'For the Want of a Horse the Rider was Lost. For the Want of a Rider the Battle was lost'

Fortunio Matania

Image: Painting by Fortunio Matania, November 1922

Contents

List of Abbreviations
Acknowledgements

List of Illustrations and Tables

  • Chart to show the % loss of horses from all causes during shipping in 1915.
  • A table showing examples of diseases horses may encounter in a sample of categories.
  • An example of an Army Veterinary Corps hospital form for the return of sick and injured horses to the front, taken from number seven veterinary hospital.
  • Photo one attached to the back of this dissertation, showing a mange bath. (See relevant foot note for reference).
  • Photo two attached to the back of this dissertation, showing the use of pack animals. (See relevant foot note for reference).
  • Photo three attached to the back of this dissertation, showing an RSPCA newspaper advertisement. (See relevant foot note for reference).

List of Abbreviations

  • AVC Army Veterinary Corps.
  • AVS Army Veterinary Service.
  • BEF British Expeditionary Force.
  • HD Heavy Draught (horse).
  • LD Light Draught (horse).
  • MVS Mobile Veterinary Section.
  • NCO Non – Commissioned Officer.
  • RFA Royal Field Artillery.
  • RSPCA Royal society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

(Please note – some of the primary source footnoting does not include page numbers. This is either because the source was not numbered or because it is a single page from a larger file or box).

'We are told there's a God counts the Sparrows, and when each of them fall. But he must have forgotten the horses though his son was born in a stall.' – Anonymous 1918.

Introduction

The unsung hero of the Western Front in World War One is the British horse.

Notwithstanding that over eight million horses died in the Great War from 1914 to 1918 on all fronts [1], the tendency of the historian is either to bypass that role, because either it is thought to be fairly insignificant, or to conjure up images of useless and wasteful cavalry charges stubbornly and persistently used as an out-dated tactic by incompetent generals such as Sir Douglas Haig.[2] Neither is true. What is true is that British horses in the Great War played a wide variety of crucial and increasingly effective and efficient roles. There can be little doubt that, irrespective of the developments of any kind of mechanisation, the British war effort, and indeed the prospect of victory, would have been seriously compromised, if the horse had not played the roles it did.

The importance of the horse is demonstrated by the logistical efforts that went into the development of horse use, such as personnel, planning, time, training, railways, shipping, food and equipment, which were vast and expensive. Indeed it is difficult to comprehend how the British War Office could have continued with this huge endeavor if the role of the horse had not been so central to the overall war effort.

Perhaps the modern historian tends to bypass or forget the role horses played in the Great War as their role in warfare today is virtually non – existent. Thus, whilst the subject of which type of mechanisation helped the British win the war (perhaps partly because military historians have been obsessed with technology as the primary determinate of causation within their discipline) the role of horses has been seriously neglected.[3] Considering that approximately eight million horses were killed in the entirety of the war, and 265,000 on the Western Front alone, it is hard to understand why this is so.[4]

The aim of this dissertation therefore, is to remedy this neglect and to argue how, through the development of horse management, contemporaries attached far greater importance to the use of the horse than is generally understood, to the point that they played a vital supportive role to mechanisation and the war effort. It will also argue how the use of horses underwent a significant improvement throughout World War One, undergoing a learning curve in their management, in much the same way as the infantry.

The chapters that follow will focus on the different aspects and institutions of horse management in order to examine the evidence of the improving and developing efficiency and effectiveness of the use of horses and their management on the Western Front. This evidence will demonstrate just how crucial the role of the British horse was in World War One, regardless of any mechanisation, to the point it became a major factor to be considered in contributing to the Allied victory. Erich Ludendorff [5] bitterly laments in his memoirs that the equine resources of the central powers were small and limited and, as his orders given during the war indicate, he had a burning desire to capture some of, what he called, the 'beautiful British horses' to use for transport purposes.[6]

In short, although World War One was mechanised in terms of the development of the airplane, tank and artillery, argued by Jonathan Bailey as being the factor that won the war for the British, the horse had a hugely important supportive role to play in this mechanisation process, as evidenced by the massive expense, personnel and effort that went into their care.

This dissertation does not in any way seek to play down the importance of mechanisation in World War One. Its evolution throughout the war has been discussed at great length by historians. It is no secret that the Great War caused rapid developments in all areas of technology and tactics.[7] Some have attributed the surge in technological advancements of 1918 as being one of the principal factors that lead to a British victory. Yet, in reality, it was the use of large amounts of traditional and semi – traditional technology that ended the war.[8] As to this, Paddy Griffith has argued that prior to July 1916 the British were unprepared for the wholly novel nature of industrialized warfare and, after this date, a veritable revolution in technique took place in many of the supporting arms and services.[9] The British were at the forefront of innovation in the fields of artillery and tank concentration, but, there were still numerous technological problems that occurred with mechanisation that did not undermine dependency on the horse. For example, gas was disliked as a weapon as it was risky to its own side to use and it was cumbersome to place the cylinders in the correct position. Also, machine gunners felt detached from infantry and did not feel as if they had the experience to fight with flexibility. Tim Travers' argument that the tank was a key weapon in contributing to the success of the British is no longer as valid. The tank was not the key to a decisive breakthrough on the Western Front; they were beset with problems such as being slow, having a limited endurance time, being unable to navigate and giving their crew an uncomfortable and noisy ride. Their only significant success was at Cambrai in November 1917, but even then the Tank Corps complained too few were available to mount a decisive breakthrough, and it was actually artillery superiority which greatly aided this success. In short, tanks were by no means revolutionary in their impact on war.[10] Although it is a generally accepted view that the artillery was a decisive component in securing a British victory, even this did not undergo a tactical watershed until 1917 [11]. In any case, the artillery would not have been able to function properly without the use of gun teams and transport horses and with the increased use of artillery, the transportation capacity of the rear areas were tested to their limits.[12]

There were three principal uses of the British horse on the Western Front; cavalry, the gun and transport horse, and the pack animal. Historiography has been unkind to the role of cavalry in World War One. Many historians still believe that cavalrymen were either passive spectators to the fighting or its most reckless and incompetent victims.[13] Yet, as Gervase Phillips notes, it was not yet completely possible to substitute machines for horses and most of the Great Powers chose to keep significant cavalry forces even after the end of the war.[14] David Lloyd George[15] had long been skeptical of the usefulness of the cavalry, blasting Haig's and his staff's 'ridiculous cavalry obsession'[16] and after the pointlessness of the 27,500 strong cavalry at Cambrai in November 1917, he called for its disbandment.[17] The cavalry was reduced in 1917, but as cabinet minutes stated, 4,600 of these reductions depended on suitable mechanical replacements.[18] Even some cavalry men were not unaware of the futility at times of the use of the cavalry. At the Battle of Cambrai in 1917, a lieutenant of the cavalry brigade remarked in his memoirs that the futility of the idea of using cavalry at Cambrai was gauged by the fact that ammunition was being carried across the battlefield by pack animals, thus to use cavalry seemed ridiculous.[19] But, Haig believed that the increase in artillery would demoralize enemy infantry and thus facilitate the use of cavalry to attack them.[20] This is fairly logical, but perhaps what is not so is Haig's belief that cavalry would be able to travel the battlefield at a much faster rate than infantry, without being hampered by the rifle. Unfortunately this was quite obviously not the case, yet it does not necessarily stem from Harris' argument that Haig's motive for using cavalry was his excessive devotion to the army of service from which Haig himself came.[21]

On the Somme, on 1 July 1916, Haig did consider a mass breakthrough created by artillery and the infantry that the cavalry would be able to exploit, and as such had three cavalry divisions brought up to the front. Yet as John Keegan argues, they were neither expected to, nor did they, play any part on 1 July or any other day in 1916.[22] However, there were, as Badsey argues, even throughout the immobile period of 1915 to 1918, small groups of around ten to one hundred cavalry that were still used as a viable tactic to perform offensive operations, being, on the whole, successful. Far from being an anachronistic or irrelevant instrument of the Great War, cavalry still remained the only conceivable instrument of breakthrough, even as late as 1918.[23]

The gun and transport horse was the most numerous, and important to the British.[24] Horses on the Western Front were imperative in transporting materials to the front line; although there were vehicles such as lorries, these were still relatively new to warfare and prone to problems such as breaking down or, especially in Ypres, getting stuck in the deep mud. Horses were far more reliable as a transport method and would be able to travel over areas unthinkable to a lorry, far better. Even the Royal Engineers required horses for cable wagon teams; horses would pull the wagons that laid the cable, whilst all the cable team would be mounted.[25] Pack animals, usually small ponies and mules, carried ammunition and supplies when wheeled traffic was unable to cross certain parts of the front line. Pack animals would either be kept specifically for this purpose, or be dismounted wagon horses lead in pairs by their normal driver.[26] There are numerous accounts of wagons carrying rations being unable to cross heavily shelled roads, due to becoming stuck in the holes. Thus, pack animals, horses without wagons, took over this vital role; they would carry two panniers containing five or six rounds of ammunition, slung either side of them.[27] Here is an obvious example of when the use of horses was absolutely necessary in continuing the British war effort. Interestingly, pack animals were also used when there was only one road to the front line and as such the use of horses pulling carts would be too noisy, attracting enemy attention.[28]

Thus, although the role of the cavalry collectively was limited, the gun and transport horse was indispensible to the British war effort on the Western Front. It was the recognition of the place of these horses in the Great War that lead to the creation, development and continual improvement of an efficient, smooth – running, bureaucratic, and mighty war horse machine.

