On March 24, 1933, the 92nd Grand National was run at Aintree. This year’s race was noteworthy for more than the typical large crowds: every publication commented on the fine running and beautiful weather.

A field of more than 30 horses made the iconic race of four-plus miles, and there were the usual falls and mishaps along the way. The victor of the day was the 25-1 horse Kellsboro Jack, owned by Mrs. F. Ambrose Clark. But she had “purchased” the horse from her husband earlier in the year.

From Kellsboro Jack Scrapbook, National Sporting Library & Museum ARchives Collection, MC0031.

F. Ambrose “Brose” Clark was an influential American sportsman of the early 20th century. Brose was the grandson of Edward Cabot Clark, a partner of the Singer Manufacturing Company. As a young man, he was a gentleman rider in steeplechase races and rode to hounds. AS a racehorse owner, he spent years in pursuit of victory in the world’s most famous steeplechase: the Grand National.

From Kellsboro Jack Scrapbook, National Sporting Library & Museum ARchives Collection, MC0031.

Clark purchased Kellsboro Jack in Ireland, naming him for the horse’s native town of Kellsborough. Kellsboro Jack was trained for the Grand National by Ivor Anthony, and reportedly the horse was treated exceptionally well — one local newspaper reported that the horse preferred to sleep bedded down in soft sheets. Preferential treatment was sometimes indulged for Clark’s horses; he once ordered a rocking chair loaded into a train’s boxcar so he could ride along with a favorite mount.

From Kellsboro Jack Scrapbook, National Sporting Library & Museum ARchives Collection, MC0031.

Clark suspected that 1933 was an unlucky year for his horses. Instead of taking chances on another unsuccessful attempt at Aintree, he opted to sell Kellsboro Jack to his wife Florence for £1. Mrs. Clark was an accomplished sportswoman herself, and maintained her own stable of racehorses. Kellsboro Jack would go on to win in record time: 9 minutes, 28 seconds.

From Kellsboro Jack Scrapbook, National Sporting Library & Museum ARchives Collection, MC0031.

Although the triumph of the day technically belonged to Florence, the ecstatic couple shared the victory together. Mrs. Clark declined the honor of leading in Kellsboro Jack, asking Brose to do it in her stead. Kellsboro Jack would be retired following his record-setting victory, but the horse was brought to hunt meets and to paddock at other races so friends and well-wishers could see him.

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail 


In late 1947, William Woodward was absent from the Gimcrack Dinner, held at York. Woodward was the guest of honor, having won the Gimcrack Stakes with Black Tarquin. The Gimcrack Dinner was described by J. Fairfax-Blakeborough in The Chronicle of the Horse as “an occasion for historic speeches, for the announcement of new Turf policy, of alterations to rules and procedure.” Despite his absence, Woodward sent along a speech to be delivered by the Marquess of Zetland, and the topic was foreseeable: once again, Woodward lobbied for the repeal of the Jersey Act.

Victor Child Villiers, 7th Earl of Jersey, for whom “The Jersey Act” was named. Image accessed via Wikipedia

The Jersey Act was not a government statute, as its name might suggest. Rather, it was named for Lord Jersey,  the senior steward of the British Jockey Club. Since 1913, the Jersey Act had effectively barred most American racehorses from recognition as Thoroughbreds in the General Stud Book, the register of Thoroughbred bloodlines for the British turf.

The Jersey Act pushed back against the influx of imported American bloodstock in the early 20th Century, following restrictions on gambling in the United States. The crackdown on gambling led to faltering racing prospects and a downturn in the value of horses for breeding. The new rule was expected to protect the value of British bloodlines by demanding bloodline purity.

Beginning in 1913, the General Stud Book required all included horses to be able to trace their pedigrees back to a registered horse in the General Stud Book. The rule would become known as “The Jersey Act.”

Many American Thoroughbreds had flawed pedigree paperwork, in large part due in no small part to the loss of breeding records during the American Civil War. Without the ability to successfully prove lineage back to the General Stud Book, American horses were excluded from future registration. The American Stud Book, first published in 1873, was much more lenient in its pedigree requirements.

William Woodward, Sr. Image accessed via Wikipedia

Through the 1930s and into the 1940s, American critics of the Jersey Act made their objections heard loud and clear. They argued for inclusion on the basis of performance as American horses had become extremely successful on the British turf. Woodward, who was chairman of the American Jockey Club, was a leading critic of the rule.

