Real life war horse story

BIG screen hit War Horse has sparked memories for a Worksop man whose grandad sold horses to the army during both world wars.

Director Steven Spielberg’s box office sensation based on the children’s book by Michael Morpurgo tells the tale of one horse’s experiences during the First World War.

The film led a 91-year-old North East man to contact his local paper with a photo of the Northumberland Hussars at Worksop Camp in 1939.

Joseph Shea was a member of the regiment which was based for a time near Sherwood Forest on the Duke of Portland’s estate.

The picture was seen by a member of Worksop pensioner David Neal’s family who gave him a copy of the paper.

David, 80, of Farndale, said: “My son-in-law was working in Newcastle and brought the paper back for me because he knew I would be interested in seeing it.”

“The army camp was on the Plain Piece, where the Territorial Army was based, which was where Portland and Hartland schools were. There weren’t all the big houses on Sparken Hill then.”

He was brought up on John Street, living next door to his grandad George Neal, in a house which George built.

David said George had a blacksmith’s shop with stables either side and he also had a slaughter house.

“Horse meat was sold in Worksop during the Second World War, I remember seeing it,” said David.

He said his grandad didn’t have a lot of horses at any one time because he was constantly buying and selling them.

“He sold them to the army but also to Sheffield police, coal carters and delivery people. They were all work horses.”

“I didn’t particularly like the horses. I wasn’t scared of them, I just wasn’t that interested in them.”

“I remember my older brother Peter and I walking them along Sandy Lane to put them out in the field. Peter used to ride them as well.”

Their grandad’s business was called George Neal Hay and Straw and Horse Dealer. David recalled that he also used to sell land.

“He was always a dealer, he made a good living out of it as well. He brought a brand new lorry around 1944/45.”

David’s dad was Bernard Neal, one of George’s eight children. Bernard was a horseman and joined the Signals Regiment in the 1920s.

David said: “As well as sending message in Morse down the wire they also used to take messages by hand on horseback.”

He has two sons and a daughter and four grandchildren, but only his younger son is carrying on the family tradition by keeping horses at his home in Cottam.

David spent several years researching his family tree at home on the internet and using the family archives in Worksop.

“I’ve gone right back to 1771 but there’s nobody famous, most of them were buried as paupers!” he said.

Joseph Shea, of Ponteland, Northumberland, was stationed at Worksop camp when he was in Two Troop A Squadron, one of four troops each each with 32 horses.

He was involved in building pickets line to which the horses were tethered, 16 on either side.

Picture captions:

David Neal looking through his family archive (w120305-1c); George Neal on horseback with his daughter Kathleen in 1937; Northumberland Hussars with over 300 horses on parade at Worksop Camp 1939 (pic courtesy of Joseph Shea)