'Horses were employed on a scale which could never have been dreamed of' – Captain Sidney Galtrey, 1918

Recruitment

The effective recruitment of horses was crucial to the whole war effort; without a constant supply of good horses, the British army would have been virtually immobile. The procurement process therefore had to be organised and fast, in order to meet the sudden, and huge, demand for horses. In the event, within just a few months of the war's commencement, the recruitment and training of horses had been honed into a highly successful process, largely due to the efforts of the Army Veterinary Corps. The fore-sight of the war authorities was equally impressive with the result there were never any serious problems in the mobilization of horses, in contrast to the Germans who suffered grave shortages at the hands of the Belgians, who destroyed many of their horses.[29]

When war was declared in August 1914 the British Army only had 23,000 horses, but this figure quickly grew to 53,000 by the time the British Expeditionary Force was first despatched to France in September 1914. The process of mobilisation was continuous; from August 1914 to the middle of 1918 approximately 400,000 horses were brought into Britain, the rest being sent straight to France.[30] Eminent veterinary practitioners in reserve such as Major Hobday were called up to collaborate with remount officers (officers who dealt with the recruitment of horses) and were initially forced to purchase a large proportion of remounts (horses recruited for war) from civilians and large commercial firms, for extortionate prices, as the animal strength of mobilising units had to be augmented quickly.[31] Consequently, demand at horse sales increased and prices doubled.[32] Later on, horses were also recruited from British horse breeding societies and from the Board of Fisheries and Agriculture. Throughout the entirety of the war, the Director of Remounts would call upon this Board for extra horses when short, usually at the expense of civilians, especially hunt masters. Hunt masters belonged to a scheme that put them under obligation to keep a list of potential army horses for the inspection of the District Remount Officers, in order to furnish 5,000 of the 6,000 reserves the army required on a permanent basis.[33]

However, Britain alone could never have supplied enough horses to meet the war demand, and although 165,000 horses were impressed in Britain in the first twelve days of war, other sources of supply had to be sought.[34] Ultimately, two thirds of British war horses were sourced from overseas, principally from areas controlled or influenced by Allied powers, mainly America and Canada, which had large supplies of horses that were well suited for the war effort; principally, the light draught horse. In 1914 there were 24,000,000 horses in America alone[35] and from 1914 to 1918 over 700,000 horses were purchased by the British Army from America and Canada, for all fronts, thus demonstrating how much Britain relied on these two countries.[36]

Immediately, an efficient and effective process for buying horses from abroad was instituted. When it first became apparent, in October 1914, that horses would have to be purchased from further afield, Major-General Sir Frederick W. Benson gained permission from the War Office to proceed to Canada and form a British Remount Commission to create a system of purchasing horses, staffed by ten officers.[37] This operation was not fully realised as more purchasing staff had to be employed straight away, who had the necessary experience and qualifications to examine and acquire potential purchases, as well as depot commanders, financial experts and veterinary officers.

The actual buying process overseas consisted of several stages to ensure only the best horses were sent to aid the British war effort. To begin with, the Commission immediately stipulated that horses were only to be purchased from reputable horses dealers, such as those with well- known show yards in large towns. Following this early decision, the British generally received good horses for fair prices. Even so, at the outbreak of hostilities, the price of horses suitable for the war effort increased by twenty dollars, and untrained horses, by seventeen.[38] The total amount of taxpayers' money spent on purchasing horses during 1914 to 1918, from all sources, ran well into seven figures, itself a strong indication of the importance of horses and extent of their use. [39]

The main cities that the British purchased their horses from were Newport News, New Orleans, St. Louis, Lathrop, Kansas City, (which provided the most) Chicago and Boston in America, and Windsor, Montreal, Toronto and Halifax in Canada, which all had a number of reputable dealers.[40] Each dealer would have an idea of the type of horse that the British government inspectors were looking for and would send out feelers to their own contacts for the ideal type which they would then buy to sell on. A possible selection of horses would then be collated in a large reception or 'seasoning' depot for inspection and purchase by remount service buyers.[41] Potential horses had to pass a veterinary examination before purchase to ensure no unhealthy horse became British government property. Those that were chosen would be transported to ports of embarkation on the East Coast. A veterinary inspection carried out in March 1915 into the recruitment of horses in America and Canada reveals the extent of the efficiency of the recruitment process. The inspection was carried out at the principal depots. The conversion of horses into war horses began immediately. Forage was only supplied on a working basis, at a fixed rate of fifteen pounds of hay and nine pounds of grain, to get the horse accustomed to living off war time rationing, and horses had permanent exposure to the outdoors, rather than being stabled, to start the process of acclimatisation.[42] Care was excellent; horses were shod and monitored on a regular basis and to keep the process efficient and economical, horses only spent on average, four to five days in the purchasing depot before being sent to ports of embarkation.[43] At these ports horses had to stay in quarantine for at least seven weeks prior to embarkation to ensure no contagious diseases were brought over to Britain.[44] The inspection examined an astonishing 30,791 horses in just one month, and of these, just 445 died, approximately one per cent, and a further 506 were receiving medical care for influenza, glanders and pneumonia.[45] The findings of the report resulted in a number of changes to improve the system, not least the need to recognise that the learning process was continuous. For example, the system of bunching sick and well horses together at Newport News was condemned with the recommendation that a veterinary establishment should be created. This was implemented across all depots.

Even though the recruitment process quickly became highly efficient, supply could not always keep up with the pace of demand, most notably in the first years of the war, as horses were in constant use, notwithstanding developments in mechanisation. Even as late as winter 1917 shortages occurred, although the army owned one million horses at this point, indicating the extent of the usefulness of the horse. However, horse resources were never wasted.[46] When horses in France were identified as sound but not fit for general service, they were specially marked and sent to a remount depot to be sent to the communication lines, which catered for the movement of men, supplies and equipment, where they could be employed in light work rather than struggling in mud.[47] It was also learnt that blind horses worked well in communication lines and forward units, where work was lighter.

In 1917, the government sought to reduce the number of state owned horses by twenty –five to fifty percent in an effort to economise, notwithstanding the shortage of horses then being experienced.[48] As a result, all purchasing in Canada was cut after this date in order to reduce expenditure, for with the advent of the Americans into the War, the price of a heavy artillery horse rose to $230.[49] But, signposting the vital role horses played, the government stated it must be remembered that vehicles that accompanied fighting troops must be capable of moving off roads in difficult going, and if not, horses could not be replaced by mechanical transport without destroying the mobility of the army as a fighting machine.[50]

In summary, the administration, time, planning, money and effort that had to go into the recruitment of horses was enormous. Obviously the War Office would not have sanctioned this effort if it was not completely justified by the return horses gave to the British war effort and by their invaluable role. As the evidence shows, over time and with experience and continual learning, the art of recruiting was perfected so that there was never any major problem in getting enough fit and ready horses to continue the war effort in an effective manner, and to ensure the army continued to be mobile.

