“The Sacrifice of Horses:” The BEF Animal Health Crisis, Spring 1917

  • Dr. Andrew McEwen


February to May 1917 formed the most difficult period of WWI for horses, mules, and veterinary personnel of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). Veterinary officers, fearful of infectious skin disease, clipped animals of their winter coats in February and March. The animals, exhausted after labouring on the Somme, received little rest or respite. Fodder supplies dropped. Sleet soaked animals and turned roads into thick mud. These underfed and exhausted animals worked to death hauling ammunition and supplies forward. The Canadian Corps alone lost 25% of its animal strength in March-April. This paper explores the "winter of learning" and "learning applied" themes to exhibit that lessons learned did not always mean successful practices. Fears over skin disease -- learned earlier in the war -- prompted clipping animals. Combined with reduced fodder, inclement weather, and unrelenting work, the BEF's animal transport system suffered greatly from its gravest crisis in the Great War.

Author Biography

Dr. Andrew McEwen

Andrew McEwen is a digital publications intern in the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. He completed his Bachelor of Arts (Honours) at Queen’s University, his Master’s at the University of Waterloo, and his PhD at the University of Calgary. His doctoral dissertation, entitled “‘Maintaining the Mobility of the Corps:’ Horses, Mules, and the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps in the Great War,” examines the history of Canadian military veterinary and remount services from 1874 to 1919. His research interests involve military and veterinary history, and the history of animals in wartime.

Vimy 2017: From Both Sides of the Ridge