50,000 war horses treated on WW1’s frontlines

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Blue Cross founded several animal hospitals in France during WW1.
Blue Cross founded several animal hospitals in France during WW1.

The role of animals in war is being honoured by pet charity Blue Cross, which was at the frontline of World War One with horses and dogs who needed veterinary care.

The charity has released a short film narrated by Felicity Kendal, with rare archival film footage from more than 100 years ago, as well as still images from the time.

In WW1, horses and dogs were indispensable. Horses were at the heart of the cavalry, carrying gun carriages, wagons, ambulances and munitions trucks, and dogs of war played an important role as lookouts, messengers and carriers of ammunitions, first-aid packs and injured soldiers.

But the animals were also flesh and blood and extremely vulnerable. By 1917 there were 869, 931 horses in active military service, and it was estimated after the war that almost 226,000 horses drafted into the British Army lost their lives.

While the Red Cross brought relief to the human victims of war there was no similar service for the war’s animal victims, until the Blue Cross arrived to help them.

Then known as the Our Dumb Friends League, Blue Cross set up veterinary care on the front lines, treating injured and sick horses and dogs. By the end of the war, the charity had treated more than 50,000 sick and injured horses, and 18,000 dogs, funded entirely by donations from the public.

Blue Cross also helped soldiers who befriended dogs while posted overseas – they had shared food and fears together and many soldiers could not bear to leave them behind. But the price to quarantine the dogs to bring them home was too expensive for most soldiers to afford, so Blue Cross took over the Carlton Kennels in Shooters Hill, London as a dog quarantine station.

Horses were at the heart of the cavalry, carrying gun carriages, wagons, ambulances and munitions trucks
Horses were at the heart of the cavalry, carrying gun carriages, wagons, ambulances and munitions trucks

Once dogs had passed the required time in quarantine, Blue Cross reunited the pair – often by packing the dog onto a train to be met by their owner at their destination.

Blue Cross Deputy Chief Executive Steve Goody said:  “At Blue Cross we know animals change lives every day, but there is no time we see this more profoundly than in times of war. In World War One animals were a huge part of the war effort, and we have an incredible archive filled with images and letters to attest to it.

“We think it’s vital to remember the lives of animals who were forced into battles that they had no say in, and to honour the role they played.”

Blue Cross has been helping animals since 1897, and last year we helped almost 30,000 pets with veterinary services at its clinics, rehomed nearly 9000 pets, and supported more than 8000 grieving people who had lost their pets through its Pet Bereavement Support Service.

A horse being treated at the Blue Cross hospital in Serqueux, France, in 1914.
A horse being treated at the Blue Cross hospital in Serqueux, France, in 1914.

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