Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Dragoon of Cookstown

Earlier this fall, Dumpdiggers met knowledgeable historian Steve Graham, the proprietor of The Dragoon, a toy soldier shop at 8-02 Queen Street, the main street of Cookstown, Ontario.

The walls of Steve’s amazingly well organized military toy store are lined with autographed 8x11 photos of movie stars, underneath snapshots of these same famous actors as soldiers on period piece film sets where Steve worked as a historical consultant. Mr. Graham is a good talker and his best stories are peppered with anecdotes about British military history, and the realities of fighting and winning battles in the Age of Imperialism. He's a real treasure, and his passion is 100% genuine.

Steve Graham S.C.,C.D is a world class military toy soldier collector and dealer – his toy store in Cookstown is filled with thousands of little metal soldiers, all wearing the brightly coloured uniforms of the greatest nations in the greatest battles throughout history. He has models of historic British ships of the line, great American warplanes and famous German WWII tanks. One entire wall dedicated to all manner of military books and magazines. But best of all, Steve also collects and sells dug relics!

Steve has a large display case full of civil war bayonets, belt buckles and buttons that must have been sprung from some metal detectorists somewhere in his travels.

When asked to name his greatest prize, Steve turned and used a small key to unlock the top drawer of a desk at the back of his shop.

‘Do you know what this is?' he asked me, a sly smile growing under his mustache as he held out a horse’s hoof, complete with a metal shoe, and a brass plate nailed to the top on which there was a skull and crossbones inscription bearing the words ‘5th Dragoons'

What is it?

This is how a British mounted officer honoured and remember his dead horse. ‘His best friend no doubt’ said Steve as he pointed to a map of the eastern Mediterranean on which the great land and sea battles of the Crimean War were properly outlined.

The horse’s hoof is an equestrian military relic evidencing a code that once existed between a man and his horse - its testament to the close personal relationship between European cavalry officers and their mounts in the 1800s.

‘Was it customary for Dragoons to enshrine the hoofs of their animals killed in battle?’ I asked, and Steve shrugged ‘I don’t suppose it was customary mate, otherwise there’d be a whole lot more of them.’

What’s it worth?

When I asked Steve that unfortunate but essential question he said ‘Oh maybe a thousand dollars, but it’s not something I’d ever sell.' Steve's passion for history and military honour has affixed itself to this object; his honour keeps him bound to the relic as its sole preservationist.

The Charge of the Light Brigade - Steve Graham reckons its very possible the animal enshrined in this 153 year old British Military relic died in the disastrous cavalry charge led by Lord Cardigan during the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854 in the Crimean War. It's best remembered as the subject of a famous poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, whose lines immortalize the action as a symbol of warfare at both its most courageous, and its most tragic.


geerte said...

Your blog is very interesting! I have added it to my blogroll, and am looking forward to many interesting posts from you! :)

Basje from the 19th Century Blog

Rob Campbell said...

Your blog is very interesting too!
I was thinking about adding a blog roll so I could add 19th Century Blog to it! I mean it - i hope to visit 19th Century a lot in the future.