The American Stud Book, published by S. D. Bruce in 1873, only required five generations of pure lineage for inclusion.

In the end, the Jersey Act was overturned in the aftermath of World War II, when British breeding was left with few alternatives to improve bloodstock in the post-war era. By the time the rule was relaxed in 1949, American bloodlines were among the most successful in the world. It immediately removed the label of “half-bred” from some of the best competitors of the turf on either side of the Atlantic.

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail 

A book seller I recently talked with had a curious item for sale: a selection of plates depicting riders in a steeplechase race. The steeds were pigs, and so were the riders!

The piece jogged my memory. We looked through the collection and found a piece from John Daniels’ ephemera collection: Grand Steeple Chace Run at Hog’s Norton Exemplified in Six Plates by J. B.

“The Start”

Our copy depicts the riders on pig-back, racing across the countryside.

“Going It”
‘Tis the pace that kills,’ said the late —— and no man put it oftener to the test.

“Steeple Chace”
Here breeding began to tell, Mr. Cleansty’s White-horse and the Cocktail being rather blown, The Captain’s horse threw his rider so his chance was up.

“Facing a Brook”
Go at ye Cripples never say die. Here Mr. Clansty’s was in imminent danger of drowning. The Captain, having regained his seat, was seen coming up with a wet sail.


“Steeple Chace”
The thoroughbred in though queerish to start, winning easy


“Steeple Chace”
Push on my Cripples! Never say die” The Cocktail here completely floored could not get home. 1831.

I was interested to find online that the term “Hog’s Norton” has a long history. It implies a fictional town with boorish inhabitants. “You were brought up at Hog’s Norton” is *not* a compliment!

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail 

This year marks the 500th running of the Kiplingcotes Derby, the oldest continuously run horse race in England.  It is a grueling four and a half mile, cross country race over the Wolds of Yorkshire that has been run annually on the third Thursday of March since 1519.  The Library holds a copy of The Kiplingcotes Derby: England’s Oldest Horse Race by Alison Ellerington which can shed some light on the history of this ancient race.

It was founded by 48 hunting gentlemen who all contributed between 5 and 30 pounds.  The rules drawn up by this group are dated 1519 so one assumes that the race began that year.  However, the earliest recorded mention of the race that Ellerington could locate was found in testimony dated 1556 which refers to the previous year, 1555.  The account books of the Earl of Burlington show entrance fees for the race in 1679, and the race appears regularly in the Racing Calendar during the 1700s.

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Two entries for the Kiplingcotes Derby in the Library’s collection.  The upper is from An Historical List of Horse-Matches Run, and of Plates and Prizes, Run for in Great Britain and Ireland in 1746. (Gift of Russell Arundel).  The lower is from Racing Calendar: Containing an Account of the Plates, Matches, and Sweepstakes Run for in Great Britain and Ireland &c. in the year 1773 by James Weatherby (Gift of Edmund Twining III).

Among the fifteen rules governing the race are some rather specific requirements.  Any horse, gelding, or mare of any age is eligible to run but all entrants to the race must appear at the Winning Post and submit their stakes money to the clerk at or before 11am.  Anyone that misses this deadline is not eligible to race.  The race must be completed before 2pm.

Winning Post. Image taken from Hull & East Yorkshire History Calendar. 

All horses must carry a rider weighing 10 stone, or 140 pounds.  Riders lighter than this will have to carry weights upon their person in order to meet the requirement as opposed to carrying additional weight in a saddle cloth as is common in the present day.  Ellerington notes at least one winner that ran into trouble with weights and was disqualified as a result.  In 1961, Jean Cole-Walton carried 11 pounds of lead weights in her pockets in order to meet the 10 stone requirement.  During the race they fell from her pockets.  Although she was the first to pass the winning post, she ended up weighing 11 pounds under the minimum and was disqualified as a result.

The winner of the race is awarded prize money and the Kiplingcotes Plate.  The original plate later became known as the East Yorkshire Plate and has since been lost to history.  Today winners get prize money and a trophy.  According to the rules the second rider to pass the winning post wins the stakes money or entry fees.  Depending on how many horses are entered this could, and frequently does, result in the second place rider winning more money than the first place rider.

