618,000 in North America.

“This massive increase in numbers required a rapid expansion of the Remount Service, part of this expansion was the establishment of a new depot at Romsey to receive horses that arrived in Southampton, having been purchased in the USA.

“Construction of Romsey Remount Depot began in November 1914.  It was completed in just over four months, for a cost of £152,000, with the first two horses arriving on 19th March 1915.  The Commandant of the depot, Colonel H M Jessel, recorded its activities in The story of Romsey Remount Depot.

Joey possibly would have experienced a train trip en route to France.

“A fairly typical month was July 1916 when Jessel records the daily ‘ins’ as 2533 animals and the ‘outs’ as 1374.  During the course of the war a total of 118,755 animals came into Romsey and 114,636 were sent out for active service.

“The record of the veterinary work at Romsey for May 1917-October 1918 shows that 5,458 animals were admitted to the Veterinary Hospital but just 35 died or had to be  destroyed.  The most common reasons given for the deaths is enteritis or fractures.

“It would appear from the inscriptions on the paintings by Lionel Edwards that featured in our earlier post at least one of these horses spent some time receiving veterinary treatment at Romsey as the painting  is labeled ‘nasal eruption not glanders’.”

If you live in the UK and are interested in finding out more about the remount service, why not pay a visit to the RCVS Library Trust and look at the items that they have in their collections?

RCVS References
Galtrey, Sidney (1918) The horse and the war London : Country Life and George Newnes
Hume, Robert (2010) The story of the Army Remount Service (unpublished)
Jessel H. M. [1919] The story of Romsey Remount Depot London: Abbey Press

You might also enjoy these article: “The real-life war horses from Hampshire” from and “War horses trained in West Lancs” by Henry James

Be brave! Entrench yourself in WAR HORSE NEWS on the web: 1) Bookmark; 2) Grab the RSS feed; 3) Follow @WarHorseNews on Twitter; 4) “Like” the War Horse News page on Facebook; 5) Circle War Horse News on Google +. Leave your questions and comments here on the blog and we’ll try to help you! WAR HORSE NEWS is written for moviegoers, horse lovers and history buffs by horse-specialist journalist Fran Jurga and hosted by

War Horse on Your Coffee Table: A Lavish New Book Details How–and Why–the Film Was Made

The dramatic title page sets the stage for many beautiful spreads to follow.

Every once in a while, a book comes along that belongs not in your barn, not in your truck and not even in your office. Not on a shelf, either. No, this book belongs on your coffee table, or maybe in the waiting room of a  vet clinic or tack shop.

If you don’t have a coffee table, you might want to go buy one so you can open this large-format book out flat and turn the pages, one by one.

Over the years, this blog has been the champion of the story of War Horse, from the very time it opened as a play in London in 2007. We support the “horse” in War Horse, and want to know everything we can about the horses in the film, the play and the real war horses of World War I.

warhorsenews GOLD logo SMALLWe had a “Making of War Horse” book about the play, which explained the puppets.

And now we have a rich velvety guide to the making of the motion picture. You can get lost in the photos, they’re so large and so deeply inked. And you will, believe me.

When director Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks Pictures authorized a beautiful coffee table book about how the film was made, there was no question that it had to be worth a look.

What I wasn’t expecting: that I’d keep looking and looking and looking at this beautiful book.

The oversized (12 x 9″) book is printed in color, with massive full page photos taken during the production of the film. It is hardcover, with thick, high-quality paper and dust jacket.

War Horse: The Making of the Motion Picture has several forewords–including one by Steven Spielberg, one by producer Kathleen Kennedy, one by original author Michael Morpurgo and one by screenwriter Richard Curtis. Spielberg’s is especially compelling, as it offers insight into why he chose to translate the story to the screen.

After these formalities, you meet 21 cast members with a portrait of each in costume. They’re arranged in the order in which they appeared in the film, for easy reference.

Then the book reveals its heart: the story of War Horse and how the cast and crew collaborated to get it onto film. As always the natural scenery of Devon, England is dazzling in color, just as the dreary, unnatural scenery of The Front, No Man’s Land, and the trenches are monochromatic and foreboding.

The story of War Horse is told in three sections:

Part 1: Joey’s Journey—A visual retelling, along with script excerpts and filmmakers’ comments, of the journey taken by Joey, the war horse and his beloved Albert, from the striking verdant countryside of Dartmoor, Devon, to training in the British cavalry, to trench warfare in France.

Part 2: The Making of War Horse—An insider’s glimpse of the movie-making process highlighted with fascinating insights from the international cast and the crew about the casting, locations, costumes, horse training, and much more.

Part 3: The History of War Horses—An illuminating section on the role of horses in battle, illustrated with iconic images from history, vivid drawings, paintings and photographs.

The book has stills unseen or seldom seen shot during production. Some are stretched across two huge pages, creating a mural effect. (© Newmarket Press | DreamWorks Pictures photo)

There are also beautiful sketches of set designs from the art directors  and even storyboards of how scenes like the barbed wire entrapment were sequenced.

Is it a Hollywood book? A history book? A horse book? Or all of these? I think this book is what you want it to be. It’s an enhancement of your experience viewing the film (or, one day, the DVD) and a tribute to the artists, the actors, the technical geniuses, the land and especially the horses who moved you then, and will again, with the turn of every page.

War Horse: The Making of the Motion Picture was published December 27, 2011 by Newmarket Press. Format: Hardcover; trimsize: 12 x 9; pages: 144;  full color throughout. Cost per book $35 plus postage and handling; Ages: written for adults, with some technical references, but I think a horse-crazy teen would do fine with this book. And love it! Click here to order your copy!

Photos in this post © Fran Jurga and, still images from the film and shown on pages are property of Newmarket Press and DreamWorks Pictures. No use without permission.

Be brave! Entrench yourself in WAR HORSE NEWS on the web: 1) Bookmark; 2) Grab the RSS feed; 3) Follow @WarHorseNews on Twitter; 4) “Like” the War Horse News page on Facebook; 5) Circle War Horse News on Google +. Leave your questions and comments here on the blog and we’ll try to help you! WAR HORSE NEWS is written for moviegoers, horse lovers and history buffs by horse-specialist journalist Fran Jurga and hosted by

War Horse: A Book, A Play, A Movie…and A Painting: Hang Captain Nicholls’ Portrait of Joey on Your Wall

“In the old school they use now for the village hall, below the clock that has stood always at one minute past ten, hangs a small dusty painting of a horse. He stands, a splendid red bay with a remarkable white cross emblazoned on his forehead and with four perfectly matched white socks…”

So begins the unforgettable children’s book, War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. And what about that painting, can we go see it? Can we buy a print of it?

warhorsenews GOLD logo SMALLUntil late in 2011, the answer to both questions was a regretful “no”. But all that has changed now, thanks to horse portrait artist Ali Bannister and a twinkle in author Michael Morpurgo’s eye.

Ali, who served as Steven Spielberg’s equine artistic adviser during the filming of War Horse, is not only setting the author’s story straight with the beautiful and long overdue painting of Joey but also in offering prints for sale.

Visit Ali’s special site for the prints and other War Horse related art:

Read more about the painting that Captain Nicholls (played by Tom Hiddleston in the film) would surely have painted from the sketches he’d done if his cavalry unit hadn’t been ordered to ship to France and charge a German supply camp.

The video in this post was as seen on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s “The One Show” in January 2012.