Horses 10

In addition to the animals which died, were destroyed or killed and went missing, the War Office statisticians identified within the total wastage a further thirty thousand animals who were “cast.” Cast animals are those deemed unfit for, and therefore discharged from, further military service — whether for chronic lameness, broken wind, blindness, age, or less frequently, viciousness. For most of the animals cast in France, casting was only a slightly delayed death sentence, for the animals were sold for meat or for hides, glue and fat. On average, we are told, two gallons of fat could be rendered from a horse, and two gallons fetched fourteen francs. Indeed, £50,000 a month was realized from cast horses in France, a sum described by Galtrey (1) as a “small gain as a set-off to the dead loss.”(111)

Luckier, perhaps, were animals discharged from the Remount Centres in Britain, for they might be sold at auction and put to use in agriculture, although riding horses and mules were not bought for that purpose.

horse auction

Illustration by Lionel Edwards. Galtrey, 115

The War Office statisticians provide comparative figures for animal wastage in both the French and the British Army; here they note that the proportion of castings to deaths in the French army (30%) was much higher than in the British Army (12%). (2) Is there perhaps a little smugness in the implication that British veterinary care  was more effective? “When it is remembered that a trifle over 20 per cent of the horses admitted to hospitals never return to active service, it will be understood that castings are on a big scale,” says Galtrey (108). Perhaps the authorities took some comfort in the fact that the French losses to casting were so much higher. Or perhaps here is an echo of longstanding cross-Channel rivalry. The French and British, after all, had not always been allies.

(1) Galtrey, Captain Sidney. The Horse and the War. London: Country Life, 1918. This book was published before the conclusion of hostilities.
(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.”
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