THE story of War Horse was first conceived in front of the log fire in the The Duke of York pub in Iddesleigh in the winter of 1980, after (or was it during?) a conversation with an old soldier from the First World War, Wilf Ellis, who first told me how it was to find himself as a young man in the trenches of Flanders.

He spoke as if he was seeing it all again in his mind’s eye, as if he recalled the faces of friend and foe alike, the camaraderie, and the pity.

I had read the great war poets, seen All Quiet on the Western Front, Oh! What a Lovely War. But here was someone who had been there.

Other old men in the village, Captain Budgett, a cavalryman, and Albert Weeks, told me more.

The more I heard, the more I felt that any story I might want to write about this war had to be written not from a British perspective, not even from a French or German or Belgian one.

It had to be the story of the suffering and grieving on all sides, military and civilian too. I needed to tell a story that reflected the universal pity of war.

In 1982, when it was published, the book was liked well enough by those who read it, but sadly, not many did read it, and all too few bought it. Reviews were ‘mixed’. The book was out to pasture on my backlist.

Then one morning, some 25 years later Tom Morris, an associate director from The National Theatre rings me up saying he’d like to make a play of War Horse, with puppets!

Absurd, I thought, but it’s the National Theatre, for goodness sake. Maybe they know what they’re doing. Then they showed me the work of Handspring Puppet Company. I heard the music of John Tams and Adrian Sutton, saw the set design of Rae Smith, read the scripts, saw the rehearsals. Yes, they did know what they were doing.

The play garnered awards by the dozen – unlike the book! And it’s now going on a tour to so many places from which young men left all those years ago to go to war, so many of them never to return. Their descendants will see a play that has been called ‘the greatest anthem to peace’ ever performed.

It has been wonderful enough for all this to happen, but for the play to go to Berlin was truly momentous, and timely too.

It was 2014, a hundred years since German soldiers marched away to fight in France and Belgium, since British soldiers went across the Channel to confront them, a hundred years after the beginning of arguably the most terrible of all wars, ‘the war to end all wars’, in which over 10 million soldiers on all sides perished, and 10 million horses too, a British play about the First World War was performed in Berlin by German actors,

I have lived all my life in a postwar world, post both World Wars, though many consider them to be in effect one war with a 20-year interruption. My childhood was lived amongst the ruins of bombed-out London. As I grew up I heard stories of pride, of heroism and cruelty, of grief and loss.

I played war games in amongst the ruins, shot Germans by the hundred, until I began to realise that in war there is suffering and loss on both sides, that anger lives on through grief, and that it is anger that leads so often to the next war.

I learned also that it is rare for war to solve anything, and that we go to war because words and common sense and human kindness and mutual respect have failed us. In Europe, we have at long last, I hope, learned this, and at a terrible cost.

Now we argue about currency, and sausages, and agriculture, and fishing and football. The frontiers have gone. Our children and our grandchildren are hardly aware they are there. The bitterness and the anger has passed and we try to find common cause whenever we can, and when we can’t, we agree to disagree.

I go often to Ypres to research my stories, and whenever I do I make a point of visiting the War Cemeteries. I am struck always how many British people are there, Australians too, and Canadians, and New Zealanders, but how very few Germans are there. Yet their fathers and sons, their brothers and uncles, who left their homes a hundred years ago died in even greater numbers than ours.

Their boys went to war for much the same reasons ours did, patriotism, pride, for adventure, because they were told to.

Their deaths were as terrible, the sense of loss at home just as grievous. Yet it would seem that even now, the shadow of the Hitler War does not allow them to remember, as we do, those who died in the First World War.

The last of the old soldiers, theirs and ours, of the First World War, are now all gone. There are fewer every year who knew and loved them. The hurt and anger, the grieving and the guilt is passing. In their place is a growing respect between the nations, and a determination to forge reconciliation and understanding.

If the play of War Horse, and the book and the film too, can play a small part in this new beginning, then I shall be a happy man.

War Horse, the Lowry, Wednesday, June 13 to Saturday, June 30. Details from 0843 208 6005 or