Kiplingcotes Derby trophy. Image taken from Driffords and Wolds Weekly.

On the day of the race, horses and riders present themselves at the Winning Post to register, pay their fees, and get weighed.  After the 11:00 cutoff time for registration, the rules of the race are read to the riders, following which the participants walk the course back to the starting point which is a stone post in the parish of Etton.  The race is run from this starting stone back to the Winning Post.  Alison Ellerington’s map and description of the course are worth quoting in full:

The Kiplingcotes course from The Kiplingcotes Derby: England’s Oldest Horse Race by Alison Ellerington (1990).

“The course starts 160 feet above sea level and heads in a north westerly direction.  Following the road, the horses galloping along the grass verge climb steadily to 368 feet over Goodmanham Wold.  Galloping towards Enthorpe Woods, over the old railway bridge, the going is slightly downhill, dropping 303 feet — a lull before the hard climb towards the finish.  At Enthorpe Woods the course is now on a green lane left by the commissioners after the enclosures during the 1800s.  From here horse and rider drop a little before the long steady climb up to 438 feet above sea level.  This part of the course is usually thick pulling mud, which tires a horse even more should one make the mistake of riding along the middle of the track instead of trying to keep well into the side by the field.  The course from here is a steady pull up to the main A163, where it levels out with a straight gallop down the grass verge to the winning post over on Londesborough Wold: a hard testing four and a half miles.  Not only do the contours of the Wolds make the race tough, the weather does not usually help; a cold biting wind normally blows and it is not uncommon for snow to be present still, or, failing that, a stinging rain” (p. 15).

Since 1519 there have been at least a few years when the race was only technically run.  In 1947 deep snows prevented entrants from reaching the Winning Post.  A local farmer, Fred Stephenson, was read the rules by the clerk of the race and proceeded to walk his horse through the course in order to maintain tradition.  Stephen Crawford did the same thing in 2001 when an outbreak of foot and mouth disease prevented the running of the race.  He kept the tradition alive again last year when the condition of the course was deemed too dangerous for racing.  Hopefully this week will see good weather and a successful race to mark the 500th anniversary.

If you’d like to take a look at Alison Ellerington’s book, The Kiplingcotes Derby: England’s Oldest Horse Race, you can find it in the Library’s Main Reading Room.

*Update:  The 500th running of the Kiplingcotes Derby was won by Tracey Corrigan on her horse Frog.  They triumphed over a field of 36 competitors and it was her fourth time winning the race.


Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail

An old proverb says that “good fences make good neighbors.” An equally-true corollary could be that clear boundaries do the same for foxhunting territories. In times of dispute, territories could be closely monitored to ensure no infractions across the boundaries. But more often, boundaries can be mapped to show which properties are open for hunting and which are not.

Detail of “Guide Map of Piedmont, Middleburg, and Orange County Hunt Territories.”

Navigation while hunting can be a tricky process, especially for those visitors in unfamiliar terrain. The hunt map provides a solution, often showing landmarks and properties of note for foxhunters to navigate by.

From “Hobson’s Fox-Hunting Atlas”

The Library has several large maps depicting hunt territories, and many more can be found in books. A good example is the Baily’s Hunting Directory, which had fold-out maps from its earliest editions.

Hunting map of England, from Baily’s Hunting Directory for 1898-99.

In the early 20th Century, Baily’s contained far more than hunt directory information. Also included were lists of “Hunting Centres,” an index of towns in England, Wales, and Scotland from which easy access to hunts could be had. This was convenient reference information for city dwellers planning country travels around their sporting pursuits. Detailed hunt maps facilitate easier navigation for those unfamiliar with the territory.

Hunting map of Ireland, from Baily’s Hunting Directory for 1898-99.

Detail of “‘Tri’ Hunting Map,” National Sporting Library & Museum

Today’s technology has taken hunt mapping to a far more advanced level, but there’s still charm and beauty in decorative hunting maps. In a pinch, the printed map continues to work with more reliability than its digital counterparts.

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail 

A recent reference question sent me on a hunt to find out if any fillies had ever won the Kentucky Derby.  It turns out that three ladies have won the fabled race at Churchill Downs.  The first was a chestnut mare with a white blaze named Regret who won the 1915 contest.