'There goes timid child-like trust, To the burden and the dust!...And great hearts to face their fate, In the clash of human hate!' – From 'The Remount Train' by W.H. Ogilvie

Transportation

The transportation of horses to, from, and around the Western Front had to be made as economical, safe, and fast as possible, in order to ensure the swift supply of fit horses to carry on the war effort. Transportation posed huge logistical and practical difficulties, not least because of the enormous demands resulting from the volume of horses that had to be moved. And yet, transportation of horses did not encounter any serious disruptions even in the midst of war. This was the product of an official and organised system that was developed over the four years of war to create a remarkably successful system.

Horses purchased from abroad had to undertake several journeys to get to the Western Front. In America and Canada, horses would primarily travel via train from a dealer's yard to a British remount depot. During this journey, 'shipping fever', a form of pneumonia, was not uncommon amongst horses, as so many were packed together and had little previous exposure to disease. An astonishing ninety percent of horses passing through stock yards developed this disease, and commissioners had great difficulty in transporting these infected animals.[51] At one point a trial inoculation against 'shipping fever' was attempted, using 'Dr Bell's Serum' but it proved little worth compared to its expense, and was soon discontinued.[52] Lessons were quickly learnt.

It was discovered that the routine taking of a horses' temperature, in order to spot and treat a high temperature straight away, and the avoidance of long journeys without rest reduced the number of cases significantly.[53]

Mallein injections testing for glanders, a highly infectious and debilitating disease, also became a routine procedure. The tiny per cent of horses found to be infected were at once destroyed. Horses were tested with mallein before embarkation to Britain, on arrival in Britain, before being despatched to a unit, before arriving at the front, at veterinary hospitals, and before discharge to remount depots, revealing how thorough care was to avoid complications. As a result, glanders was virtually eradicated throughout the war; a significant achievement.

Other efficiencies were introduced such as ensuring unfit horses were not allowed to travel; commandants sent unfit horses back to remount depots for further rest. Thus, it was not simply a case of purchasing horses and sending them over to France in whatever condition they were found. They had to be fit in order to provide the best service to the British Army, and not to hamper the efficiency of the fighting force. As such, detraining stations were set up to water and feed horses en route for those that had far to travel from depots to the ports. For example, horses from Kansas City had to travel 1311 miles to be shipped, and had to be rested at Covington.[54] Horses from Chicago and St. Louis were offloaded at Hinton. Care was stringent here too. Each had its own veterinary surgeon and facilities for the proper care of horses, and in-between arrivals everything was fully disinfected to prevent disease.

There was also a strict procedure followed when horses arrived at ports prior to shipment. Veterinary inspectors examined and allocated each horse into one of six possible groups.[55] These were (i) cavalry, (ii) artillery and draught, (iii) horses wanting immediate treatment for small wounds or infections, (iv) rejects, (v) passed horses for shoeing, and (vi) hospital and thin horses.[56] Horses were examined for diseases such as mange and septic pneumonia. If mange was found, those affected would be sent back to a hospital and replaced by remounts, and those that were found to be in contact were dressed under veterinary supervision with a parasiticide in an aqueous solution and then allowed to proceed with embarkation.[57] Horses with septic pneumonia were slaughtered. Once the horse was on board, they were examined again by embarkation officers and conducting officers of ships.

The tonnage of shipping needed to transport horses was phenomenal. In April 1917, a cabinet meeting decided that for the importation of horses, 8,900 tons of shipping were needed a month.[58] This required an increase of twenty-five large steamers in order to cope with demand.[59] The Ministry of Shipping supplied the necessary vessels and a total of 200 different types of ships were used ranging from cruisers and steamers, to destroyers.[60] The first ship to set sail for Britain with horses was 'The Etonian' on October 7 1914; from thenceforward a non-stop stream of horses arrived by ship in Britain, or France, from overseas.[61] Initially the only embarkation ports in use were St. John and Halifax, but demand for horses necessitated more and arrangements were made to add Newport News and New Orleans as additional ports. Later, St. John and Halifax were displaced by Boston and Maine as Halifax was too expensive to maintain, $18,000 had been spent on it in one year, and St. John was required by Canadian authorities.[62] Horses arrived at ports such as Bordeaux and St.Nazaire in France, and Portsmouth in England.

Although there were risks to horses travelling via ship, such as injuries sustained in rough weather, poor fittings, lack of water and ventilation, the care of horses on ships was stringent. It simply had to be, as, on average, each ship carried 1,270 horses across the Atlantic for a journey of twenty days.[63] A report of all horses shipped from America and Canada from the beginning of the war until 3 March 1916, records that of a total of 432,562 horses purchased and shipped across the Atlantic to Britain, and then to France, there was a total loss of just 3.26 percent.[64] Although British horse transport ships were also sometimes the target of German U-boats, horses lost from this barely exceeded one per cent of over 600,000 animals throughout the entire war.[65] Steps were taken to ensure that horses received adequate veterinary care whilst at sea. As soon as the decision was made to transport horses from America and Canada, provisions were made to allot each ship with a veterinary practitioner and assistant.[66] Lessons were learned here too. The system proved unsatisfactory as too much time was devoted to the caring of sick and injured horses, and not enough to their exercise. It soon became apparent that where general supervision was given instead of professional care alone, the results obtained significantly improved.[67] Thus, in September 1915, just one conducting officer was appointed. Other changes were also made as experiences accumulated. Vast improvements to horses' travelling experiences were made when the war office granted the Army Veterinary Services full independence in dealing with horses being shipped, based on their prior experiences. If people with experience of travelling horses via ship approached the War Office with suitable suggestions for improvements, they were seriously considered and duly implemented if deemed beneficial. This is testimony to the authorities and veterinary services' willingness to constantly learn and improve their knowledge of management. For example, after one suggestion, it was decided to experiment travelling horses in pens rather than stalls, which eventually became standard practice because of good results, and to improve the ventilation of horse decks by installing electric fans and new types of wind sails.[68] As such, by the end of the war, ships arrived with very few deaths of horses.

Every effort was also made to thoroughly disinfect ships in-between journeys using a hot caustic soda solution to prevent disease spreading, and chloride of lime was used to reduce ammonia fumes, from horse urine, on the lower decks. In short, the process of shipping horses was of paramount importance, it was designed with every aspect of the horses' well-being in mind in order for them to arrive fit and healthy, and do their ultimate job well. The following chart from 1915 is testimony to the success of shipping as a form of transportation and the care horses received on board, revealing how losses were minimal during shipping:

horses chart

Image: note [69]

On the Western Front, the principal means of transportation was by road. Pleas for properly maintained roads, where practical, were answered by engineers, who used the material sea shore to mend roads. But, trains were also used. Most of these trains were the same trains that soldiers travelled in; but with seats from the front trucks removed to allow for horse traffic.[70] But, special sick trains were also introduced for only sick horses to travel in, to guarantee disease was not spread, and for the sole purpose of travelling to hospitals on direct routes. An average twenty-six foot truck would allow for eight horses, four aside facing each other, with their tails towards the engine, in two rows and secured by head ropes tied to roof rings and breast plates.[71] To ensure the safest and most comfortable travelling experience for horses, strict guidelines on all train journeys, which were contained in instructions printed on leaflets issued by the Major Deputy Assistant Director of Railway Traffic. These rules stated that, when units were moving their horses, representatives of each had to arrive fifteen minutes prior to the rest of the unit to prepare the trucks for horse travel which would include putting sand on the floor of the truck, and certifying that each truck was equipped with breast ropes, two drag ropes, four picketing ropes and two spare head ropes.[72] Twelve men would be detailed to travel in the truck, one or two of whom would have to stay with the horses at all times to allow for watering and make sure there were no injuries, or if their temperatures rose, to prescribe Epsom salts.[73]

On the rivers of Flanders horses sometimes travelled via barge. There AVS maintained five barges, operated by steam and each with a carrying capacity of thirty-two horses, but they were of limited use as the enemy often destroyed locks on their retreats, rendering them useless.[74]

The transportation of horses was a complex and difficult task, and thus the British efforts are to be praised for their success in achieving an overall efficiency and effectiveness, for, at no time was there ever a whole scale problem with transportation. The authorities were quick to learn lessons and realise what methods worked best with a willingness to use trial and error to implement changes immediately. The expense and effort that had to go into the running of the transportation of horses is more evidence of how valuable these creatures were. If mechanisation was more important, why were there so many horses being transported to, and around, the Western Front?

