Man's Best Friend
by Bonfire Jr., Guelph, Ontario

Bonfire Jr. the Horse

My ancestor was a wonderful horse named Bonfire. He was given as a gift to Dr. John McCrae. There were no jeeps to carry doctors and nurses to the wounded in the First World War. There were no helicopters to drop a doctor into a war zone. Bonfire would get the doctor where he had to be.

During the First World War millions of horses carried men into battle, delivered messages, and pulled equipment through fields, thick with sloppy mud and snow. Horses were hungry and tired, just like the soldiers they served, but they kept working.

Dr. McCrae sometimes rode on Bonfire when he just wanted time to himself. Away they would ride into the fields, or on a cold night, into the snow.

John McCrae wrote many letters to his family in Canada during the war. He often mentioned Bonneau, the abandoned dog he adopted overseas, and Bonfire. Here’s a piece of one letter:

“I have a very deep affection for Bonfire, for we have been through so much together, and some of it bad enough. All the hard spots to which one’s memory turns the old fellow has shared though he says so little about it.”

Dr. McCrae especially liked to write to his sister’s children. Sometimes he pretended the letter was written by Bonfire and drew a horseshoe at the bottom of the letter—Bonfire’s “signature.” The letter below is to his young nephew, Jack Kilgour.

October 1st, 1916

Did you ever eat blackberries? My master and I pick them every day on the hedges. I like twenty at a time. My leg is better but I have a lump on my tummy. I went to see my doctor today and he says it is nothing at all. I have another horse staying in my stable now; he is black and about half my size. He does not keep me awake at night.

Yours truly,

I am proud to say that Bonfire was my ancestor. When Dr. John McCrae became ill and died in 1918 (the same year the war ended), Bonfire proudly took part in his owner’s funeral procession and spent his final years in retirement.

Did you know?

Dr. John McCrae, Bonfire’s owner, was the Canadian who wrote the famous poem In Flanders Fields in 1915.

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