Regret was bred and owned by Harry Payne Whitney, a member of America’s horse racing royalty.  He was the leading American owner by earnings six times between 1905 and 1930, as well as the leading American breeder from 1926 to 1932.  Her trainer was James G. Rowe, Sr., a former jockey who had an illustrious second career as a trainer of racehorses.  Over his career he trained more than 30 champions.

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Regret at Saratoga.  From Women of the Year by Avalyn Hunter (2004).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

For her debut season in 1914, Regret ran in and won a series of three races at Saratoga.  The first was the Saratoga Special, the second was the Sanford Memorial, and the third was the Hopeful Stakes.  In all these races she ran against colts, including the season’s best juvenile colt, Pebbles, in the final two.  Following this brilliant first season she was rested until the Kentucky Derby in May 1915.

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Regret with trainer James Rowe (left) and owner Harry Payne Whitney (right).  From Women of the Year by Avalyn Hunter (2004).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

At the time, the Kentucky Derby was not the iconic American race that it is today.  Most of the prestigious races were based in New York.  Matt Winn, the general manager of Churchill Downs, was working hard to raise the cachet of the track.  In order to lure top competitors to the Derby, he decided to make it the richest race of the season.  The winner’s purse was $11,450 and a gold cup.  This outstripped the purses at eastern races, where the Preakness Stakes purse was $1,275 and the Belmont’s was $1,825 that year.

Regret led the field from the start and won the race by two lengths in 2:05 2/5.  The sensation of a filly beating the boys, the incredible purse, and Whitney’s statement following the race that, “She has won the greatest race in America, and I am satisfied,” all combined to help launch the Kentucky Derby on the path to in fact becoming the greatest race in America.  It would be 65 years until Regret had company.

Oddly enough it would be another chestnut filly with a white blaze that would finally join Regret as a lady of the Kentucky Derby.  The horse that would become known as Genuine Risk was born on February 15th, 1977.  At the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale of yearlings 14-year-old Matthew Firestone spotted her and lobbied his parents, Bert and Diana Firestone, to purchase the filly.  They agreed and Genuine Risk began schooling at the Firestone’s farm near Waterford, Virginia.  She is described as generally gentle but opinionated, and was known to sometimes run off with exercise riders.

Genuine Risk 1
Genuine Risk following the Kentucky Derby.  From The Blood-Horse, May 10, 1980, pg. 2508.

As a two year old, she began training with LeRoy Jolley and made her debut on September 30, 1978 at Belmont Park.  She was undefeated in this first season of racing, and her winning streak continued into her second season.  She was doing so well it was decided to test her against colts in the Wood Memorial Stakes, a race that is often a precursor to Kentucky Derby appearances.  She ran the entire race just behind Plugged Nickle and Colonel Moran and finished in third, 1 and 3/4 lengths behind the boys.  There was a bit of drama when her jockey claimed a foul but in the end the stewards did not agree and the results stood.

This loss cast doubt on whether running with the boys was too much for Genuine Risk and her appearance in the Kentucky Derby was doubted by many.  However, she recovered well from Wood Memorial race and the Firestones, her trainer, and her jockey all felt she would be competitive in the Derby and she was entered.  As the big day approached speculation abounded about all the contestants.  The Lexinton Herald polled 44 members of the media and only five predicted Genuine Risk as the winner.  Twenty-six of them predicted that she would finish out of the money altogether.

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Genuine Risk winning the Kentucky Derby.  From The Blood-Horse, May 10, 1980, cover.

As it happened, she held back for the first half of the race and then moved to the outside,  charged to the lead, and stayed there through the finish line where she joined Regret in a very exclusive club.  After 65 years there were now two Ladies that owned the Kentucky Derby.  Later Harper’s Bazaar named Genuine Risk one of its seven top women achievers for 1980.