'The horses are the flower of England, but poor patient sufferers, they are broken like reeds' – R.P.S.C.A officer, September 1914

Disease and Wastage

The most important objective of the military veterinary policy throughout the war was the prevention of disease and injury in horses in order that the use of horses could be at its maximum efficiency and effectiveness. Figures speak for themselves and are testimony to the development of horse care and the rapid learning curve it went through as the range of problems experienced could be immense, shown in the table below. The weekly wastage of horses for replacement of casualties in the field on the Western Front for the entire war varied between just one and three percent of the total strength.[75] The average sick rate of strength was still just eleven percent,[76] and the total wastage of British horses in World War One on the Western Front, from disease, death, destruction or missing, was only 250,000.[77]

There were thousands of types of diseases and causes of wastage that British horses suffered on the Western Front. Each disease or wound was classified under different classes and veterinary surgeons had to record the class according to which wound or disease they were treating. Examples of some diseases in a sample of categories are recorded below:

  Class:    
Wound/Disease: 1 General 2 Respiratory 3 Circulatory
  Debility[78] Catarrh Pneumonia[79] Valvular disease[80]
       
  4 Urinary 5 Generative 6 Digestive
  Kidney Infection Parturition[81] Colic[82]
  7 Lymphatic 8 Nervous  
Rupture spleen[83] Meningitis

Other wounds and diseases that were of common occurrence but not mentioned in the table were bullet wounds, shrapnel wounds, lacerations and burns, abscesses and tumours, blindness, shattered jaw bones from shrapnel, tendons protruding through bone, paralysis, starvation and bruising. Wagon and transport horses suffered from injuries such as broken knees, sprained tendons and sores brought about by the strain of heavy loads, walking on bad roads, and the pressure of their harnesses.[84] Mud also caused no end of problems both directly and indirectly. Amongst the most fatal was the casual organism of specific ophthalmia which could emerge from French soil and penetrate a horses' tissue through a lesion of the skin that was hidden by mud.[85] One veterinary officer even diagnosed 'shell shock' in horses which lost their appetite or lost a great deal of weight.[86] Horses certainly died of fright; reports tell of horses dropping dead with not a scratch upon their body when shells dropped close by.[87] Irregular feeding due to lack of rations caused stomach problems, and exposure to the elements in harsh conditions could cause frost bite, cracked heels and corns from standing in muddy water for long periods.[88] If exposed to harsh elements, lack of individual attention, hard and long work without respite, and mud prevailed there was a high risk of fatal debility; which was the highest cause of horse fatalities on the Western Front. Major losses occurred in April 1917 in France due to the very cold weather and difficult offensive operations; a phenomenal 20,319 horses were admitted to hospital for debility.[89] The Somme offensive of 1916 also claimed 16,074 debility cases.[90] Other common reasons of mortality amongst horses were respiratory diseases, glanders, mud-borne diseases such as ulcerative lymphangitis, intestinal diseases and premature physical decay, usually in older horses.[91] Specific or Periodic Ophthalmia, associated with unhygienic conditions, caused complete blindness and there was no cure. This disease first made an appearance in March 1917 and claimed thousands of victims.

War injuries did not cause as many fatalities as one would expect, especially in the first two years of war. But, enemy planes dropping bombs were reported to have easily killed up to four hundred horses at a time.[92] German air power reached its zenith in spring 1917, and their bombs killed four hundred horses every week.[93] After 1916, with the increase in artillery and improvements in bombs and gas, losses from battle casualties increased. Gas masks were issued to thirty-three per cent of the horse strength, but were made redundant after mustard gas replaced chlorine gas, against which they were useless.[94] However, the total of horses killed, wounded, or destroyed from battle injuries in the entire war was just 137,937.[95] This was largely because horse lines were strategically placed away from enemy fire and because efforts were made to move horses in small groups. But, accidental injuries were common; 'picked up nails' caused havoc by puncturing horses' feet. From 1915 onwards, there were approximately four hundred cases a week.[96] The number and range of diseases which veterinary officers had to cope with was vast. When the wastage figures are considered it becomes clear how successful these officers were. The resources that were put into the welfare of these animals are a testament to how important they were to the war effort.

Treatment was remarkably advanced, considering the lack of technology available. On average a train carrying sick horses arrived at a hospital twice a day, and usually contained over one hundred horses. It was the veterinary officer's responsibility to detrain, label, with urine pressed in paint, and inject horses with mallein.[97] Every horse was inspected daily, and by a veterinary officer, during treatment. Once this officer felt satisfied the horse had been treated, the horse would have to be passed both by the commanding officer and remount officer, before being discharged.

Treatment of horses with debility varied. If the horse was in hospital it would be watered and fed each morning, clipped all over, washed with soap and hot water, its skin applied with a parasitical dressing, and then be rugged and bandaged up; recovery at the very earliest would be at least a week.[98] Usually exercise and feed would cure a horse with debility. Prior to January 1916, mange was treated by oily dressings, after this date dipping baths were used.[99] A zigzagged gangway, which ensured one horse could not see the horse in front's fate, lead to water heated at forty-two degrees Celsius, mixed with a creosol solution, lime sulphur, or calcium sulphide, sunk into a stoke-hole, with a slope leading back out.[100] The bath was heated by steam and could hold about 3,500 gallons of water, roughly being 12lbs part lime to 30lbs part sulphur.[101][102] Affected horses were driven through the bath and exercised at the other end; depending on how bad the mange was, for two to three times weekly for up to seven weeks. One veterinary officer recorded 400 horses being sent through a dip in just two and a half hours.[103]

Ringworm, a problem in 1915, was treated in line due to the lack of space in hospitals, but due to an efficient system of treatment under different units, it was brought firmly under control. Most diseases, such as contagious stomatitis, could be controlled through immediate isolation and disinfection, although some diseases required immediate destruction, or long periods of isolation if they became advanced, as they were highly infectious. Epizootic lymphangitis is one such disease, but was kept largely under control by routine wound dressing using turpentine, creosote, and oil.[104] If epizootic lymphangitis or stomatitis was suspected, smears were taken immediately. In the winter of 1917-1918, British horses were suddenly attacked by the contagious stomatitis, which came over with the remounts from America. 2,596 horses had to be evacuated and there was no immediate cure, however with the advent of warmer weather the disease disappeared as mysteriously as it had arrived.[105] Any horse that was suspected of having glanders was immediately destroyed, but as mentioned previously, mallein, discovered in 1890 by two Russian scientists, helped virtually eradicate this disease.[106] An injection of mallein would produce a reaction in a diseased horse that the trained vet would recognise. Colic was treated by a colic ball, a ball of dissolved Aloes in hot water, with a mixture of chloral hydrate.[107] Fever was also treated by a ball; a horses' temperature was taken daily and, until it dropped, was prescribed a fever ball twice daily, a mixture of different medicines in a ball shape, and a saline draught.

Farriers were also useful in treating disease as many were trained in some veterinary aid. In one case, a farrier – sergeant of a cavalry brigade was able to treat a horse that had a large hole in its buttocks. The wound was irrigated continually for twelve days by setting up a special stall and creating an irrigation apparatus using a petrol tin and piece of rubber tubing.[108] Farriers also treated cases of 'picked up nails' by treating the wound with iodine, and allowing it to drain. The foot was then placed in warm water to be washed, and a pad of Tow soaked in an oily dressing was held in place over the hoof by strips of hoof iron.[109]

The greatest achievement of the care and development of horses was the control, for the first time in history, of contagious diseases that had lead to appalling wastage figures in previous wars. The careful and repeated inspection of horses by veterinary officers, and the prompt treatment of affected horses enhanced this achievement.

Comparisons of figures can also be made between the beginning and end of the war as veterinary services learnt new treatments. At the end of the war only 0.4 per cent of animals were affected by mange, compared to the 3.7 per cent in the spring of 1917.[110] The management of disease and wastage underwent a significant learning curve, helped by the excellent AVC and hospitals, so that by 1919, it was one of the most successful aspects of the care of horses, praised world over, by countries such as America, France and Germany.

'The Army Veterinary Corps has resulted in a reduction of animal wastage and a mitigation of animal suffering un-approached in any previous military organisation' – Blenkinsop, 1918.

