Your horse belongs to the army now – part one

The popularity of Michael Morpurgo’s book War Horse, the success of the stage adaptation and now the release of Steven Spielberg’s film has brought the role horses played in the First World War to the public’s attention.

Joey, the main ‘character’ of War Horse, belongs to Albert, the young son of a farmer.  He is sold by the father, to a Remount Purchasing Officer on behalf of Captain Nicholls.  Later, Captain Nicholls reassures Albert that Joey will be looked after, even though “your horse belongs to the army now”.Paintings on display as part of the war horse exhibition

In the RCVS archives there are two paintings of the heads of horses that were acquired by the Army Remount Service, the department that purchased horses for the army, during First World War.  The two horses spent time at Romsey Remount Depot during 1916, where they were painted by Lionel Dalhousie Robertson Edwards (1878-1966).  Edwards served as a Remount Purchasing Officer in World War One and was to become a well known sporting artist in later life.

The depiction of Joey’s purchase by the army in War Horse could give the impression that the acquisition of horses for the war effort was a small scale operation – in fact nothing could be further from the truth.

For our next post, we’ll be delving into the requisitioning of horses during the First World War and the history of Romsey Remount Depot, where Edwards served, and its veterinary hospital

The two paintings, along with other items connected with the role of horses in war, are currently on display in the Library.  Why not come and see them and combine it with a trip to the excellent exhibition War Horse: fact and fiction at the National Army Museum?

Image: Paintings on display in the library

Cattle plague in the colonies

It has recently been announced that the Wellcome Trust funded project to digitise the veterinary medicine reports that form part of the National Library of Scotland’s India papers collection has been added to the Medical History of British India website

The veterinary collection, which covers the  period 1864-1959, contains important material on research into diseases such as surra and rinderpest (cattle pSelection of reports from Egypt on cattle plaguelague).

This digitised material has sparked interest in our Library too, as we are in the middle of a project to retrospectively catalogue our material relating to the colonial veterinary services.  We are working through them country by country and have travelled as far as Africa, where we also find that cattle plague was written about extensively.

The work of the colonial veterinary services is well represented in our collections.  One particularly intriguing item is From Nairobi to the Red Sea through Ethiopia which is an account of mission to the Abyssinian government undertaken in 1911 by the Chief Veterinary Officer for British East Africa, Robert Stordy.  This account is peppered with photos and personal anecdotes and makes fascinating reading.  A transcription of the first chapter is available on the Trust Library website.

Image: Selection of reports on cattle plague held by the library.

Your horse belongs to the army now – part two

In the second instalment of our two part post on army horses in the First World War we will take a look at the scale of the operations of the Army Remount Service and in particular the work of the Romsey Remount Depot.

The  acquisition of horses for the war effort was an enormous operation.  In his book, The horse and the war, Sidney Galtrey states that 165,000 horses were ‘impressed’ by the Army in the first twelve days of the war alone.  Records show that during the course of the war some 468,000 horses were purchased in the UK and a further 618,000 in North America.  

This massive increase in numbers required a rapid expansion of the Remount Service, part of this expansion was the establishment of a new depot at Romsey to receive horses that arrived in Southampton, having been purchased in the USA.

Construction of Romsey Remount Depot began in November 19Entry for July 1916 from The story of Romsey Remount Depot14.  It was completed in just over four months, for a cost of £152,000, with the first two horses arriving on 19th March 1915.  The Commandant of the depot, Colonel H M Jessel, recorded its activities in The story of Romsey Remount Depot.

A fairly typical month was July 1916 when Jessel records the daily ‘ins’ as 2533 animals and the ‘outs’ as 1374.  During the course of the war a total of 118,755 animals came into Romsey and 114,636 were sent out for active service.

The record of the veterinary work at Romsey for May 1917-October 1918 shows that 5,458 animals were admitted to the Veterinary Hospital but just 35 died or had to be  destroyed.  The most common reasons given for the deaths is enteritis or fractures.

It would appear from the inscriptions on the paintings by Lionel Edwards that featured in our  earlier post at least one of these horses spent some time receiving veterinary treatment at Romsey as the painting  is labelled ‘nasal eruption not glanders’.

If you are interested in finding out more about the remount service – why not pay us a visit and look at the items that we have in our collections?

