Shortly before his death at the Battle of Ypres in June 1917 the young Lieutenant Leonard Comer Wall made one very special request.
The 20-year-old’s wish was that, should he was killed in action, his campaign medals and decorations be buried with his faithful horse Blackie.
That moving final request was fulfilled when Blackie died years later and was buried, in Halewood, Liverpool, at the site of a horse sanctuary where he was seeing out his final days.
Now Blackie’s grave is to become the centerpiece of a new housing development, following a public campaign to save it for posterity.
The grave had been threatened with demolition after the closure of an RSPCA animal centre built on the site of the horse sanctuary.
Historic England intervened to give Blackie’s grave a Grade II listing, making it the only resting place of a First World War horse to be protected in this way.
In order to prevent any future threat to the grave Knowsley Council has now released plans for it to become the focal point of a proposed new housing development.
The grave will be incorporated into a striking memorial to Blackie set amid a wild flower meadow, with its own pedestrian and cycle route to encourage visitors to view the site.
A spokeswoman for Knowsley council, who have promised to “protect and enhance” Blackie’s grave within its draft masterplan for the new estate, said: “We are consulting with three developers at the moment, but the grave of Blackie the war horse is going to be preserved on its original site, so it can’t be demolished or moved.
“We are going to make a big deal of it, with commemorative public art erected around the grave. The site has such strong cultural and historical significance, it is going to be a key area of public open space including an area for memorial services and wild meadow planting that will celebrate the story and history of Blackie.”
The grave was listed by Historic England in December 2017 after a member of the public contacted it raising concerns over the proposed redevelopment of the RSPCA owned land, following the planned closure of the animal welfare charity’s Halewood branch.
Blackie’s story of duty and devotion had long resonated with the people of Liverpool.
He was born around 1905 and belonged to Lieutenant Wall, a war poet from Kirby who was posted to the Western Front in September 1915 after obtaining a commission with the 275th Brigade Royal Field Artillery ‘A’ Battery, 55th West Lancashire Division.
Wall was killed while riding Blackie at Ypres on 9th June 1917 and though his horse sustained severe shrapnel injuries during the battle, he nonetheless remained in front line service for the remainder of the conflict, one of an estimated eight million horses that served during the First World War.
By 1918 he had seen action in the battles of the Somme, Ypres, Aras and Cambrai.
Horse like Blackie were integral to the war effort, performing cavalry roles but also pulling ambulances, moving supplies, guns and equipment.
The vast majority died, and their value was such that some troops were told that losing a horse was a more significant loss in tactical terms than losing a human soldier.
At the end of the devastating conflict Lieutenant Wall’s mother Kate bought Blackie from the Army and lent him to the Territorial Riding School in Liverpool. His tasks included leading the city’s May Day Horse Parade with another former war horse called Billy.
Blackie retired in 1930 and went to live at the Horses Rest in Halewood where he remained until his death in 1942, when Wall’s medals were buried with him.
The faithful horse’s death struck a chord across wartime Britain, receiving coverage in the local Liverpool Daily Post as well as the Gloucester Citizen, Portsmouth Evening News, and Dundee Evening Telegraph.
Lieutenant Wall is buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery in West Flanders, close to Blackie’s groom Francis Frank Wilkinson, who was killed in action the day before Wall.
Historic England said it would expect to be formally consulted by Knowsley council over the memorial plans, especially if they involved moving the site of the grave itself.
A spokeswoman for Historic England said: “Blackie’s grave marks where he spent his final years at the Liverpool Horse’s rest and we believe the bones are still in this location, so that would need to be a consideration. It would also be a case of whether moving it is necessary, or if the developers could work around the grave and potentially enhance it.”