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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

War Horse History: Equine Ambulances Moved Wounded Horses During World War I

When a horse was wounded, it took at least one other horse to move it to a railroad stop or a field veterinary hospital. Here you see a tandem hitch hauling a horse from the front; the teamster would command these horses with voice controls. Image by the remarkable chronicler of horses in World War I through his art, John Edwin Noble.



I've become intrigued with the evolution of the equine ambulance and this is one of the first motorized ones I've found. This photo from the National Library of Scotland shows a veterinary officer leading what looks like a predictably reluctant mule up the ramp of the transport while two other horses with leg injuries wait their turn.

Part of the lettering on the side of the lorry can be deciphered. It reads 'Horse Ambulance' and at the bottom, 'St Omer'. St Omer had been used as a General Headquarters at the beginning of the war.

This sporty-looking horse ambulance was designed by Mrs. Harriet Nevins, a benefactor of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) in 1916, but it doesn't look sturdy enough for war use.


In the course of World War I, the British Army Veterinary Corps in France treated over 2,500,000 horses.

Two charity organizations funded horse ambulances for use at the front. In London, the Blue Cross worked tirelessly to raise funds to support the horses that had gone to war. In the USA, it was the American Humane Association.

Notice how the animals flanks in the top photo have been painted with numbers to identify them. Also notice how fit and round these horses look. These must either be new remount horses or this photo was taken early in the war.

World War I horse ambulance
This photo was taken toward the end of the war in France and shows some horses being transported to a hospital in a less elegant transport.
I predict a big surge of interest in the way horses were treated during World War I as Steven Spielberg prepares to film the hit London stage play War Horse, which will open on Broadway in New York next year.

2 comments:

pcvet said...

Hi Fran,
You should contact Valerie Angeli at the ASPCA in NYC for permission to use some of her archival photos of the horse drawn and motorized horse ambulances invented by the ASPCA. A replica of one of them was used in "The Horse" exhibit at the Museum of natural History. She has some very interesting historical photos.

Fran Jurga said...

Hi, thanks! Will do! I have one old photo from NYC. Most are from war archives.

But hang on a minute--you said a "replica"? they built a replica? Wow! Where is it now? I can't believe I missed that exhibit!

I first got interested in equine ambulances because of the idea that a lame horse has difficulty backing out of a trailer. Then I learned about the hydraulic suspension on the track ambulance at Belmont. Then it took off from there and I thought, where did it all start...

Thanks so much!

Fran