At the outbreak of the First World War, Munnings attempted to enlist but was declared unfit for service due to blindness in one eye. Through Paul Konody, the art critic on the Daily Mail and Observer, he was appointed to go with a group of artists, including Augustus John and William Orpen, to France to record on canvas typical scenes for the Canadian War Records. He was attached to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade under the command of General Seeley (later Lord Mottistone) and was sent to their headquarters in Northern France on the front line near the Omignon River.
Although he was not intended to join the front line he remained to paint the horses in action until the German offensive of April 1918. The casualness of the composition of the present work is in contrast to the real nature of war. Munnings has depicted a calm moment amid the destruction. Always sensitive to the hardships of thousands of horses during wartime, many of his wartime pictures show moments of compassion and caring between the troopers and their horses. Munnings painted a similar line of horses (A.J. Munnings, An Artist's Life, Bungay, 1950, illustrated opposite p. 288), and he writes of the painting, 'I had been painting each patient head, with eyes blinking in the sun' (op. cit., p. 307).
He produced many drawings and watercolours during this time, and forty five were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1919. This exhibition may well have accelerated Munnings's election to associate membership in 1919, and certainly established him as a painter of consequence.
The Hardy Collection: Paintings and Watercolours by Sir Alfred Munnings, P.R.A. was offered at Christie's London, 9 November 1989, lots 147-160 and realised £994,950, at that time, a world record for a single owner collection of works by Sir Alfred Munnings at auction. On 12 June 2002, Christie's London offered The Bunting Collection of Works by Sir Alfred Munnings, lots 1-21 which realised £5,848,389. This group were considered to be the last major collection of early works by Munnings still in private hands.