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