The Army Veterinary Corps

Beyond all doubt, World War One was a great war for the Army Veterinary Services, without which, the mobility of the artillery and transport forces would have been seriously jeopardized.[111] The total number of horses it received for the entire war was an astounding 2,567,549.[112] Seventy-eight percent, or two million, of these horses were cured and returned to duty, thus proving its success.[113] The example of the Army Veterinary Corps is probably the best demonstration of how an institution caring for horses underwent a learning curve that enabled it to continually improve and thus ensure the use of horses was efficient and effective. The experience of veterinary services in the Boer war of 1899 emphasised the need for a properly organized AVC. During this war there was no organised veterinary care system, and consequently, the army was riddled by contagious diseases with no knowledge of how to combat them.[114] Sixty-three percent of horses were lost and it was claimed there had never been such an appalling sacrifice of animal life and public money.[115] Subsequently, a parliamentary committee was set up in 1902, and in 1903, the AVC was formed.

The AVC enjoyed huge success in the treatment of horses. One reason for this was due to the high calibre of the men who were mobilised for it. Mobilisation occurred in two stages. The first was the hurried assembly and despatch of veterinary surgeons with the BEF, which consisted of six hospitals with a capacity for 250 patients, eleven Mobile Veterinary Services, and two base depots of veterinary stores.[116] The second stage was the official formation and despatch of the New Armies, which consisted of an increase from six to twenty veterinary hospitals, with a capacity for 1,000 patients, eighty MVS, and four base depots.[117] The total number of veterinary officers in the AVC reached 1,688 and 41,775 Non Commissioned Officers by November 11 1918, revealing how important and large this institution needed to be to treat horses adequately.[118] Horse keepers, grooms, and 408 cavalry 'Class D' reservists were also all recruited exclusively for the AVC on mobilisation. These men were all trained and proven, and according to Sir John Moore[119], formed the backbone of the veterinary services throughout the war.[120]

The best indicator of how effective and successful the AVC was comes from looking at its extensive recordkeeping. It reveals how seriously the British Army took each case, for not only were the records very detailed, noting everything about the horse from the time it was despatched from the front line, and returned, but they also made known the exact whereabouts of each horse. Records also made it possible to identify areas that were in need of improvement or were impractical to continue with. A typical AVC hospital entry form, the 'Army Form A.2000,' would be completed by the Major of each veterinary hospital and record detailed information about each patient when returning sick and injured horses to the front, for each week:[121] These were; the present strength of horses, how many were sick, how many remount casters were awaiting disposal, general observations, which included why the horse had been admitted, if it had had to be destroyed or if it had died, and what was the justification or cause respectively.[122] So, for example, one horse with debility was transferred to number thirteen veterinary hospital from the 1st Battalion of the 51st Division on 4 January 1916; it was recorded as being a brown 16hh rider mare, fourteen years of age with a star race snip.[123] This particular horse was given mallein, examined by veterinary officers twice, shown to a commanding officer and destroyed, after the decision was reached it was suffering from chronic debility, and it would be futile to carry on treatment.[124] No detail was overlooked that could jeopardise the efficiency of the system if not recorded, and all record keeping was entirely necessary to keep the system organised: overstretched and burdened vets would not have been required to fill in time consuming records for the sake of it. An example of one such form is below and is proof of the effort and detail that went into the organization and efficiency of the care of horses. It is taken from number seven veterinary hospital during the week ending 28 February 1918, of horses in units in the St. Saens area, recording the present strength of horses as 1,184, of these, 1,118 were recorded as being sick, sixty-one being section and transport horses and five being remount casters awaiting disposal:[125]     

[126] Total Cured Transferred to Convalescent Horse Depot Died Destroyed Caste and Sold Remaining under treatment Transferred sick*
General diseases 317 21 125   2 35 to a horse butcher 107 27
Respiratory 34 1 1 to a horse butcher 20 12
Circulatory
Urinary
Generative 4 2 2
Digestive 4 2 1 to a horse butcher 1
Lymphatic 1 1 to a horse butcher
Nervous 3 1 to a horse butcher 2
Skin 562 3 to a horse butcher 53 506
Locomotary 339 39 39 to a horse butcher3 to a horse butcher 246 15
Specific 91 3 2 to a horse butcher 30 56
Visual 671 64 65 to a horse butcher 6 to farmers 382 154
Injuries 365 20 3 30 to a horse butcher 277 35
Total 2391 144 8 184 1118 809

Veterinary hospitals were the backbone of the AVC. The Army order 66 of 1914 established the creation of seven veterinary hospitals.[127] Initially there were only six hospitals with a capacity of 250 patients, but after it became apparent that this was not enough to meet demand, eight hospitals with a capacity of 2,000 patients came into existence, conveniently stationed at different points along the communication lines to ensure there was always one within easy reach of most points on the Western Front,[128] and to facilitate horses' speedy arrival.[129] Yet, it was seldom that hospitals had less than 3,000 patients at a time.[130] Hospitals were grouped in twos and threes, each group functioning for a particular section of the front line and each containing one reception hospital, one mange hospital and one general hospital.[131] Each hospital was divided up into different wards, usually for different cases, such as for chest complaints, skin diseases or surgical attention, consisting of both permanent stables, loose boxes, tents, open lines, standings and kraals. Some hospitals would also consist of specific isolation lines, contagious diseases yard, isolation outside lines, surgical lines, sick lines, and temporary sick lines, for when overflows occurred, and some even had their own abattoir to maximise its working efficiency, and economise.[132]

The AVC was one of the few arms of the British army that helped fund itself, proving its effectiveness. The sale of useless horses to farmers or to local or Parisian horse butchers produced a steady income. When a horse was to be destroyed the Major of each hospital checked whether the horse was fit for food. Horses unfit for the army but fit to be sold for food could be highly profitable. The total amount realised for the sale of forty-seven horses from number seven veterinary hospital, to a 'M. Croutel', a horse butcher, for the week ending 28 February 1918, was £18,450.[133] Returns could also be gained through the sale of carcasses divided up into bones, oil and grease, hoofs or hair, and purchased separately in kilos. 7,193 kilos of bones could fetch up to 1,042 francs.[134] Horse hair was considered valuable by locals and Parisians and horse flesh could be sold as pig food, chicken food or bone meal to local farmers.[135] Seven 'horse economiser plants' were set up near groups of veterinary hospitals, for these purposes. The production of horse meat also played a part in aiding the economy of the nation, by feeding it to enemy prisoners of war, instead of beef, during the summer of 1918.[136] Innovatively, in the most economical manner, some veterinary hospitals also found it possible to collect methane gas generated by decaying horse flesh and manure for the purpose of heating, therefore preventing smell and saving fuel.[137] Auctions were the common way for horses to be sold to farmers after being authorized by the War Office to do so. Horses could fetch up to 250 to 400 francs.[138] Horses with more severe injuries such as shattered jaws would be sold for less, whilst those which were blind would be sold at the top end. A total of 25,000 horses were sold to agriculturists prior to demobilisation, which greatly increased the economy of the AVC.[139]

Haig remarked on Christmas day, 1917, 'the work of the AVC...has contributed largely to the general efficiency of the Army'.[140] Amongst many of its achievements, the most outstanding were; the control of mange and glanders, the construction of veterinary hospitals and convalescent horse depots, the economical disposal of animals and the excellent interior economy of hospitals.[141] As a result of its remarkable work, it deservedly received from King George V the title of 'royal' attached to it, on 27 November 1918.[142] By the beginning of 1918, the system had become so efficient that nearly every horse was returned to duty. Plans were also implemented in case the war continued in 1919, for the creation of more hospitals, bacteriological laboratories, and the recruitment of more personnel to improve the system further, thus proving how even in 1919, the role of the horse was considered invaluable and how the institution had undergone a learning curve.

