Former friends present a donation given in memory of farrier Brendan Murray

Last month, we were pleased to welcome a delightful group of guests who kindly presented us with a cheque for £2,250, raised in memory of Brendan Murray, former farrier for the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery (RHA). Brendan lost a brave battle against cancer aged just 64. In addition, the 300 or so people who attended Brendan’s funeral made donations to the Royal Hospital, as well as a local Hospice, as we held a special place in his heart.

Our visitors were all in the King’s Troop RHA with Brendan, or married to Troop members. Chris Jones, who was in the Army for 22 years, now works as a ‘stallion man’ for Godolphin stables, Newmarket. Patrick Allen and his wife Kim generously donated to a charity auction held to raise funds in Brendan’s memory. Jock Reith, who came with his wife Terri, joined the Army as a boy soldier and became a trumpeter before being posted to the King’s Troop aged 17. From having no riding experience he progressed to the most senior equine management post of riding master. He later moved to an active gun regiment, where he became Command Post Officer as a sergeant, before ending service as a Warrant Officer. “Because it was a small, ceremonial unit, we were like family”, Patrick says, and they’ve kept in touch with regular reunions, organised by Terri and Jock. These have evolved into charity fundraisers with an auction and raffle.

Two Chelsea Pensioners who were in the King’s Troop RHA with Brendan also joined the presentation. George Marshall, recently moved to the Royal Hospital and helped to train Brendan as a farrier, while former groom Philip Carr met Jock when they were both in the Junior Leaders Regiment RA as 14-year-old boys, before being posted to the King’s Troop RHA together. He acted as George’s when he first came to the Royal Hospital.

From farriery to films

Brendan’s fascinating career included a stint at London Zoo, being farrier to the British Equestrian Olympic team for 26 years and working as a stunt rider and farrier in numerous films and TV series – from Steven Spielberg’s War Horse and Young Victoria to Downton Abbey and Bridgerton.

Other proud moments included being part of Princess Diana’s funeral cortege – he was responsible for securing the coffin to the funeral board above the gun, as well as being a brake man on the gun carriage – bearing the British flag for the opening ceremony of the 2010 Equestrian Games and working as the long-term show farrier for The London Horse Show at Olympia. Brendan was awarded the British Equestrian Medal of Honour for his outstanding contribution to the international equestrian world in 2010.

In addition to his stellar achievements, Brendan was a much-loved partner to Louise – who he planned to propose to shortly before he died – father to Melissa and Hannah and a valued friend to many – as our visitors and the Chelsea Pensioners who knew and worked with him attested.

Memories to treasure

Terri says that the knowledge and expertise of their friends has meant they’ve been lucky enough to have been recipients of some high-value, quality items. When Brendan died, his friends and former colleagues auctioned a range of items, from a magnificent horse’s head carved in wood, to signed memorabilia donated by jockeys at the Godolphin stud in Newmarket. As Chris Jones pointed out, the link between horses and the Royal Hospital goes back to Charles II, who had a keen interest in horse racing.

Horse’s head, carved in wood by chainsaw and auctioned in Brendan’s memory.

Our visitors had a range of roles in the King’s Troop RHA. Jock says that as an equitation officer he “had to make sure that anything ceremonial was right and safe. I was in charge of supervision, training and debriefing afterwards”.

Patrick says he began at the bottom:

“I started as a gunner, on foot with a lance, then worked my way up to being in charge of black horses. There were about 19 men, mainly gunners, who were the funeral team. They provide slow-pulling horses for funerals – we did Princess Diana’s and the Queen Mother’s ¬– and galloping horses for military shows and pageants. They do shows all over the world, as well as occasions like gun salutes at Hyde Park for visiting dignitaries, the Queen’s birthday and the Trooping of the Colour.”

Chris remembers coming to the Royal Hospital on Founder’s Day 1979, when he was serving:

“I was a young gunner, a marker. I had to stand at the end of a row with a sword, acting as an usher.”

Chelsea Pensioner George Marshall also remembers helping with security at Founder’s Day – once when Princess Diana attended and once when the visiting Royal was the Duchess of Kent.

“Brendan didn’t have a bad bone in his body”

George started his Army career with horses looking after polo ponies and then got invited to become a farrier. He later discovered that his grandfather had a similar job as a blacksmith in the pits, while his father was also in the military, as a cabinet-maker for the RAF.

He’s proud to have been the King’s Troop RHA’s fifth farrier since the regiment was renamed by King George VI in 1947. He told us what the job involves:

“It’s anything to do with shoeing horses and their feet and legs. You work closely with a vet. Farriers really get to know the horses and they get to know you. I worked with all the horses – there are six teams and about 12 spares. They’re normally chestnut or black – the blacks do funerals – and we had one palamino, called Boris! The horses mostly come from Ireland and are shod, stabled and trained from the word go. The smaller ones are called wheelers and act as the brakes. All the horses are very well looked after and the recognise all the trumpet calls – for exercise, food and parades. They’re very intelligent and you also get the comedy ones, who will pretend to be lame when they see the harness. I’d take them out of the pen and trot them up and down and they’d soon forget which leg was supposed to be lame!”

He first met Brendan when he was one of his instructors and they clicked immediately. George says Brendan’s extraordinary career was as much due to his personal charisma as his farrier skills:

“He fitted in from the word go. Brendan was the most calm person, he was honest and didn’t have a bad bone in his body. Everybody loved him. You couldn’t find a better man. He got on with everyone. We were mates and he was just a lad to me. It was a shock when I heard what happened. He died on the same day as the Queen, so the date will never be forgotten.”

When he became a Chelsea Pensioner, George met Phil and they “had a good chat” about their shared history in the King’s Troop RHA. He has settled in well, describing the Royal Hospital as “like a village”. George thinks Brendan would have teased him about becoming a Chelsea Pensioner – “he had a good sense of humour”, he remembers. However, he feels that the in memoriam donation to the place he now calls home is a fitting tribute to Brendan:

“Whatever it’s used for, it’s a nice thought that we’ve still got that link.”

From left to right: Jock Reith, George Marshall, Patrick Allen and Chris Jones.