Many early readers of Stories About Storytellers have remarked that they finish reading it only to rush to pick up one of the other books Doug has so lovingly described. So to make it easier, this recurring feature revisits some of those books and reminds you why they’re worth a read. Last time, we revisited The Game by Ken Dryden, and this we’re featuring . . .
Where the Wagon Led: One Man’s Memories of the Cowboy’s Life in the Old West, by R.D. Symons (1973)
The success of War Horse, both the movie and the play, reminds me that my very first author, R.D. Symons, wrote about his experiences with horses at the front in the First World War. Here is what he wrote in Where the Wagon Led: One Man’s Memories of the Cowboy’s Life in the Old West: “A lot of horses couldn’t take the shock of high explosive shells, and we’d often find one dead after a bombardment, without a scratch on him. One early morning when I went to the transport horse lines I found the colonel’s mount – a good horse, too – dead as mutton, and the nearest shell had exploded over a hundred yards away. I suppose his heart had just stopped with the fright.”
And later . . . “Yet the smell of our own horses, live horses, always had a steadying effect on me. It somehow seemed to make a sense of sanity in a world otherwise quite mad. I’d often linger at the horse lines after evening ‘stables’ just to talk to our wagon teams and get the mingled smell of horses and hay and oats as the nags munched away. Sometimes the transport sergeant would stick around, too. He had been a cowboy in Alberta, and we’d talk about horses, and it was he who said one night, as a star shell burst over German lines. ‘Gee, don’t that look like the shooting stars we used to watch on night herd!’”
Bob Symons writes of a cavalry charge that he saw close up, when Australian Cavalry went at the German lines “at full gallop, and with drawn swords”:
“It wasn’t long before we saw the boys, still with drawn swords, herding a bunch of prisoners in our direction. . . .
“The way was now open for our infantry, and we soon moved forward, doing what we could for the cavalry casualties till the stretcher-bearers got into action. When a couple of our Canadian boys stopped to put a field dressing on one young chap, the only thing he said to them was ‘Is my horse all right, mate?’ They didn’t know, but someone said, ‘He sure is, Digger.'”
For Doug’s tales of R.D. Symons see 43-50 of Stories About Storytellers.