The most recent filly to win the roses was aptly named, Winning Colors.  She accomplished the feat in 1988.  Like the two fillies that preceded her, she had a white blaze, but she had a roan rather than a chestnut coat.  She was bred by Don Sucher at Echo Valley Horse Farm in Kentucky.  At the July auction in 1986, trainer D. Wayne Lukas liked the looks of her and purchased her for an owner he represented, Eugene Klein.  Lukas and his son Jeff began training her among a stable of talented horses.  Her first race was at Saratoga on August 13.  She won by 2 1/2 lengths over Epitome, who would go on to become the champion of the two year old filly division.  She continued her racing career on the west coast of the United States winning all but one of the races she entered.  On April 9th 1988 in the Santa Anita Derby, she easily led a field of 3 year old colts and won by 7 1/2 lengths.  From that moment on there was no doubt that she would compete in the Kentucky Derby the following month.

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Winning Colors.  From The Blood-Horse, May 14, 1988, Cover.

On the big day at Churchill Downs she would charge to the front of the field and stay there the entire race.  In an exciting finale, she was challenged in the home stretch by Forty Niner who closed a seven length lead.  But Winning Colors held on to win by a neck, and joined Regret and Genuine Risk as a Lady of the Kentucky Derby.

To learn more about these wonderful fillies and their lives after the Kentucky Derby, or to brush up on your Kentucky Derby history, just drop by the Main Reading Room and I’d be happy to show you some resources.


Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail

1. Some NSLM Holdings

            As a quick search of the collection reveals, the National Sporting Library holds some 956 books on “fox-hunting,” ranging in date from J. Roberts, An Essay on Hunting (1733) to Alastair Jackson, Lady of the Chase: The Life and Hunting Diaries of Daphne Moore (2018). Anyone likely to be visiting this website will know all the familiar names, from the prolific Nimrod and Robert Smith Surtees, to the less widely published William Scarth Dixon and Willoughby de Broke, Richard Greville Verney, to writers primarily known for one seminal work: Anthony Trollope, Hunting Sketches (1865), or George Whyte-Melville, Riding Recollections (1878).

An Essay on Hunting by a Country Squire (1820). Gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The Library’s holdings from the 20th century alone total an impressive 602 works. They also include many by familiar names, such as the “standards” J. Stanley Reeve and A. Henry Higginson or, more recently, Michael Clayton and Alexander Mackay-Smith, as well as a number of influential works by women writers, such as Lady Diana Shedden and Lady Apsley, “To Whom The Goddess . . .”—Hunting and Riding for Women (1932), Lida Fleitmann Bloodgood, Hoofs in the Distance (1953), and E.V.A. Christy, Cross-Saddle and Side-Saddle (1932), one of many books on equitation that include the demands of riding across country.


Many of the 20th century works, most of them held by NSLM, date to the interwar years. Citing 177 examples, Anne Grimshaw has estimated that books specifically on hunting published in England between 1919 and 1945 accounted for “25% of the total output of equestrian literature” (Grimshaw, 160). They include at least one title of signal literary merit: Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, published by the distinguished poet Siegfried Sassoon in 1928 as the first volume of what would become a Great War trilogy, The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston (1937).


2. Sassoon and Sherston

Siegfried Loraine Sassoon (1886-1967), poet and novelist, platinum print, wearing military uniform with the collar badges of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and hat, Beresford’s stamp and copyright line on verso, 6 x 4½ in (15.2 x 11.5 cm). Accessed via Wikimedia Commons, January 2019.

Though primarily known as a “Great War Poet,” Sassoon joins Robert Graves and Edmund Blunden as one of the most important British memoirists to have served on the Western Front.[1] In addition to three volumes of non-fictional memoirs, Sassoon published the three volumes of fictional memoirs that constitute the Sherston trilogy: the first two volumes form a clearly linked pair written only two years apart; the much shorter and less fully realized third volume, written four years later, brings the trilogy’s story to a coherent conclusion and provides the vantage from which Sherston narrates it.[2]

In outline, the story is simple. Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man tracks Sherston’s evolution as a young rural sportsman to his installation as a newly minted infantry officer in 1914. It concludes with his waking from an idyllic dream of hunt country to a grim view over no man’s land. Memoirs of an Infantry Officer recounts Sherston’s life at the front from 1915 to 1917, including the single-handed attack on a German trench that earns him a Military Cross, and the growing “anti-war bitterness” that issues in his public anti-war statement and the military’s retaliatory diagnosis of him as “shell-shocked.” Sherston’s Progress, finally, limns Sherston’s psychiatric therapy and plumbs the internal conflict that results in his return to action in 1918 and the wound that ended his military service.

