When the first Canadian artillery units embarked for overseas in September 1914, there were 7,679 Canadian horses in ships of the convoy, eighty-one of which died before they were disembarked.They stood the whole way — twelve days across the ocean, and up to ten more days in harbour at Plymouth, waiting to be unloaded. The wait was particularly hard on the animals, with little wind to ventilate their stalls below deck. (1)
Galtrey (2) describes a disembarkation he called representative. Since his book was published before the war was over, it is understandable that it is rather rosy in tone. The horses, he writes,
seem to know that something unusual is going to happen. There is no motion on the ship ; the engines have ceased to throb, and the movements of the animals in their narrow stalls or pens seem more insistent. They know as well as we know that they are going to emerge from their imprisonment into the sweet, fresh air and the blinding light of day. The horses know. The mules are distrustful, because it is their one thought and principle in life to be suspicious and apprehensive. They fear more trouble.
So, out of the unsalubrious, gas-laden air and the forbidding gloom of the decks below stairs the first of the horses come quietly and with marked docility down the sloping “brows,” or gangways, on to a foreign soil. They blink in the sunshine, shake their heads and neglected manes, and quietly submit to the first requirements of their new military existence. Some are sullen and soberly matter-of-fact, seemingly devoid of all excitement and emotions of any kind ; some are nervous and distraught, wild-eyed, and betraying fear as if they cannot understand the violent upheavals that have occurred in their usually uneventful existences. But the calm and placid new-comer is in an overwhelming majority. (24)
The Canadian horses were so debilitated by their crossing that they were excused work for several days, even after arrival by train on Salisbury Plain.
And then it began to rain.
(1) Nicholson, G.W.L. The Gunners of Canada. The History of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery. Vol 1: 1534-1919. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1967. 201.
(2) Galtrey, Captain Sidney. The Horse and the War. London: Country Life, 1918.