Saturday, 10 November 2018

Remembrance Sunday - Purple Poppies - and 100 Years Since the End of WW1

The traditional red poppy and the purple (animal remembrance) poppy
can be worn side-by-side
Tomorrow is Remembrance Sunday and with the centenary of the end of WW1, quite rightly there has been a huge focus on remembrance of the massive loss of life and reflection on the horrific and costly four years of war - for those in the military and for civilians from all walks of life.

I just wanted to take the opportunity to reflect a little on the huge sacrifice of animals in the conflict too - horses, mules, donkeys in particular...and also the other animals that the military used too - camels, oxen and pigeons...Dogs were used for sentry duty and casualty dogs were trained to find dying or wounded soldiers on the battle field - they carried medical equipment so a soldier could treat himself and they would stay with a dying soldier to keep him company.

The extent of loss and sacrifice is just staggering...and incomprehensible to think what humans and animals went through in those 4 years.

Remembering the Plight of the Horses, Mules and Donkeys:

  • By the end of the war the British Army had purchased 460,000 horses and mules from the British Isles and beyond - for riding, pulling guns or for transport.  
  • Around 120,000 horses were requisitioned from the civilian population.  Families wrote to the War Office asking for their beloved ponies to be spared, and the War Office did decide that no horse under 15 hands high would be recruited.  
  • More than 600,000 horses and mules were purchased and shipped from America and Canada.  Travelling by sea for these horses was extremely dangerous and thousands died through this journey alone - due to disease (especially pneumonia), shipwreck, injury caused by the rolling vessel or attack by the enemy.  In one year alone, 2,700 horses and mules died/drowned as a result of submarines and warships sinking their vessels.
  • Of the horses that died in WW1 75% died from disease and exhaustion.  Horses suffered greatly from cold, exhaustion, long marches, poor food.  They suffered from disease, fatigue, respiratory infection, lameness, mud-borne infections, gun shot wounds, exposure to gas, and shellshock.  Veterinary Officers were told to clip their horses which led to an increase in the number of horses dying from exposure to the cold and mud - the rule only being relaxed in 1918 so that the legs and stomach were clipped.  
  • Apparently British horses were fed the best diet - the German horses suffered from the naval blockade and had their feed supplemented with sawdust causing many to starve.
  • The Army Veterinary Corp managed to get 80% of the horses they treated back to the frontline.  Vets inspected army horses daily to try to prevent injury and disease.  Many wounded animals were destroyed on the spot but others were taken to special veterinary hospitals for treatment.  
  • Charities in the UK contributed by providing the first ever motorised horse ambulance, which revolutionised the care of sick and injured horses.  It was such a success at getting thousands of animals back from the front to the 18 field hospitals that the War Office requested 13 more vehicles from various charities.
  • Between 1914-1918 the British Army lost around 15% of its horses annually, compared to 80% lost each year during the Crimean War.  

(Facts gained from the data and information on this website National Army Museum - Army Horse Care in WW1 )

For those that survived the war only 25,000 horses were brought home to Britain.  60,000 were sold to farmers on the Continent.  The oldest and most worn out horses were sent to the Knackers yard for meat.  Some UK charities rescued some war horses from the Belgian horse markets and brought them back to the UK for retirement.

Such a sad end for so many after their endurance and dedication...so we remember all those who lost their lives and who endured the war.

For me personally, I have only just learned recently that my great, great, great aunt was awarded an MBE for her work with the Red Cross in WW1 - for her work as quartermaster and then commandant of an auxilliary hospital where wounded servicemen were cared for.  Her work had been all but forgotten so I remember her now and her extraordinary achievement helping those in need of care.

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