5. Sherston’s Progress by Siegfried Sassoon (1945). Gift of Alexander Mackay-Smith.

The events in Sassoon’s own life and memoirs match those in Sherston’s closely, with the crucial difference, as Sassoon puts it, that “Sherston was a simplified version of my ‘outdoor self.’ He was denied the complex advantage of being a soldier poet” (Siegfried’s Journey, 69). As Sherston puts it, Fox-Hunting Man depends “solely on my experiences as a sportsman,” primarily as horseman, but also as cricketer and golfer. The War, ironically, will fix his one shortcoming: “I had never shot at a bird or an animal in my life, though I’d often felt that my position as a sportsman would be stronger if I were ‘a good man with a gun.’”

3. Horseman and Infantryman

Fox-Hunting Man first appeared anonymously and independently and quickly enjoyed wide acclaim.[3] The reading public in 1928, like many readers in sporting circles today, celebrated it as one of the gently ironic memoirs of fox-hunting published in great numbers in England and America between the wars. Sassoon nominally proffered it as such, but its final chapters, and the subsequent publication of Infantry Officer, make clear that he also intended to draw out parallels between hunting in England and soldiering in France.

Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon (1929).

The parallelism that Sassoon (and thus Sherston) develops is manifold, complex, nuanced, and ambivalent. It involves, among other things, landscape (rural hunt country and war-torn wasteland), organization (hunt hierarchy and military command), protocols  (hunt etiquette and military rules of procedure), horses (hunters and chargers), and, perhaps most important, the shared values of specialized knowledge and skill and of boldness and courage, and a shared recognition that some acts are irrevocable—Sherston’s facing a big hedge with the feeling “that I was ‘in for it’” foreshadows his feeling when “going over the top.”

At first look, Fox-Hunting Man and Infantry Officer set fox hunting and warfare in opposition. They contrast the freedom of fast and exhilarating movement on horseback over bright and broad fields dotted with woods, hedges, and fences with the confinement of cramped and terrified movement in dark and narrow trenches or on one’s belly through corpse strewn mud. At the same time, however, the books also place hunting and warfare in apposition. They call both hunting and warfare “inhumane” practices that enact ritual killing (albeit of different prey) and that entail attrition of men and horses (albeit incidental as opposed to intrinsic).

Fox-hunting comprises mounted humans following a canine pack chasing vulpine prey across a rural landscape. Sassoon links those essentials both literally and figuratively to corresponding aspects of the Great War. “Wire,” for example, shows up repeatedly in Fox-Hunting Man—in single strands hidden in hedges as “the most dangerous enemy of the hunting-man” and in tangled masses in no man’s land as fatal to wiring parties and wire-cutting patrols alike. The hunter Sherston unhorsed by hidden wire foreshadows the officer Sherston bereaved by a friend’s death on a wiring-party (fall from grace foreshadowing rise toward redemption).


4. Hunting and Warfare

If wire binds the parts of the trilogy, the parallelism of hunting and warfare provides its foundation—a parallel that Sassoon, clearly conflicted, both subverts with irony and enforces with nostalgia. Far from inventing this parallel, Sassoon is drawing on an idea prevalent in British military writing in the 17th through 19th centuries: fox-hunting as fit preparation for warfare and leadership in war.[4] While the idea retained vitality through the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, it became moribund as a serious proposition following the mass carnage of the Great War.[5]

For obvious reasons, writers applied the parallel primarily to cavalry, promoting the physical and mental demands of hunting as ideal preparation for the cavalry officer. That advocacy reached its high water mark in E.A.H. Alderson’s Pink and Scarlet, or Hunting as a School for Soldiering (1900), a work directly relevant to the Sherston trilogy since it treats hunting as preparation for “soldiering” in all arms. “The hunting man is already a more than half-made soldier,” Alderson contends, the beneficiary of the “things that hunting cannot help teaching, and the many, many things it may be made to teach if taken in the right way” (Alderson, vii, 13).

