Page 12 - Chiron Spring 2018
P. 12

 A ‘tusker’ in action in Germany
 were humanely were put down, leaving the remainder to be cared for, a practice which continues to this day.
The significant loss of draught horses in Britain led to some rather bizarre sights in some towns with circus elephants and even camels used as draught animals to haul not only delivery wagons but farmers’ ploughs.
Even the German Army was forced to use their circus animals on the Home Front as substitutes for their own horses which had been, like the British and French, drafted to the front, and on many occasions the better trained and more intelligent elephants were far better suited and more useful than a horse.
The dromedary or Arabian camel is eminently suitable for arid areas with its ability to go without food or water for long periods carrying either riders or supplies and so it was used in the Middle East during WW I.
Founded in December 1916 the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade (ICCB) was part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force and fought extensively throughout the area and in the Senussi, Sinai and Palestine Campaigns, and later in the Arab revolt until its disbandment in 1919.
It was found that camels, unlike horses, are not easily spooked by gunfire or artillery detonations which, together with their hardiness, made them ideal for desert warfare to carry soldiers and also as draught animals. The soldiers fought as mounted infantry supported in the field by camel-borne (mountain) artillery guns.
The ICCB was supported by a remount depot and a veterinary hospital near Cairo with an AVC sergeant in each company
headquarters. By 1917 the lessons from the harsh realities on the Western Front had clearly been learned and a 42 man mobile veterinary section was present at brigade level. At one point there were 50,000 camels in addition to horses, mules and donkeys.
Besides carrying the infantry, ammunition and other supplies some 35 camels were also used to carry the wounded in side-mounted stretchers, called cacolets, strapped on either side of the camel, transport in which was described as acutely uncomfortable and often ‘worse than being wounded’.
Surprisingly, camels are sensitive to cold in particular, to rain and strangely, to excessive heat. The main cause of disease was mange which infected every single Egyptian camel and could have wiped out the entire force within a few months had drastic treatment not have been initiated.
Camel casualties and injuries recorded from the 2000 camels in the Egyptian Camel Transport Corps:
• 1000 animals killed in action
• 92 shot due to battle injuries.
• As many animals were also
reported to be overloaded it was inevitable that saddle/harness sores were a recurrent problem requiring constant veterinary vigilance and attention.
With birds encountering the extreme violence of the battlefield and particularly the horrendous noise, it never ceased to amaze soldiers that where trees and bushes still survived the artillery bombardments and devastation that birds were sometimes seen trying to behave in an apparently normal way – flocking,
perching to sing and nest building etc. Everyone knows of the amazing and unerringly accurate ability for pigeons to return to their loft or roost after sometimes flying very long distances to do so. Thus it was with military pigeons in WW1 that were seemingly still capable of flying through the shattering noise of bursting shells and skies full of shrapnel with both accuracy and also with good reliability in returning to their loft, albeit a temporary
Some military authorities declared
pigeons as obsolete as messages could be transmitted quicker by telephone and telegraph. But certainly on the Western Front, the vast damage to the terrain caused by almost continual artillery barrages broke wires as fast as they could be repaired, often at extreme risk for the soldiers, and thus encouraged a rethink of the value of pigeons. Some 95% of army messages sent by British pigeons were

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