ON September 15, 2017, War Horse began an extensive UK tour at The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury. And thereby hangs a tale or two.

My mother and father were acting in rep at The Marlowe in 1938. I believe it was where they fell in love and decided to get married. They were young, and no doubt full of hope for the future. The Second World War was to blight their lives and their marriage. I grew up in a family scarred by war. This was, I am sure, why I came to write War Horse all those years ago, why peace and war have been at the heart of so many stories I have written before and since.

My mother was the first to give me my love of stories. She read to me every night - Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories was her favourite and mine. She read them with a passion, bringing the characters to life, playing with the language as she read. She acted out those stories to me, made bedtime a joy. I cannot read The Just So Stories without hearing her voice in my head.

Whatever we become or whatever we achieve in this life, we only do it with the help and inspiration of others, our benefactors. My mother gave me my love of stories, and a teacher or two at my school. Then there was my friend Ted Hughes, who kept me writing when things were not going well; and I owe much to my own children and the children I taught in school, who became my first readers and listeners.

My wife Clare is always my first reader and editor, and who always thought War Horse was my best book. She was right, it seems. She must be, because Joey has trotted on all these years, in one guise or another, as a book, a play, in concert form, as a film. Now when I write another book, I am "the author of War Horse".

During an eight year run in London, this now iconic National Theatre play toured in the UK, in the US, in Europe, in Australia, Japan and China, and played to over seven million people worldwide. This tour marks the tenth anniversary of the play, which opened at the National Theatre on the October 9, 2007.

The story was first conceived in front of the log fire in the The Duke of York pub in Iddesleigh in Devon 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 and 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 publishers, Egmont, bless their hearts, kept it in print. 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, in which over ten million soldiers on all sides perished, and ten million horses too.

I have lived all my life in a post-war world, post both World Wars, though many consider them to be in effect one war with a twenty-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.

The last of the old soldiers 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, Sunderland Empire, Wednesday, February 6-23.

* warhorseonstage.com