Sometimes chance has a way of shining a light on something, or indeed, someone, that you have previously been oblivious to, but , when you do discover it, or them, it has a profound effect on you. It was just such a chance, in the shape of a couple of randomly selected Talking Books, sent to me from the RNIB’s Talking Book Library, which lead to me discovering the story of one of the most fascinating, and to me personally, inspirational, people i have come across. As we are approaching Remembrance Sunday, and this gentleman was a soldier, Who was injured during World War II, and subsequently held as a prisoner of war, I thought it might be relevant to tell his story here.
Many of you may already be familiar with his name, but until about 20 years ago, when the books ‘ Leopard, the Story of my Horse’ and ‘Soldiering On’ landed on my doormat, in the form of two Daisy Talking Books, I had never heard of Col. Sir Michael Ansell.
A career soldier and committed horseman, Mike Ansell was commissioned into the Enneskillans after passing out from Sandhurst in 1924. During The 1930s, he not only served as a cavalry officer, gaining command by 1935, but was also a successful showjumper and international polo player. . During World War II Mike Ansell became The British Army’s youngest commanding officer, when in 1940, he was given the command of the first Lothian and borders horse. Shortly after this he was awarded the DSO. Sadly though, he was injured, in what would now be called, A friendly fire incident, and was subsequently taken as a prisoner of war.
In 1943 Mike Ansell was repatriated. He went on to have an illustrious, and highly influential career in the field of equestrianism.
Shortly after his repatriation, Mike Ansell was invited to become the chair of the British Showjumping Association, and has been credited with revitalising the sport. From 1945 until 1957, not only was Mike Ansell Chair of the British Show Jumping Association, but he also Chaired the British Horse Society. Mike Ansell restarted the Royal International Horse Show, and initiated The Horse of the Year Show. He was also the first Chair of the British Equestrian Federation.
Away from horses, Mike Ansell became the High Sheriff of Devon, living in Bideford, not a million miles away from us here in Shebbear. He was also the president of St Dunston’s. Now, here’s the thing, the reason why I am so interested in, fascinated by, inspired by, and, frankly, in awe of this incredible man, is because Mike Ansell’s support of St Dunston’s, now Blind Veterans UK, came from a very personal place. Mike Ansell was blind. The accident which lead to him being taken prisoner, not only resulted in him losing all of the fingers on his left hand, it permanently, and totally, blinded him.
All the work which Mike Ansell did for BSJA, BHS, and BEF, as well as the work the Royal International Horse Show and Horse of the Year Show, his work as High Sheriff of Devon, and as President of St Dunston’s, was all achieved after he lost his sight. He also wrote several books, one of which was, at the time, reputed to be the definitive work on Show Jumping. All of this was done without the benefit of the technological advances which make things so much more accessible for blind and visually impaired people, like me, today. He was a truly remarkable person.
Col. Sir Michael Picton Ansell CBE, DSO, 26th March 1905 – 17th February 1994
I salute you Sir.