Galtrey, Sidney (1918) The horse and the war London : Country Life and George Newnes
Hume, Robert (2010) The story of the Army Remount Service (unpublished)
Jessel H. M. [1919] The story of Romsey Remount Depot London: Abbey Press

Image: Entry for July 1916 from The story of Romsey Remount Depot

Slaughterhouses in the Tropics

One of our ongoing library projects is to catalogue the RCVS Fellowship Theses.  The collection spans approximately 120 years and fills more than 20 metres!

Sheep and goats being killed

An interesting thesis, by A. Blake, Chief Veterinary Officer in the Rangoon Municipality, Burma, is entitled ‘The management of slaughter-houses in the East’ and was submitted around 1910.  He draws on ten years worth of experience in abattoirs in the Tropics and temperate zones in order to have “something fresh to say on a subject about which much has been written”.

Blake includes an A1 sized fold out for a plan of a cattle market and slaughterhouse, filled in with watercolour paints.  He also uses some graphic photos of a working slaughterhouse to illustrate his points.

Before offering his advice on the management of slaughterhouses, he explains the eating habits of those living in a tropical climate: “this day our daily bread” is a strictly accurate expression, for each day’s supply is bought each day”.  It is the custom for the cook to attend “the bazaar”, every morning at 5am, in order to buy the meat for the day.

Moving out of the market and to the slaughterhouse, Blake notes that meat would not keep fresh for longer than a day in the heat, so “all operations from the killing to the consumption of meat are finished within 24 hours”.  Before slaughter, animals were housed in “lairs” and kept under observation for four days, to check if any of the animals were stolen or contagious.  Any animal showing symptoms of tuberculosis and Sturgis disease were rejected for food consumption. However, Blake does comment that carcasses showing early signs of cattle plague and foot and mouth disease could often be passed for consumption as long as “the flesh is not fevered and the animal has been well bled,” but the liver, guts and head must be destroyed.

Animal ‘lairs’

According to Blake, a slaughterhouse should be off a good road, on the outskirts of town and must be “remote from Temples, Monasteries, Cemeteries and Dwelling-house”.  To allow for a town’s rapid expansion, the site must be set as far from residential areas as possible.  The site must be near a railway – most municipalities banned pigs being housed within their limits and due to the large Muslim population it was illegal to take pigs along a public road, except in a covered cart.

Images from the  Fellowship Dissertation ‘The management of slaughter-houses in the East’ by A. Blake, c.1910

View our Fellowship Theses here:

All aboard the SS Templemore

‘We embarked on Friday 10th November, but owing to bad weather did not leave L/pool [Liverpool] until 12.30 noon on 12th November’

so reads an entry in a small notebook which is part of one of the treasures of our archives – the Sir Frederick Smith Collection.Burying a horse at sea

Smith sailed for South Africa  on the 12 November 1899 with the 13th Hussars aboard the S.S. Templemore.  This little book is his record of the veterinary care he gave on board as well as in later operations in Natal including the Battle of Colenso, Vaal Krantz and Brakfontein.

In his book A veterinary history of the war in South Africa Smith describes two ways in which horses were transported overseas – they were either carried with the troops on transport ships or they went on board freight ships.

He states that animals conveyed in freight ships suffered ‘a great disadvantage,’ when compared to those on transport ships, as they were accompanied by less experienced men who had many more horses in their care.  So the horses on board the SS Templemore could be classed as lucky!

Two days into the voyage, on 14th November, the entry in the notebook records the first fatalities like this ’C127 strangulation, found dead, C57 staggers, died, C118 staggers, died in 2 hours’.  It is not clear what C127 etc refers to – perhaps it refers to the location of the horse on the ship or it may be the number attached to the horse by the army.

Races on board the SS TemplemoreOver the course of the 4 weeks of the voyage the notebook records a total of 12 deaths and numerous conditions from which the horses recovered.  The only entry for 28th November records Smith’s own sickness – ‘I was ill in bed all day’.

We also have an album of photos in the Smith Collection which contains a number taken on board the SS Templemore.  These include a photo of a horse being buried at sea, a rather dark image of some animals on the horse deck, and some more light hearted images of  the troops keeping fit by racing each other around the ship and doing exercises as part of their physical drill.

If you can shed light on what C127 etc means do let us know.

