Page 8 - Chiron Spring 2018
P. 8

The use of animals in war is, simply put, a huge, very extensive and complex area of study and it is not possible to cover the subject in its entirety here – this information should thus serve only to encourage those who wish to know more in either a general or specific sense, to delve further into it themselves.
Mankind has used a wide variety of animals in warfare since ancient times. The best known range from the long lines of horse-drawn chariots of the Egyptians as they fought the Nubians, the huge and ferocious war dogs of the Britons as they resisted the Romans, the war elephants used in India, Persia, Siam, China and even in Europe around the Mediterranean, the vast and powerful cavalry of the Mongol hordes ranging huge distances and the heavily armoured horses of medieval knights that dominated their battlefields - all of these are well documented in history books. Other animals that have been pressed into use in war comprised oxen, camels, pigs, pigeons, mules and donkeys, reindeer, geese, canaries and even mice.
War presents us with a contradictory situation, in that certainly in the Western World the inhabitants of most countries are expected to show either overt kindness or at least some form of respect to animals in general. It is a hard and unfeeling person who cannot respond in some particular way to the companionship or affection shown by a horse, dog, cat or other animal that although quite unable to articulate in speech, nevertheless seems to be able to communicate their feelings directly or to accurately reflect the person’s feelings be they ones of happiness or sorrow. The relationship that can exist between man and animal serves to develop an air of trust intermingled with degrees of affection and outright devotion that should and do make a strong appeal to the best in us, and evoke the warmest and most enduring of all human emotions, that of friendship. That emotional link was sorely tested as animals were then deliberately used and exposed to the horrors of the 1914-1918 battlefields.
The Great War of 1914-1918 was no different to earlier and ancient wars with regard to the use of animals and it is no surprise that at the commencement of hostilities the armies of all the belligerent nations had large numbers of horses in military service:
• The outbreak of war in 1914 found the British Army with a total establishment of 25,000 horses and mules, with 1,200 remounts. Within 12 days, the establishment had been increased to 165,000 animals, entirely by impressment, and a year later, in August 1915, to 534,971.
• At its peak in 1917, the Army establishment reached almost 870,000 horses and mules, with accommodation for 60,000 remounts.
• The Russian military forces in 1914 began the war with some thirty six divisions of cavalry standing in excess of one million horses available for service, a similar total recorded by the British and Commonwealth forces by the end of hostilities in 1918.
• The French started with 156,000 horses and after five months requisitioned a further 730,000 animals, eventually registering a total 1,880,000 horses and mules from 1914-1918.
• Germany had 2,500,000 animals all told.
Horses were used primarily in the form of cavalry troops and in the transport and supply services, although there had been for some years signs that advances in weapons technology, in small arms, but especially in artillery and even in motorised transport, that in combination clearly indicated the decreasing value and potential demise of mounted troops in what was coming to then be regarded as ‘modern warfare’. Nevertheless, cavalry was a large component in all armies in 1914.
‘Into Battle’ by Captain Julian Grenfell - Ypres 1915
Still smarting from the Boer War upsets
the onset of this war saw the British Army remaining convinced that cavalry were essential elements in battle and reserve cavalry units had been expanded in spite of the almost universal expectations throughout Britain and its Armed Forces in 1914 was of a short war. The Army Remount Service whose function was to purchase and supply horses and mules was geared to that objective. But as the war developed and gathered momentum the need for more horses and mules arose.
“In dreary, doubtful, waiting hours, before the brazen frenzy starts, Horses show him nobler powers; O patient eyes, courageous hearts!”
Such was the demand that 165,000 animals were taken from farms, coal mines, factories and businesses in Britain early in the war and then even more animals were purchased from Canada and the USA, and as far afield as Australia and Argentina. But such was the burgeoning demand that by the middle of 1917, Britain had procured 591,000 horses and 213,000 mules, as well as almost 60,000 camels and oxen.
Over the course of the entire war, a total of 468,323 horses were purchased in the United Kingdom, 428,608 horses and 275,097 mules in North America, 6,000 horses and 1,500 mules came from South America and 3,700 from Spain and Portugal.
Between 1914 and 1920, the Remount Britain’s Remount Department spent £67.5 million on purchasing, training and delivering horses and mules to the front, such that the British and Commonwealth total was somewhere in excess of one million horses and mules, including 475,000 draught horses, which were in military service.
Shipping horses between the USA and
Silent Soldiers
Animals in The Great War
By Major PN Skelton-Stroud BVSc PhD MVSc MPhil FRSB FRCVS Royal Army Veterinary Corps (V) – Retd.
     German Cavalry in the field
French Heavy Cavalry in Paris 1914
Royal Irish Lancers Aldershot 1914

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