Did anybody else watch the Channel 4 documentary on Sunday evening? Have you seen the film or read the book? I haven’t yet, but I plan to.
More than 1 million horses were used during World War 1, as Cavalry horses on the Front Line, or used for transportation, pulling heavy wagons of food & ammunitions for hour after hour along roads that were regularly bombed by the Germans, and through muddy trenches.
Either way, the war would not have been won without them. There were very few motor vehicles at that time, so horses were an absolute necessity for all aspects of the war effort.
TheBritish Army didn’t have enough horses so Lord Kitchener ‘pressed’ Britian’s horses into service, acquiring 140,000 in just 2 weeks.
The first ordeal for the horses was actually getting to France, the majority had never seen water and never been near a boat, and so were terrified, some jumping overboard to be washed away by the sea.
Then they had to adjust to their new role as army horses. This was much different to their life at home – the fear and stress due to the cold, hunger, bombs and being shot at. Plus many of the Cavalrymen that joined were from the cities and had no experience of horses. It was a steep learning curve for man and horse alike.
Caring for the horses gave the men something to focus on, and many developed deep friendships with their animals, the relationships made life on the Front Line that little bit more bearable.
The Veterinary Corps tended to sick and wounded horses, and 20 horse hospitals were set up behind the lines. They treated shrapnel & bullet injuries, mud fever and mange, malnutrition and dehydration.
A particularly nasty weapon of war used by the Germans was the ‘Caltrop’ (see picture). This was left in fields and roads in the paths of horses, and was designed so that when a horse stood on one it would be pushed right up into the joint of the hoof taking muck and bacteria with it, crippling the animal and making it impossible for the wound to be cleaned.
Most horse deaths were down to exhaustion, disease and exposure to the extremes of weather. More than a quarter of a million horses were lost in the mud and squalor of the Western Front, some say this figure nears half a million.
One of the most famous War Horses was ‘Warrior’, owned by general Jack Seely. This was a most brave horse who didn’t panic when all around him was noise and chaos, and became a mascot for the Cavalry. After the war was over, General Seely and Warrior returned home to the Isle of White, where they lived out their lives in peace.
Not all were so lucky. After the war, many horses were sold to French farmers, but most didn’t get the hero’s return they deserved. The army couldn’t afford to ship them back, and couldn’t afford to keep many in their ‘employ’, so some 85,000 were shot, mainly to be used as food for German prisoners of war.
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