WWi horse heroes: without their loyalty and sacrifice, the world would be very different
Jo ellen hayden
Airing August 16, 2019
Approximately one million American horses and mules served Allied forces in Europe during World War I. Many were used by the British and French armies well before the United States entered the war.
Sending animals to war seems, today, somehow even more awful than sending people to war. But in 1914, there was little room for that sentiment. Animals were absolutely essential to the war effort, and they had to be sent - millions and millions of them, by the time the war was over. Most were horses and mules, though dogs, pigeons, camels, and even water buffalo and elephants were also found in some theaters of the war.
"Concerning the war I say nothing...the only thing that wrings my heart and soul is the thought of the horses...oh! my beloved animals...the men...and armies can go to hell but my horses: I walk round and round this room cursing God for allowing dumb brutes to be tortured...let Him kill His human beings but...how can He? Oh my horses." (Sir Edward Elgar, August 25, 1914)
While the first thing that might come to mind when considering the role of horses in the Great War might be the cavalry, that would in fact be the least frequent use of horses in the war. Far more horses and mules served in harness than under saddle (discounting for a moment that many of the draft horses were ridden while in harness, as in many cases the “drivers” did not ride on the vehicles but rather on the horses that were pulling vehicles and guns). But putting this aside, and focusing on horses that were ridden rather than being driven, it would be the Officer’s Chargers that made up the largest numbers of saddle horses used in the war.
In both the British and U.S. armies, officers were issued horses to ride as their daily mode of transportation. These “Officer’s Chargers” were the finest boned and lightest in appearance of all military horses. They were also the tallest, at 16 hands and sometimes more.
Their contributions were enormous and so was their suffering; the terror that these animals must have experienced is incomprehensible. But without their loyalty and sacrifices on a massive scale, the war's outcome - and now the world - would be very different." (Ret) Major General Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter, Chairman, Brooke International
In a few cases, their stories became national legends, such as General Jack Seely and his horse Warrior, who became folk icons in Great Britain and Canada and whose actions and narrow escapes were followed by thousands of fans back home.
[To learn more about General Seely and his beloved Warrior, the Real War Horse, check out Because of Horses’ Episode 88’s conversation with the general’s grandson, Brough Scott.]
Even junior officers and senior enlisted men rode horses, but theirs were not as grand; known in the British army as “Officer’s cobs,” they might be large ponies or small horses, 14.2 to 15.1 hands tall. The term “cob” is used more in Britain than in the US, but the smaller, sturdy, plainer looking animal is easy to recognize in many of the American west’s cowponies and mustang stock.
We must never forget.
The Horse Heroes site is curated by Brooke USA
About Brooke USA:
Today there are approximately 100 million horses, donkeys, and mules in the developing world. It is estimated that 80% of those working equines are suffering from preventable problems. Brooke touches the lives of over two million of them annually, supporting twelve million people in their human families each year.
The tragedy of WW1 gave birth to a vision, and today the charity named in Dorothy's honor is the world's largest international equine welfare charity. Brooke USA supports Brooke's equine welfare programs around the world.
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