'The outcome of the war depended on them'

General Care

It was unwritten law that a man attended to his horses' needs before his own.[143] And, just as in the other aspects of horse management, the care of horses became an efficient and effective system, revealing how contemporaries valued the role of the horse in warfare. Unfortunately, a widespread lack of knowledge in the New Armies concerning the care of horses was the cause for most of the wastage on the Western Front, not surprising given most men had been rapidly raised and trained from mainly industrial populations. What was admirable was the authorities' solution to this; they immediately identified this problem as needing urgent attention and sought to solve it immediately through introducing educational courses. In June 1917 Moore introduced a series of ten day courses of lectures and instruction for artillery and infantry transport officers at each of his veterinary hospitals. Examples of these included, 'animals in health', 'signs of disease' and 'condition'.[144] These courses were successful, there was an increasing interest and gratification in the care and quality of army horses as time progressed; approximately fifty officers and three hundred NCOs took the course each month.[145] In just May 1918 alone, 850 officers and 4,000 NCOs attended these courses.[146] Learning continued on the job. Veterinary officers gave lectures and carried out post mortems on horses, not only in the interest of medicine, but also for the education of attached officers.[147]

As time progressed, so did the development in the care of horses. The officer commanding a unit was primarily responsible for the condition of horses in his charge and each unit had to be under constant supervision by officers and NCOs.[148] The successful policy of appointing transport officers, with a sound knowledge of horses, to infantry brigades lead to the promotion of these men to specialist 'horse advisers' to Army Corps and Divisions, at the suggestion of Haig in 1917; another example of continual learning whilst developing the care of horses. These advisers' sole purpose was to dedicate all their time into general inspections and instructional lectures, effecting a distinct improvement.[149] Even so, soldiers looking after horses had to be able to care for their horses themselves. As such, 'A Notes on Horse Management In The Field', based on the official publication 'Animal Management', and prepared by the veterinary department of the War Office, was issued in August 1914 to every soldier in contact with horses.[150] The veterinary war manual of Field Service Regulations, Part 11, was also prepared and ready for issue in August 1914, revealing the speed and dedication of which the appropriate authorities acted to care for the horse.[151] These manuals required each man to spend at least half an hour a day grooming his horses thoroughly, taking particular care over the legs, manes, tails, heads, under stomachs, and on fetlocks where mud was prone to stick, or where cuts and sores may have developed which then must be cleaned and dressed.[152] Whilst grooming was taking place, sergeants and other NCOs supervised to check grooming was thorough and to inspect the conditions of the horses' shoes and feet, which was especially important in order to detect foreign bodies.[153] Clipping, the shaving of horses' winter coats, was a controversial subject. It was standard army procedure to clip all horses in the field throughout winter to reduce the risk of losses from mange, and to make it easier to keep horses clean in thick mud and rain. Yet, with experience, some thought clipping caused more problems as it left horses vulnerable to the elements, especially when feed was rationed, causing debility. However, a solution was quickly found and the BEF ruled that horses should be clipped up until, but not after November 15.[154]

Proper feeding was crucial to a horses' well being and was controlled by the Quarter- Master General of the forces.[155] Bulk was essential to their diet, especially chaff, however due to rationing, substitutes were often used. If the preferable diet of hay and oats was unavailable, wheat, maize, peas, beans, turnips, beetroot and mangolds were fed instead.[156] The supplies division of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries would determine how much food should be sent out to horses from each year's harvest. In 1917, 10,136 quarters of seed wheat were shipped out to France.[157] In addition to this, horses required 70,000 tons of hay a month, bought in Britain and shipped to France.[158] But corn was costly in war, and other types of food were also fed such as, green crops, linseed and other cakes, that were consumed at the rate of 100 tons a month.[159] In an effort to reduce the cost of corn, an Interdepartmental Committee was formed from the War Office, Local Government Board, Board of Trade, Ministry of Food, and the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries to consider the economies in the use of grain by conducting a census of all horses in Britain and those belonging to the Army. By May 1918 the situation had became desperate and an inspector of Horse Feeding and Economies was appointed; his purpose was to ensure the condition of animals was maintained to the highest of standards whilst seeking new ways in which economies could be brought about in feeding and the use of animals, presented to the Quarter Master General monthly.[160] The creation of this role was justified when statistics proved there was a marked improvement in the condition of animals and economies.

Exercise was also paramount; lack of exercise, due to the conditions of trench warfare, was a major cause of debility. Therefore, horse masters of remount services would place exercise as a priority; horses' muscles were not allowed to relax but had to be in continual use to strengthen and be prepared for arduous work. The notes on horse management handbook stated that if work at the front was insufficient to keep a horse fit, they had to be exercised two to three hours a day.[161]

Shoeing was also made possible for war on a huge scale. Immediately and throughout the entirety of the war, the AVS ensured there was intensive training to make farriers available by establishing six farriery schools.[162] Farriers had to shoe horses regularly and no animal was supposed to go over a month without shoeing.[163]

The RSPCA contributed enormously in aiding and funding the care of horses. It was the only charity approved by the Army Council in November 1914 as an auxiliary to the AVC. On being granted this role, the charity immediately issued a statement on behalf of the military authorities that no other private charity or volunteer veterinary corps would be allowed into the sphere of hostilities to destroy wounded horses.[164] It collected and trained over two hundred men willing to enlist into the AVC,[165] and contributed indispensible war materials such as twenty –six motor, and eighty horse drawn, ambulances which saved many lives.[166] In total the charity donated £200,000 for the care of war horses on the Western Front,[167] through flag days, collections and many forms of propaganda such as posters in newspapers.[168][169]

The care and management of horses was always striving to improve, modernise and include the latest technologies. Convalescent horse depots, veterinary evacuating stations, carcass economiser detachments, army schools of farriery, veterinary bacteriological laboratories and reserve veterinary hospitals, each for 1,200 patients, were all born from the experience gained through learning during the First World War, and were one of a kind.[170] The bacteriological laboratory, established at Rouen in 1917, is a perfect demonstration of the importance of horses to the British war effort. Its establishment was a natural consequence of the rapid progress of bacteriological science and steps were taken to include veterinary bacteriological laboratories in the war organisation of the AVS.[171] Plans were implemented so that if the war continued, more bacteriological laboratories would have been created, and more importance attached to them for the further control and research of disease. It had a direct impact on the actual waging of modern warfare which could have halted if science had not discovered how to manage the epizootic and enzootic diseases of horses during transportation. MVSs, consisting of one officer and twenty-two men, were attached to every division and cavalry brigade, providing the connecting link between field units and veterinary hospitals.[172] It was the first time anything like this system had ever been used in warfare, and it ensured the evacuation of sick and wounded horses from the front line was rapid and the fighting force was not hampered by the burden of looking after them. The three principal rules of evacuation were humanity, efficiency and economy.[173] In 1918, veterinary evacuating stations were introduced in the field; one allotted per corps, as an improvement on the MVS.[174] Thus, showing how the veterinary service was never rigid, constantly seeking new ways to improve its effectiveness in keeping the army efficient. Together, these units conveyed to veterinary hospitals over 500,000 sick animals.[175]

The care and management of horses was implemented on a huge scale. Horses simply had to be in the best condition due to the hardships of their work and to keep the fighting ability of the British Army effective. The expense and time that went into the overall care of horses is overwhelming evidence of their invaluable role to the British war effort.

'No mechanical substitute could have filled the role so successfully borne by horse flesh and blood '

Conclusion

In Sir Frederick Smith's words, the era 1876 to 1919 was one of sweeping reform and regeneration for the care of horses.[176] The remarkably efficient, effective, and successful care of horses in World War One was the product of this reform. The immense resources, in terms of time and money, that went into ensuring the welfare of British horses during the war is tantamount to the significant role that horses had in the war effort. The British horse was absolutely essential to the war effort, for without which the British army would have been rendered immobile. Mechanisation as a replacement for horses was in no way ready to fulfil their job as effectively, and no machine was attributed the same importance as the horse. Contemporaries from privates to generals recognised this fact, even the infantry, notoriously anti-cavalry, were entirely dependent on horses for their supply of rations and small arms, and would speak fondly of them. In short, as Moore argued, the practical command of the most useful war animals was a weapon in the hands of the Allies that helped win the war.[177]

Sheer numbers of British horses on the Western Front also testify to this. A soldier on the Western Front would not have been able to go one day without seeing a least one horse. The total number of horses on the strength of the British force was initially 53,000 which ultimately rose, at one point, to the colossal scale of 459,000 on the Western Front.[178] The total strength of the AVS at its highest was 651 officers and 15,000 other ranks, and there were a total of eighteen veterinary hospitals, each for 2,000 patients, four convalescent depots, each for 1,200 patients, sixteen veterinary evacuating stations, fifty mobile veterinary sections, two base depots of veterinary stores, one veterinary bacteriological laboratory and one disposal of animals branch.[179] When one takes into consideration that these were constantly overstretched, as well as expensive to run, this reveals how important contemporaries understood the care, and role, of horses to be, and simply how well used they were, for these institutions to be necessary. The veterinary services caring for British horses were the best in the world, with countries such as America, basing their veterinary services on the British model. This could not have occurred without the important learning curves these services underwent, both from previous wars, and within the Great War itself, to achieve such significant results. As Blenkinsop and Rainey note, the technical work of the AVS in France under Major – General Moore was brought to the highest degree of efficiency.[180]

