Pay Homage to War Horses This Veteran's Day

They had no choice.

This is the second of two powerful inscriptions on the Animals in War Memorial in Brook Gate, Park Lane, London, that serves as a lasting tribute to the millions of animals that died alongside the British, Commonwealth, and Allied forces in the 20th century. Like many of our own ancestors, horses had no choice when they were called upon to serve in the World Wars.

At the start of World War I, the cavalry units were indispensible in "shock warfare" and reconnaissance before the introduction of trench warfare, barbed wire, machine guns, and tanks. Once these military "tools" became standard, the cavalry units were at a disadvantage, and high numbers of deaths and injuries ensued. The war horse's primary duties then changed dramatically, but horses were still widely used for transporting troops and supplies.

Of the more than 8 million horses that served in World War I, only a fraction survived. The British Army alone recruited 1 million horses; more than 90% died. In addition to direct attacks, causes of death in war horses were due to disease, starvation, thirst, and exposure to the elements. Despite the decline of cavalry units by Allied forces in the Second World War, Germany used more horses then than during the First World War. Reportedly, Germany used 2.75 million horses in World War II while the Soviets used 3.5 million.

In addition to the Animals in War Memorial, other memorials dedicated to honoring war horses include:

Author Michael Morpurgo eloquently captured the tragic lives of army horses in his fictional book War Horse, which tells the tale of a boy, Albert, whose horse is sold to the cavalry at the start of World War I. Since its original publication in the 1980s, this book has captured the hearts of millions, is currently a Broadway sensation in multiple countries, and has been made into a major motion picture directed by Steven Spielberg, which is scheduled to open Christmas Day, 2011 (Editor's Note: Watch for an upcoming article featuring War Horse horse trainer Bobby Lovgren on 

This Veterans Day, spend a moment remembering the horses, mules, donkeys, and other service animals and their role in defeating the Axis.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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