Pink and Scarlet or Hunting as a School for Soldiering by E. A. H. Alderson (1900) and Riding Recollections by G. J. Whyte-Melville (1878). Gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Sassoon’s trilogy picks up the basic idea as a trope. Tracking Sherston from hunting on an idyllic English landscape to killing on a hellish Western Front, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man strongly implies that hunting could have prepared no one for the uniquely modern horrors of the Great War. Yet Memoirs of an Infantry Officer intimates that hunting was precisely what equipped Sherston with the skill, boldness, and basic recklessness for his battlefield heroics, and Sherston’s Progress strongly implies that hunting also equipped him with the ethics, pluck, and moral courage that demanded and enabled his “progress” to antiwar activism.[6]

The Great War rendered mounted cavalry an anachronism, along with the idea of fox-hunting as preparation for cavalry (and for soldiering in general). A plethora of books published in the postwar moment, however, was reaffirming the fox-hunt as icon of a disappearing rural British culture and its traditional values. Ultimately more elegiac than ironic, Sassoon’s trilogy respected the icon and reflected and promoted the nostalgia. Sassoon, in short, revived a moribund British conflation of sports, notably field sports, and warfare; he buried that conflation under three volumes of irony; but, in the end, he resurrected it.

[1] Blunden’s Undertones of War (1928), Graves’s Goodbye to All That (1929), and Sassoon’s Complete Memoirs of George Sherston exemplify the genre. Their stature is no small matter, given the hundreds of Great War memoirs written by eminent British literary and military figures and by veterans and observers of lesser or no renown. For the latter, see Lengel, World War 1 Memories, and Donovan, In Memoriam. Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth (1933) exemplifies Great War memoirs not set at the Front.

[2] Sassoon’s non-fictional memoirs comprise The Old Century and Seven More Years (1938), The Weald of Youth (1942), and Siegfried’s Journey (1946). All six memoirs, those of Sassoon and those of Sherston, were based on extensive diaries kept by Sassoon during the war and its aftermath and posthumously published as Diaries, 1915-1918 (1983), Diaries, 1920-1922 (1981), and Diaries, 1923-1925 (1985).

[3] By 1928, Sassoon was an established and celebrated poet whose work often incorporated fox-hunting, such as the title poem of his first collection, The Old Huntsman and Other Poems (1917).

[4] To cite just two examples, Lewis Edward Nolan writes in Cavalry: History and Tactics (1853) that “the Englishman beats the world in a ride after the hounds and a run across country,” in what he calls “this manly sport—the best of all to form bold riders” (61), and Sir Evelyn Wood adds in Achievements of Cavalry (1897): “We have one incalculable advantage which no other nation possesses, in that our officers are able to hunt” (39).

[5] In the prewar Our Cavalry (1912), for example, M.F. Rimington assesses the right officer material: “We particularly want the hunting breed of man, because he goes into danger for the love of it” (159). And in Modern Cavalry (1922), Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, perhaps the most eloquent of the remaining postwar apologists for the idea, echoes Rimington: “The man who rides into danger for the love of it, the man who keenly enjoys cross-country going and polo, contains in his disposition the germs of success as a cavalry officer” (49).

[6] Sassoon writes in Siegfred’s Journey that his anti-war statement was “a moral equivalent of ‘going over the top,’” both actions “requiring moral courage” (52, 57).



Alderson, E.A.H. Pink and Scarlet, or Hunting as a School for Soldiering. London: Heinemann, 1900.

Donovan, Tom. In Memoriam: A Bibliography of the Personal Memorial Volumes of the Great War, 1914–1918. Brighton: Tom Donovan Editions, 2015.

Grimshaw, Anne. The Horse: A Bibliography of British Books 1851-1976. London: The Library Association, 1982.

Lengel, Edward. World War 1 Memories: An Annotated Bibliography of Personal Accounts Published in English since 1919. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004.

Nolan, Louis Edward. Cavalry: History and Tactics. 1853. Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2007.

Rimington, M.F. Our Cavalry. London: Macmillan, 1912.

Sassoon, Siegfried. Siegfried’s Journey. London: Faber & Faber, 1945.

Sassoon, Siegfried. The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston. London: Faber & Faber, 1937.

Wheeler-Nicholson, Malcolm. Modern Cavalry. New York: Macmillan, 1922.

Wood, Sir Evelyn. Achievements of Cavalry. London: George Bell & Sons, 1897.

caramelloCharles Caramello is John H. Daniels Fellow at the National Sporting Library & Museum and Professor of English at University of Maryland. He is working on a book called Horsemen, Horse Soldiers, and Grand Illusions.