To the argument that horses were largely displaced by mechanisation in World War One, it was apparent this was simply not the case. In the words of Moore, 'it is quite certain that no mechanical substitute could have filled the role so successfully borne by horse flesh and blood in World War One'.[181] As late as 1917, the War Council declared that it was unable to obtain sufficient motorised transport for existing requirements, and therefore, the substitution of motors for horse-drawn transport was not a practical proportion, and any large reduction in the number of horses in the field would be made at the expense of the mobility of the British Army.[182] Horses were still the dominant means of transport and as such their welfare was of paramount importance.[183] Also, although artillery contributed to a British victory, artillery guns could not function without horses and fusiliers were often ordered to abandon their guns during offensive operations if there were no horses available, as it would have been impossible to carry on without them.[184] For these men, and many more, such as soldiers in the Royal Field Artillery, horses were as much a part of their armor as guns. Entire teams and a whole variety of units depended on horses for their success. In gun teams it was not just the drivers that were mounted, the entire team, bar the troop cook, from the sappers to the shoeing smiths were mounted and thus had to depend on their horses for success.[185] Even units such as, Divisional Train transport, labor and road construction companies, railway and forestry companies, units on the lines of communication and the medical service would not have been able to function without the horse.[186] And without the functioning of these units, the effectiveness of the infantry would have been seriously compromised. Tellingly, defeated nations, who had scrutinized Britain's successful use of the horse, such as Germany, made huge efforts to increase the horse power of their army on demobilisation. Ironically, contrary to the Allied nations, the German Eastern Army of World War Two was almost entirely horse drawn.

The role of the horse can no longer be ignored; it deserves a significant place in the history books of World War One, along with the story of the tank and artillery. Horses must be remembered for making a vital contribution to an Allied victory, and that contribution should be explored further. This dissertation has covered just a fraction of the use and care of British horses on the Western Front and there is much more that could justifiably be studied concerning the use of horses and their wider ramifications. It would also be useful to explore the development of the use of horses in other areas of war and what different countries' attitudes, and policies were to the use of horses and how they employed them. More specifically one could also explore in far more detail the impressive advancements in the techniques of the Army Veterinary Corps, of which there were many.

This dissertation hopes to have signposted how the horse was of crucial importance to the British war effort with evidence deriving from; the lengths gone to provide good recruitment and transportation, the resources in terms of time, money and people, that went into the care of horses and the continuing development of the processes of, recruiting, transporting and caring for the horse, as oppose to the focus on machines.

It is fitting to conclude with the words of two prominent figures of World War One, who had very similar views on the development of the care and use of British horses, and who sum up the situation well. At the conclusion of the war, Haig stated that 'if in March 1918 the equine forces of Germany had been on the same scale, and as efficient, as the British equine forces, the Germans would have unquestionably succeeded in breaking through the French and British Army'.[187] Ludendorff echoed this statement by stating that 'when it became impossible to replenish the horse casualties sustained by the German army, it paralyzed the transport and played a large part in their ultimate defeat'.[188] Just as the heroic achievements of the British soldier must never be forgotten, nor should the contribution of the British horse.

Rachael Passmore, School of History, University of Leeds, April 2009

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the following for their help, time, and contribution towards this dissertation, and who helped me enormously:
Firstly, a huge thank you to my Mum and Dad who have spent a lot of money financing my fortnightly trips to the London archives from Leeds, without which this dissertation would not have been born.
Thank you to my tutor Professor Holger Afflerbach for listening to my never ending questions and giving me encouragement.
Thank you to Professor John Gooch, the Chairman of the School of History, for calming me in my time of panic and guiding me towards an argument.
I would also like to thank the following for the invaluable information they have provided:
Captain Pete Starling and staff of the Aldershot Army Services Medical Museum,
Richard Davies of the Liddle Collection,
Brough Scott, Genevra and Jacques of 'Flanders Battlefield Tours'.

Bibliography

[1] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 52, Friends of War Memorials Advertisement, p.1.

[2] Commander in Chief of the BEF from 10 December 1915.

[3] Gervase Phillips, 'The obsolescence of the Arme Blanche and Technological Determinism in British Military History', War In History, 9 (2002), 39-59 (p. 40).

[4] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 52, Friends of War Memorials Advertisement, p.1.

[5] The German Chief of the General Staff.

[6] Sir John Moore, Our Servant The Horse (London: H &W.Brown, 1931), p.11.

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[27] See photo two at the back of this dissertation from Sir John's Moore's Army Veterinary Service in War.

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[31] Major-General Sir L.J. Blenkinsop and Lieutenant-Colonel J.W. Rainey, eds, History Of The Great War Based on Official Documents Veterinary Service s (London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1925), p. 6.

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[33] National Archives, CAB/24/24, Ministry of Food Report, p.2.

[34] Galtrey, p. 16.

[35] 'U.S.A.'s Plentiful Supply Of Horses', Manchester Guardian in ProQuest, 03 March 1915, p. 4 [accessed 10 April 2009].

[36] Moore, Our Servant The Horse, p.11.

[37] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 16, Report on the Purchase of Horses and Mules by the British Remount Commission in Canada and United States of America, p. 5. 

[38] Reuter's Correspondent, 'Horses Dearer in America', Manchester Guardian in ProQuest, 30 October 1914, p. 8 [accessed 10 April 2009].

[39] Galtrey, p. 14.

[40] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, 116/6070, Veterinary Inspection Report in Connection with British Commission in USA and Canada By the Director General, AVS, p.1.

[41] Galtrey, p. 20.

[42] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, 116/6070, Veterinary Inspection Report in Connection with British Commission in USA and Canada By the Director General, AVS, p.2.

[43] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, 116/6070, Veterinary Inspection Report in Connection with British Commission in USA and Canada By the Director General, AVS, p.2.

[44] Galtrey, p. 30.

[45] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, 116/6070, Veterinary Inspection Report in Connection with British Commission in USA and Canada By the Director General, AVS, p.3.

[46] Richard Holmes, ed., The Oxford Companion to Military History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 416.

[47] Blenkisop and Rainey, p. 62.

[48] National Archives, CAB/24/12, War Cabinet Minutes: Reduction of Horses, p.4.

[49] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 16, Report on the Purchase of Horses and Mules by the British Remount Commission in Canada and United States of America, p. 19.

[50] National Archives, CAB/24/12, War Cabinet Minutes: Reduction of Horses, p.5.

[51] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, 116/6070, Veterinary Inspection Report in Connection with British Commission in USA and Canada by the Director General, AVS, p. 21.

[52] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 16, Report on the Purchase of Horses and Mules by the British Remount Commission in Canada and United States of America, p. 6.

[53] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 65.

[54] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, 116/6070, Veterinary Inspection Report in Connection with British Commission in USA and Canada By the Director General, AVS, p.3.

[55] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, 116/6070, Veterinary Inspection Report in Connection with British Commission in USA and Canada by the Director General, AVS, p. 23.

[56] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, Report by British Remount Commission on Lachine Depot to Staff Officer, British Remount Commission, p. 4.

[57] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p.10.

[58] The National Archives, CAB/23/2, Cabinet minutes, p. 3.

[59] National Archives, CAB/23/3, War Cabinet Meeting, p.3.

[60] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 16, Historical Records of Major Generals Army Veterinary Service (London: Waterlow & Sons Limited, 1933), p. 93.

[61] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 16, Report on the Purchase of Horses and Mules by the British Remount Commission in Canada and United States of America, p. 6.

[62] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 16, Report on the Purchase of Horses and Mules by the British Remount Commission in Canada and United States of America, p. 10.

[63] Galtrey, p. 22.

[64] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, Return of Animals Purchased in North America, p.2.

[65] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 643.

[66] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 16, Historical Records of Major Generals Army Veterinary Service (London: Waterlow & Sons Limited, 1933), p. 91.

[67] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 16, Historical Records of Major Generals Army Veterinary Service (London: Waterlow & Sons Limited, 1933), p. 91.

[68] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 644.

[69] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, List of horse transport figures.

[70] 'Going To The Front', Manchester Guardian in ProQuest, 25 August 1914, p. 6 [accessed 10 April 2009].

[71] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection, GS 0464.

[72] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection, GS 0464.

[73] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection, GS 0327.

