In a moving ceremony that brought back memories for soldiers and veterans, a life-size bronze statue of the Household Cavalry’s most famous terrorist bombing survivor has been unveiled at the Royal Veterinary School in Hertfordshire.
Sefton served with the British army from 1967 to 1984, and became a symbol of resilience when, despite the odds, he survived an IRA nail bomb that killed four soldiers and seven horses in Hyde Park on 20 July 1982.
He and the 14 other horses and accompanying soldiers from the Household Cavalry’s Blues and Royals had just ridden out from their Barracks in Knightsbridge to perform the daily ceremony of the Queen’s Life Guard at Horse Guards Parade when they were targeted.
Less than two hours later, another bomb planted under a bandstand in Regent’s Park killed seven Army bandsmen from the Royal Green Jackets, on a day that claimed more casualties than any other IRA attack on mainland Britain. More than 50 people were injured in the attacks and the newspaper photographs of dead and dying horses became the most enduring images of the Troubles.
Sefton was one of the most severely injured of the horses, his jugular having been severed by shrapnel, but the Regiment’s Veterinary Officer, who was one of the first on the scene, stuffed the wound with an Army shirt and was able to stem the blood loss sufficiently to allow him to operate and save the horse.
Sefton had 34 injuries and underwent surgery for more than eight hours – a record for equine surgery at the time – to remove 28 pieces of shrapnel from his body. Remarkably, within three months Sefton was back in Knightsbridge on duty, his wounds healed, his coat regrown. His strength of character was an inspiration to people across the world and he received mailbags full of fan mail and donations.
Captured his spirit
The donations funded the Sefton Equine Hospital at the RVC which has now been replaced with a state of the art medical facility which treats the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment’s horses whenever the need arises.
The new statue has been erected beside it as a lasting memory.
Those who knew him, treated him, and rode him were present at the Royal Veterinary School for the official unveiling of the statue by artist Camilla Le May (pictured with the statue) who spent weeks studying Sefton’s equine colleagues at Hyde Park Barracks in preparation for the final sculpture.
They were all in agreement that she had captured his spirit. Camilla spent two years working on the project and six months making the sculpture which weighs three quarters of a ton. Beside the statue’s hoof lies a six inch nail, a reminder of the bomb that caused so much devastation. But Camilla explained that the nail is lying harmless behind the horse to symbolise how he and the unit triumphed over adversity and moved on.
Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles who was the Household Cavalry’s Commanding Officer at the time of the IRA attack and treated the men and horses at the scene, said: “It has been wonderful to see this work from its beginnings and now seemingly to be meeting an old friend again. I remember Sefton for his courage and also for his spirit. For me, he epitomises the finest qualities we see in our armed forces.”
Lieutenant Colonel Richard Pope, Commanding Officer of the Defence Animal Centre at Melton Mowbray, was a young veterinary nurse at the time of the bombing and treated Sefton during his recovery. He said: “Sefton was one of a number of horses from the bombing who came to the DAC for treatment and long term care. He was, like all the horses who survived, badly injured.
"The shrapnel caused some large wound injuries and he and the other horses also had to recover from the shock they suffered in the incident. Working Army animals are very fit, they are in good condition physically, which meant they were well placed to deal with the trauma that happened and we made sure they got the very best care.”
'Remarkable piece of work'
Lieutenant Colonel Paul Bedford is the current Commanding Officer of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment and was presented with a limited edition bronze maquette of the statue. He said: "Today, as they do every day, the Household Cavalry rode out from Hyde Park Barracks to perform the Queen’s Life Guard Ceremony. Every day as they do so they pass and pay their respects to the monument that now stands to those who fell on that day in 1982.
"This weekend soldiers from the Household Cavalry Regiment will be returning home as the unit completes six tours in Afghanistan. We are uncowed, we recover and carry on. This is an important day for us to be here to see this statue unveiled.
"We are very grateful. It’s a remarkable piece of work. And I want to thank you on behalf of the Regiment for all the work that you at the Royal Veterinary College do to support us, our horses, and for this magnificent maquette."
Hall of Fame
Sefton became one of the first horses to be placed in the British Horse Society's equestrian Hall of Fame, and after retiring in 1984 he went to live in the Home of Rest for Horses, a sanctuary near Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, with two other horses that survived the blast.
The statue was commissioned to honour one of the Royal Veterinary College's longest-serving senior academics, Prof Peter Lees, who retired in 2010 and has worked tirelessly to create better pain relief for animals. It was funded and unveiled by honorary fellow Lord Ballyedmond.