Flanders Fields

An Armistice Day thought

I am indebted to my fellow blogger The Bruges Vegan for this highly interesting and relevant post on an additional and often forgotten consequence of the First World War – the millions of animals who suffered and died during those tragic four years.

The statistics are horrendous. Over 8 million horses and donkeys, and over 1 million dogs, died on the front line. The article I refer to above also brings our attention to the animals used for experimental reasons during warfare, and the destruction of the local fauna on the Western Front.

Horses in the First World War
Horses in the First World War

Of course, animals have always been used in warfare, from the massed ranks of the war elephants in various Indian wars, the machine-gun carrying camels of Persia, to the pigeons fitted with cameras during the Second World War. There was nothing innovative about the use of horses and dogs to carry weapons, ammunition, men etc.

But it’s the fact that these animals were obviously not kept or worked in humane conditions (not that the humans involved were in humane conditions either!). Another aspect is the huge scale of the deaths that are mind-boggling. 8 million horses died. Let’s try and put that into context. Imagine collecting all the horses within the European Union today and transporting them to Belgium and northern France. You would still only have delivered 5 million animals. So you add all the horses in Russia, but that’s only another 1.3 million.

Actually, between 1914 and 1918, the US sent almost 1 million horses overseas. Only 200 returned to the US.

It’s just another sad page in the horrific story of World War One.

horses in the first world war

6 replies »

  1. Wow… 8 million. I didn’t know the numbers involved were so high. Considering that horses and donkeys are such sensitive beings, the scale of the suffering is unimaginable. In World War I, more horses and donkeys died than civilians (7 million)! Therefore, on this day, we also think about the animal casualties. Thanks a lot for the post.

    • Thanks for your comment Dirk. Yes the numbers are staggering. Looking back, it seems that governments and world leaders were totally unaware of what was happening and incapable of bringing hostilities to a halt.

  2. Sad, but fascinating topic I knew nothing about. It reminds me that we demand so much of animals, who have no choice in the matter. I understand their use in time of war, but the numbers here are heartbreaking.

    Still, thanks for bringing this to our attention, Denzil. We should know this!

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