Article from Stand To! Number 31, 1991

When the BEF reached its peak strength in 1916 it employed at least 400,000 horses and mules. For most of the time the 30,000 horses in the cavalry divisions did not, on the whole, fare too badly. The same cannot be said for the draught and pack animals in the forward areas who suffered terribly. They must have accounted for most of the 270,000 animals that died or were destroyed or killed on the Western Front throughout the war. Bad though this was, it could have been much worse, if it had not been for the work of the Army Veterinary Corps.

On the outbreak of war the AVC-it became a Royal corps in 1920-was just 519 strong. By 1918 there were 15,600 AVC officers and men serving on the Western Front alone and that figure does not include the Dominion veterinary personnel.

Wounded or sick animals were initially treated by unit staff as each mounted unit and infantry brigade had a veterinary officer on its establishment. Further treatment could be given by the divisional mobile veterinary section. If necessary the beasts could then be transported back via a veterinary evacuation station (there were several in each army area) to one of the eighteen veterinary hospitals in the rear. IWM photo Q10295 shows wounded horses being received at No. 5 Hospital at Abbeville on 22 April 1918. Originally designed to handle 250 animals, each hospital could eventually deal with 2000! More elaborate treatment was available there including operations such as that about to be performed in IWM Q506 which was taken at the same hospital on 3 April 1916.


The AVC also maintained four convalescent horse depots each for 200 horses, five stores depots and a laboratory on the Western Front.

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