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Sefton the horse (or 'Sharky' to his friends, as he had a habit of biting), a black nag of the Household Cavalry was simply doing his duty one summer morning when the world around him collapsed.
On Tuesday 20 July, 1982, at 10.44am, a nail bomb was detonated by remote control in a blue Morris Marina on South Carriage Drive, Hyde Park just as the Queen's Lifeguard (a detachment of the Household Cavalry), was passing on its way from Knightsbridge Barracks to Horse Guards Parade. Regimental farriers1 sprinted from their barracks when they heard the explosion and, working desperately as there was fear of another bomb being detonated, the men searched for survivors amongst the devastation. A Knightsbridge hairdresser described the scene:
I ran across and it was just a carnage of horses, a pile of men and horses with blood spurting from their wounds.
Regimental commander, Lt Col Andrew Parker-Bowles2, raced to the scene on foot. Arriving quickly he met a groom leading a severely wounded horse, Sefton. Blood gushed from a huge hole in the horses neck and Parker-Bowles immediately told the groom to take off his shirt and stuff it into the wound. Unfortunately the groom had sustained his own injury in the bomb blast, a four-inch nail pierced the man's hand. Another man sacrificed his shirt and helped staunch the blood flowing from Sefton's neck. Sefton suffered 28 separate wounds to his body from the nail bombs, while another seven horses and two soldiers of the Queen's Lifeguard were killed in the blast.
Later in the day, at a little before 1.00pm, another bomb was detonated underneath a bandstand in Regent's Park as the Royal Greenjackets played music from the musical Oliver! to tourists and spectators. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) admitted carrying out the attacks in a statement that echoed Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's declaration of war on Argentina over the disputed Falklands:
The Irish people have sovereign and national rights which no task or occupational force can put down.
The British and Irish prime ministers (Margaret Thatcher and Garrett FitzGerald respectively) condemned the attacks as:
callous and cowardly crimes.
In October 1987, physics graduate Gilbert McNamee was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for conspiracy to cause explosions, but was later released in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
Sefton went through an eight hour stint of surgery to remove as much of the shrapnel from the bomb blast as possible. The media at the time marvelled at the bravery of this horse and Sefton became a household name. Already 19 years old at the time, he was not a young horse and letters, cards and even cubes of sugar were sent to him by well-wishers and concerned members of the public.
Sefton retired from military service to The Home of Rest for Horses in Buckinghamshire shortly after the bombings. He was often visited there, along with Echo and Yeti, two other equine survivors of the attack. Sefton lived there until 1993, where due to his injuries from the bomb he had become incurably lame. He was unfortunately put down at the grand age of thirty. However, Household Cavalry tradition dictates that horse's names are re-used and Sefton's memory will always live on.
Sefton will also be remembered through the British Horse Society Sefton Awards, given to people who make significant contributions to equestrian safety, set up in 1984. Also in honour of Sefton is the Sefton Equine Referral Unit, a part of the Department of Farm Animal and Equine Medicine and Surgery at the Royal Veterinary College.
'Sefton' The Story of a Cavalry Horse by JNP Watson.