Remembering the carers of the war horses.

We tend to overlook the men who often risked their lives to care for and safeguard their comrades the war horses under atrocious conditions while in action at the front.

When we think of the war horses during the remembrance period we tend to overlook the men who risked their lives to safeguard and care for them, particularly while in action at the front. These men not only witnessed the horrors of their human comrades being killed and mutilated but also their equine comrades. My grandfather Edwin Clark was one of these men.

Men were often killed caring for their beloved horses.

At about 6 p.m. on the evening of the 30th. September 1918 my grandfather Edwin Clark and his fellow artillery drivers of the 13th. Battery Canadian Field Artillery were “feeding-up” and watering their war horses at the wagon and horse line a mile back from the front line near the town of Raillencourt.

Suddenly they heard an aircraft approaching. It was a German plane and before they could take cover it dropped some newly invented  “Daisy-Clipper” bombs into the middle of the horse lines. They were designed to explode a few inches from the ground throwing shrapnel all around. The bombs killed one driver named Wishart and badly wounded nine others including Edwin. He received his third wound of the war, hit by shrapnel in his upper thigh, but survived. Many of the poor horses were killed, injured or fled. The scene was described in this way in the battalion war diary:

“The affair was over in less than 30 seconds but the bursting charges, the shouts of the men and the agonised shrieks of injured and terrified horses made a scene of indescribable chaos”

I cannot imagine my grandfather’s state of mind at that precise moment surrounded by crying injured men, shrieking horses, the sound of shots as horses were put out of their misery and the smell of cordite and blood. Hopefully he was too shocked and dazed to take it all in.

war horses, horses in war
War horse being treated for shrapnel wounds. They were viewed as legitimate targets.

The war horses were viewed as legitimate targets.

The horses and mules were viewed as legitimate targets by both sides due to their importance in supplying the gun batteries with ammunition as well as transporting the guns. They faced being shelled, bombed, gassed, sometimes shot and suffered horrific shrapnel injuries. Many suffered shell shock and remarkably others learned to lie down and take cover when under fire.

An officer wrote in the war diary that:

“the duty of the ‘stable pickets’ was an unenviable one, especially at night, when horse lines were being bombed or shelled. Quite apart from the danger of the explosions, there was always the chance of the picket ropes breaking and the horses stampeding. Horses frequently fought and kicked, becoming entangled in ropes and had to be followed and caught in the dark.”

 Like most of the human recruits, the horses had never experienced such noise, chaos, smells, violence and hardships and they did not have the capacity to realise what was happening to them or likely to happen to them. So everything occurring around them was terrifying until they became accustomed to it.

War horses in Great war, war horses
The horses were friends, comrades and confidents. They were in it together.

The ultimate example of man’s dependence on animals for solace.

The horses and mules became friends, confidants, fellow comrades and pseudo counsellors with whom the men could air their grievances, discuss their suffering and help alleviate their depression and melancholy. Without their companionship, the physical and mental well-being of the men would have been far worse than it was. The relationship is probably one of the ultimate examples of man’s dependence on animals for solace.

The men spent most of their waking hours caring for them often under almost impossible conditions. They fought together, rested and ate together, often slept together and ultimately died together. They were in it together. There is no getting away from the fact that their lives were unforgiving and unremitting, but at the same time the men responsible for them lavished as much care as they could to alleviate their suffering and formed incredible bonds with them.

An officer responsible for vetting his men’s letters home wrote in the war diary:

Drivers often almost wept as they wrote of their faithful friends – the horses – wishing so much that they could be given more feed and better shelter. Such care and attention they gave these dumb animals. When nothing else was available an old sock was used to rub them down or to bandage a cracked heel, while breast collar and girth galls were eased by wrapping light articles around the harness to keep it from rubbing against the sore spot.”

It is impossible for me to visualise or comprehend the carnage and horrors my grandfather must have witnessed to both humans and horses as it is the stuff of nightmares, but I like to think that my grandfather was a humane man and did all that he could to ease the suffering of the horses and mules in his care.

I am so proud of him that I wrote a book about his experiences and the life of war horses at the western front. BUY IT NOW from Bitzabooks.com the publisher using the PayPal link below or from Amazon Books.
War horses. There From the Start book cover
RRP £9.99 ISBN: 9781094956763 UK orders £11.00 including shipping using PayPal button below. Shipped direct from publisher bitzabooks.com

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There From the Start. A book on the war horses and their carers.

Read about the incredible emotional bond between the war horses and the men and how they survived the hardships on the front line.

Available from Amazon books or Special Offer direct from publisher bitzabooks.com. Buy Now £11.00 incl. p&p using PayPal button below. UK orders only. For North American orders contact bitzabooks@gmail.com or order from Amazon books.

War horses. There From the Start book cover

ISBN: 978-1094956763 RRP. £9.99 150 pages 40 b&w photographs.

Exploring the emotional bond between the war horses and soldiers in World War One.

My book There From the Start follows the exploits of my grandfather Edwin Clark who spent four Novembers during his 42 months on the western front with the Field artillery war horses. The book explores the extraordinary relationship between the men and the war horses and how they were trained and cared for under horrendous conditions.

The men were devoted to them, spending most of their working hours with them, and they helped sustain the men’s physical and mental well-being by being their confidants, friends and comrades.

Impossible to imagine the carnage.

They were in it together and just as the horses and mules did their utmost to help the troops the men reciprocated by doing all they could to ease their hardships. They fought and suffered together, faced the same dangers, often rested, slept and ate together and ultimately died together.

Edwin received serious injuries in early November 1918 when a bomb was dropped on him and his colleagues while they were feeding and grooming the horses a mile behind the front line. It caused carnage, killing and maiming many of the horses and men. I find it impossible to imagine the awful sounds, sights and smells he had to endure, made worse I’m sure by witnessing the suffering of his harmless equine comrades.

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