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Remembering Equine War Heroes

November 10, 2017 | by kate.allen@hooknortonvets.co.uk | Equine

On the eve of Remembrance Day, equine vet Sally Hodgson sheds light on some of the unsung equine heroes of the First World War & how they were treated when injured.

Military activity during the First World War still depended heavily on horses and mules for rapid movement of troops and field artillery, and for the transport of supplies and munitions. On the Western Front the Army Veterinary Corps treated 2.5 million equine casualties, of which 80% returned to active service. Apart from gunshot and shrapnel wounds, the majority of cases were treated for debility and exhaustion, and for contagious diseases such as influenza and mange. Poison gas exposure was also a major problem, despite the development of gas masks for horses! Injured and sick horses were transported away from the front lines on foot if they were fit enough, or by rail or barge over longer distances. Horse-drawn horse ambulances were used for cases that could not walk.

In 1915 a new design of horse-drawn horse ambulance was issued to mobile veterinary sections posted with infantry divisions, and later to each cavalry division as well. The new ambulance had number of improvements from the previous fixed-body version. The axle passed over the top of the vehicle body, providing an attachment point for a sling and hoisting equipment. The floor and tailboard were removable. If it was necessary to transport a horse that couldn’t stand, the floor and tailboard could be removed and the ambulance was positioned over the patient for it to be hoisted to the correct height before the floor and sides were replaced. The shafts could also be removed and fitted to either end of the ambulance, avoiding the need to manoeuvre in tight situations, and allowed the transported casualty to walk on and off in a forward direction. The driver’s seat simply hooked on to the side of the vehicle so it too could be quickly moved.

One surviving example of the horse-drawn horse ambulance can be seen at Sandown racecourse; the Royal Logistic Corps Heritage Museum has another, which has been restored to its previous working condition. The below photo shows it in action at Edenbridge and Oxted Show.

With thanks to Sergeant Anthony Bysouth, RLC.

Written by kate.allen@hooknortonvets.co.uk

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