[74] Sir John Moore, Army Veterinary Service in War (London: H.&W. Brown, 1921), pp.19-20.

[75] Blenkisnop and Rainey, p. 508.

[76] Blenkisnop and Rainey, p. 509.

[77] Moore, Our Servant The Horse, p. 11.

[78] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection GA, Veterinary Work, Ellis, Item 5, box 1.

[79] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection GA, Veterinary Work, Ellis, Item 5, box 1.

[80] Imperial War Museum, Misc 58, 846, Veterinary treatment of 256th Brigade Horses, p.19.

[81] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection GA, Veterinary Work, Ellis, Item 5, box 1.

[82] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection GA, Veterinary Work, Ellis, Item 5, box 1.
[83] Imperial War Museum, Misc 58, 846, Veterinary treatment of 256th Brigade Horses, p.22.

[84] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection, GA, Veterinary Work, H.V.Hughes, Item 3, p.5.

[85] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 66.

[86] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection, GS 1337, p. 44.

[87] Imperial War Museum, 87/8/1, Memoir of a Gunner Driver, p. 9.

[88] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection GA, Veterinary Work, Ellis, Item 5, box 1, The Sphere (London: War Magazine,1916), p.66.

[89] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 514.

[90] Moore, Our Servant The Horse, p. 13.

[91] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 513.

[92] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection, GS 0140, p. 5.

[93] Moore, Our Servant The Horse, p. 18.

[94] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p.539.

[95] Blenkinsop and Rainey, pp.537-539.

[96] Moore, Our Servant The Horse, p. 16.

[97] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, Private Diary of Major C. Davenport AVC, p. 8.

[98] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection GA, Veterinary Work, H.V.Hughes, Item 3,p.9.

[99] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 522.

[100] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 82.

[101] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 522.

[102] See photo one at the back of this dissertation - 'Official Photographs Of Veterinary Work At The Front', Manchester Guardian in ProQuest, 23rd May 1916, p.3 [accessed 10 April 2009].

[103] Imperial War Museum, 74/8/1, Recollections of a Veterinary Surgeon, p. 77.

[104] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p.537.

[105] Moore, Our Servant The Horse, p. 16.

[106] Sir Frederick Hobday, Fifty Years A Veterinary Surgeon (London: Hutchinson & Co Ltd, 1938), p.21.

[107] Imperial War Museum, 89/7/1, Veterinary documents.

[108] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection, GS 1337, p. 44.

[109] Imperial War Museum, 89/7/1, Veterinary documents.

[110] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, 704, Report upon the work the work of the Quartermaster-General's Branch of the Staff and Directorates, p. 44.

[111] Galtrey, pp.90-92.

[112] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 509.

[113] Brigadier J. Clabbey, The History of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps 1919-1961 (London: J.A.Allen & Co, 1963), p.16.

[114] Clabbey, p. 13.

[115] Clabbey, p. 14.

[116] Blenkinsop and Rainey, pp.8-9.

[117] Blenkinsop and Rainey, pp.8-9.

[118] Moore, Our Servant The Horse, p. 20.

[119] Director of Veterinary Services during the war.

[120] Major-General Sir L.J. Blenkinsop and Lieutenant-Colonel J.W. Rainey, eds, History Of The Great War Based on Official Documents Veterinary Service s (London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1925), p. 5.

[121] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection GA, Veterinary Work, Ellis, Item 5, box 1.

[122] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection GA, Veterinary Work, Ellis, Item 5, box 1.

[123] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, 657, Letters and Photos belonging to Veterinary Hospital, BEF 1916.

[124] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, 657, Letters and Photos belonging to Veterinary Hospital, BEF 1916.

[125] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection GA, Veterinary Work, Ellis, Item 5, box 1.

[126] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection GA, Veterinary Work, Ellis, Item 5, box 1.

[127] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 5.

[128] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection GA, Veterinary Work, Ellis, Item 5, box 1, The Sphere (London: War Magazine,1916), p. 66.

[129] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 93.

[130] Hobday, p. 60.

[131] Moore, Army Veterinary Service in War, p. 28.

[132] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection, GS 1337, photo.

[133] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection GA, Veterinary Work, Ellis, Item 5, box 1.

[134] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection GA, Veterinary Work, Ellis, Item 5, box 1.

[135] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection GA, Veterinary Work, Ellis, Item 5, box 1.

[136] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 16, Historical Records of Major Generals Army Veterinary Service (London: Waterlow & Sons Limited, 1933), p.83.

[137] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, 704, Report upon the work the work of the Quartermaster-General's Branch of the Staff and Directorates, p. 45

[138] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection GA, Veterinary Work, Ellis, Item 5, box 1.

[139] Moore, Our Servant The Horse, p. 11.

[140] Moore, Army Veterinary Service in War, p. 183.

[141] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 105.

[142] Clabbey, p. 16.

[143] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection, GS 1070.

[144] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 60.

[145] Galtrey, p. 78.

[146] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, 704, Report upon the work the work of the Quartermaster-General's Branch of the Staff and Directorates, p. 45.

[147] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, Private Diary of Major C. Davenport AVC, p. 8.

[148] Q.M.G 'a' Branch, Notes on Horse Management In The Field (Army Printing and Stationary Services, 1914), p.1.

[149] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, 704, Report upon the work the work of the Quartermaster-General's Branch of the Staff and Directorates, p. 50

[150] Horse Management Manuel, p.1. CHECK

[151] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 5.

[152] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection GS 0268, p. 8.

[153] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection, GS 0268, p. 8.

[154] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 60.

[155] Galtrey, p. 78.

[156] Q.M.G 'a' Branch, p.5.

[157] The National Archives, CAB/24/33, Report on the work of the Food Production Department, p.85.

[158] National Archives, CAB/23/2, War Cabinet Minutes, p. 7.

[159] Moore, Army Veterinary Service in War, p. 54.

[160] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, 704, Report upon the work the work of the Quartermaster-General's Branch of the Staff and Directorates, p. 50.

[161] Q.M.G 'a' Branch, p.12.

[162] Major-General Sir Frederick Smith, A History of The Royal Army Veterinary Corps 1796-1919 (London: Baillière, Tindall & Cox, 1927), p. 235.

[163] Q.M.G 'a' Branch, p.13.

[164] R.S.P.C.A, 'Horses On The Battlefield', The Observer in ProQuest, 23 August 1914, p. 4 [accessed 10 April 2009].

[165] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection GA, Veterinary Work, Ellis, Item 5, box 1, The Sphere (London: War Magazine,1916), no. 89, p. 66.

[166] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 57.

[167] Moore, Our Servant The Horse, p. 24.

[168] 'Classified Ad 4- No Title' Manchester Guardian in ProQuest, 28 Januray 1915, p.1 [accessed 10 April 2009].

[169] See also photo three at the back of this dissertation - 'Display Ad 10 – No Title' Manchester Guardian in ProQuest, 20 November, 1918, p.3 [accessed 10 April 2009].

[170] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 17.

[171] Blenkinsop and Rainey, pp.33-34.

[172] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection GA, Veterinary Work, Ellis, Item 5, box 1, The Sphere (London: War Magazine,1916), p. 66.

[173] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 87.

[174] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, 704, Report upon the work the work of the Quartermaster-General's Branch of the Staff and Directorates, p.43.
[175] Army Medical Services Museum, Army Veterinary Corps, Box 18, 704, Report upon the work the work of the Quartermaster-General's Branch of the Staff and Directorates, p.44.

[176] Smith, p. 3.

[177] Moore, Army Veterinary Service in War, p.41.

[178] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 69.

[179] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 70.

[180] Blenkinsop and Rainey, p. 104.

[181] Moore, Our Servant The Horse, p. 18.

[182] National Archives, CAB/24/12, War Cabinet Minutes: Reduction of Horses, p.5.

[183] Imperial War Museum, 74/8/1, Recollections of a Veterinary Surgeon, p.53.

[184] 'Soldier's Stories Of The War; Glimpses of Heroic Deeds and Splendid Sacrifice London Welcomes The Wounded', Manchester Guardian in Proquest, 01 September, 1914, [accessed 10 April 2009].

[185] Leeds University Library, Liddle Collection, GS 1337, p. 31.

[186] Galtrey, p. 15.

[187] Hobday, p. 58.

[188] Hobsay. p.58.

 

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