Obviously it is easy to be sentimental about horses from the distance of a hundred years and the perspective of a society which no longer needs literal horsepower. Michael Morpurgo’s novel War Horse — or the drama or the film versions — provides an emotional context for the cold figures in the statistical record, and will break your heart if it is not steel-plated.
Not that there was no contemporary sentiment.
The Blue Cross Charity commissioned a painting from Fortunino Mantania to use in its fundraising efforts to assist animals not only in Britain but in Blue Cross animal hospitals in France. It was hugely popular.
“Wastage” is the term used to denominate number of animals (chiefly horses and mules on the Western Front — but donkeys, oxen and even camels were provided by the Remounts) lost from active service.
The War Office statisticians didn’t interpret their figures very much. As of October 1, 1917, 225,856 animals in the service of the British Army in France and England were listed as “died, destroyed, killed, missing,” but they do not indicate what proportion. Was it higher or lower than the percentage of animal wastage (7.85) recorded for the Boer War?
(1) The description comes from the Blue Cross Charity website; the image, and the RSPCA poster, from 7 Field Company Royal Engineers War Diary 1916.
(2) Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire during the Great War 1914-1920. London: HMSO 1922. 397.
Copyright 2016. See “About this project.”