Remembering the Horses of World War I
 By Winniefield Park   •   4th Jan 2015   •   3,365 views   •   1 comments
Cupids WarIt is now a hundred years since the start of the First World War. As we remember this tragic period of world history we must cast our minds back to the world, as it then was, a world in which the motorcar was a relatively new invention. Daily life still depended on the horse as a means of transport for people and for goods. Horses ploughed the fields, delivered the milk, the bread and the coal; even the railways that had transformed the country during the nineteenth century, used horses to bring goods to the station yards.

Imagine then, what it would have been like when war was declared at the beginning of August 1914. Thousands of troops were mobilised and huge quantities of military equipment and men had to be moved about the country and eventually ferried across the Channel to France.

During the first weeks of the war thousands of horses were bought or requisitioned by the army. The lives of these horses were changed overnight; one day a horse may have been pulling a milk float or a dray, a plough or a hay wagon; the next day it was perhaps pulling a gun or an ammunition wagon. Many others who may have been hunters or hacks found themselves as cavalry horses, the work was hard and interminable and often forage was in short supply.

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It was not long before they were in action on the front line. The endless roar of the guns, the scream of the shells as they flew through the air, and the whistle of bullets and bursting shrapnel must have been terrifying for these peaceful animals. Thousands of horses were killed or wounded. Even when not in action the poor wretched animals had to survive the ever-worsening weather conditions; they stood day after day hock deep in the oozing mud as the rain lashed down on them in freezing torrents. One of the few mercies that these brave horses had was the utter devotion from the men who they served, close bonds were formed between them, they became reliant upon each other for their safety and even life itself.

Cupids War
Photo of Cupid, the horse featured in the book "Cupid's War"

My own families’ horses served first in France then in Egypt and Palestine after crossing the Sinai desert, where forage and water were very scarce. Just spare a thought if you can for these brave, loyal horses that suffered so much during the four years of the First World War; most were never to return home and were sold into hard labour; a cruel way to be treated after what they had been through.

Mrs. Dorothy Brooke, the wife of a British army officer, came to Cairo in the 1930’s and saw how these faithful old war-horses were being treated, she was so appalled by what she saw that she founded the Brooke Animal Hospital to treat and look after these poor wretched horses. You may have heard of the Brooke Hospital, it continues today with its wonderful work throughout the world.

Article written by Martin Laurie:
Martin Laurie is the author of “Cupid’s War: The True Story of a Horse that Went to War” (published by Mereo and available through all good bookshops and internet booksellers.)
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Valkyrie   MOD 
What was interesting about the Great War, and what attracted me to studying it in the first place, was the simple fact that it was being run by men trained in 19th century techniques, but with 20th century weapons. In the 19th century throwing a few thousand men at an enemy stronghold was a valid tactic - you could simply overwhelm them. But with the invention of the machine gun, shrapnel shell, and quick-loading rifle this sort of tactic became nothing short of homicidal.

As far as horses were concerned everyone still thought war was a noble cause, and the cavalry was the epitome of dash and glory. Unfortunately horseflesh was no match for Spandaus or shells. Bogged down on the Western Front it was impossible to use cavalry for their main purpose - to exploit weaknesses in enemy defences and rout them as they retreated. Instead horses became beasts of burden. They were much better suited to the wide open deserts of Palestine where the Australian and New Zealand Light Horse brigades
  Jan 5, 2015  •  3,490 views
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