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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Horses in the Great War


gem22
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In an earlier thread, on the Army Remount Service, Ian Bowbrick mentioned that he was pleasantly surprised by the number of animals successfully treated and returned to service.

I thought readers might like to see a few figures from the Veterinary Services Official History of the War.

Between August 1914 and March 31st 1919, on all fronts, 2,526,549 Horses and Mules were admitted to hospital. Of these 1,887,646 were cured.

The total dead wastage from August 1914 to November 1918, from all causes, was more than 500,000 of which 269,000 were lost in France.

The average sick rate was about 11 per cent of strength and the mortality rate varied from a rate representing 20.64 per cent a year in 1914 to a low of 9.65 per cent in 1916.

Approximately 25,000 camels were lost in addition. Mostly caused by debility and disease.

These are just a few of the many facts available about animals in service during the war. If you compare the figures with those for human losses in the British Army you may agree that animals suffered far great losses than many of us realise and for no reward at all.

Garth

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I suppose that the Remount Service worked in close association with the Army Vet Corps (Can't spell Veter.......). From what I have found out the remount depots were run by civilians and Army Service Corps personnel. Quite an undertaking bearing in mind the number of poor horses involved.

One often see's old photo's with horses laying dead. I wonder if the men ever took the opertunity to try some horse meat. The French were and still are horse meat eaters....

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One often see's old photo's with horses laying dead. I wonder if the men ever took the opertunity to try some horse meat. The French were and still are horse meat eaters....

Neil

Many horses were sold off too butchers I'll check the prices and get back to you about that. Probably be Monday because the book has to stay at my workplace ; it isn't my own.

Garth

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If you compare the figures with those for human losses in the British Army you may agree that animals suffered far great losses than many of us realise and for no reward at all.

Garth

What would the sickness rate and losses have been for these same animals if they had not been involved in the war? Would the same quality of veterinary services have been available on farms, etc?

Robert

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Robert

That is a very difficult question to answer but I will try and dig out the info and get back to you. One thing is certain however, all things medical, or veterinary, improve because of war.

Garth

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One often see's old photo's with horses laying dead. I wonder if the men ever took the opertunity to try some horse meat. The French were and still are horse meat eaters....

Neil

Did the troops eat horsemeat? The honest answer is I don't know. From the Official History however we do learn that " when the meat shortage in England became acute, a series of conferences was held with firms of butchers to determine to what extent it might be possible to establish the sale of horse meat in London and Liverpool, and thus to utilize the flesh of otherwise healthy animals that it was necessary to destroy on account of chronic lameness or other condition which rendered them unfit for further work".

In France the following scheme was put into place:

"The sale to agriculturalists of cast animals fit to work on the land

The sale to approved contractors in Paris or other towns of animals fit for human food

The preparation of carcasses fit for human food, and disposal of the products to contractors or to the Army Service Corps for issue as a meat ration to coloured labour companies or prisoners of war".

Did soldiers eat horse meat? I reckon it was a fair possibility.

Garth (omnivore extraordinaire)

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What would the sickness rate and losses have been for these same animals if they had not been involved in the war? Would the same quality of veterinary services have been available on farms, etc?

Robert

Robert

From the information I have found so far it isn't possible to give a definitive answer, but I hope the following will help.

The policy of the British Remount Commission in North America was to ship only fit horses. It had been thought that accepting horses from public stockyards, such as Chicago and St Louis, would increase the levels of sickness.

This was found not to be the case as these stockyards were generally much cleaner than remount depots.

When the remount depots were brought up to the same hygiene levels, as the public stockyards, the amount of sickness dropped off.

So initially we saw an increase in sickness levels but later a falling back. But by the same token many animals, in the remount depots, were cured when animals in private ownership were put down. The reason for the discrepancy comes down to the value you place on an animal. To the Army the cost of treatment was less than the cost of replacement. To a farmer the costs were usually the reverse. ( Indeed it is still the case today).

The quality of veterinary service available on farms would have been as good as that available to the Army. What was far less likely was the desire of the farmer to call in the vet.

The TV programme 'All Creatures" showed it quite well. Pet owners were far more likely to call in the vet than were farmers.

So the losses from sickness probably balanced out, greter numbers being affected but most of them were cured.

This cannot be said of those that received gunshot wounds.

Garth

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Thank you, Garth. Part of my reason for asking the question was that I grew up on a farm, so many of the factors considered in caring for and treating animals are familiar to me, particularly the cost of getting in a vet. Gunshot wounds would not have been inflicted in the same way as on the battlefield, but there are some who have let their animals suffer for longer than necessary for want of getting treatment for an illness or injury, then dispatch the animal with a gun.

Robert

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