Smith, Frederick (1919) A veterinary history of the war in South Africa 1899-1902 London  H. & W. Brown

Images: photographs from the album in the Smith Collection

A green monkey, a baboon and…

Skeleton of Eclipse in the RCVS Museum

Skeleton of Eclipse in the RCVS Museum

The story of the RCVS Museum Collection is not particularly well known –  any attention it has received focussing on its most famous ‘resident’ the skeleton of Eclipse (donated in 1871 by Professor John Gamgee.)  This is a shame as it housed a number of other interesting items, as a glance at the catalogue (item id 26652) compiled by Edward Reuben Edwards in December 1891 reveals.

The majority of items listed relate to horses, sheep and cattle but more exotic species are present – the first items are an ‘entire preparation of a green monkey’ and ‘the skull of a baboon’.  Later on we come to the ‘skull of a polar bear’ and, my personal favourite, the ‘trachea of the first giraffe ever brought to England.’  The human animal is also represented by a ‘human eyelid’ and eight skulls amongst other things.

It appears that the care of the Museum Collection was not one of the College’s priorities.  It took 27 years from the first recorded donation to the formation of the Museum Committee, in 1880. Whilst the first official record of the committee meeting is in August 1889 – nine years later.

This first meeting happened at a time when the Museum was described by Council as being in an ‘unsatisfactory state.’   There were two further meetings in the next nine months, with Council granting £100 to be spent on ‘repairs and other requisites’ and Mr Edward’s appointment at a salary of £3 3/- per week.

Preface of the 1891 museum catalogue

Preface of the 1891 museum catalogue

In the preface to the catalogue, Edwards’ laments that “compiling this catalogue has been a work attended by several difficulties, chief amongst which – perhaps – has been the almost entire absence of any history of the individual specimens.”  In fact, he did not include any item that was unidentifiable, with the result that the catalogue only contains 334 items, whilst the RCVS annual reports for 1853-1891 record almost 500 donations.  One notable absence in the catalogue is Eclipse!

Fast forward another 10 or so years and it appears that the Museum and its contents have once more fallen from the radar.  On the 11 April 1902 Council member Professor Albert Mettam says:

“is the Museum Committee ornamental or is it useful. Does it ever meet, or has it anything to do with the museum?  I was in the museum this morning and I think it is more a place to set potatoes in than anything else.” 1

In view of this somewhat chequered history it is little wonder that, in 1925, the RCVS gave up on its ambition to maintain a museum and agreed to disperse the specimens.

Why not check out the list of some of the more interesting donations to the museum that we have compiled from the annual reports and the catalogue?

1. Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons: report of quarterly meeting of Council.  Veterinary Record  19 April 1902 p654

Dogs, dominos and Dickens

Dog playing dominos

Dog playing dominos from Dog Breaking by WN Hutchinson (1850)

One of our recent tweets  featured an illustration of a dog playing dominos.

This was taken from  Dog breaking: the most expeditious, certain, and easy method: whether great excellence or only mediocrity is required by Lieutenant Colonel W.N Hutchinson, (John Murray 1850.) The image shows a dog playing dominos with its owner Monsieur Leonard surrounded by a crowd of onlookers.

In the Historical Collection we have another image of a dog playing dominos, this time on a plate which was generously donated by Norman Comben in September 2011, the inscription reads: “Chien Munito gagnant son maitre aux dominoes.”

Plate showing Munito playing dominos

Plate showing Munito playing dominos

Munito, known as the ‘Learned Dog’, was first shown by Signor Castelli in London in 1817 before touring in Europe. As well as playing dominos he excelled at picking out playing cards and performing arithmetic.

It would appear that his performances were unforgettable.  In All the year round 26 January 1867 Charles Dickens writes:

“About 45 years ago, a learned dog was exhibited in Piccadilly –  Munito … He performed many curious feats, answering questions, telling the hour of the day … picking out any cards called for from a pack on the ground.”

Puzzling over how these feats could be explained Dickens returned a second time and discovered the secret.

“We watched more narrowly … noticed that between each feat the master gave the dog some small bits … of food, and that there was a faint smell of aniseed from that corner of the room.”

Dickens believed that as the owner set out the cards, he pressed his thumb on the chosen card impregnating it with the scent of aniseed which Munito had been trained to recognise.  He confronted Signor Castelli after the show, when all the audience had left, with this explanation.  Signor Castelli ‘did not deny the discovery.’

Munito also appears in Dick Sand by Jules Verne (published 1878) where the explanation of the feats is based on Munito being trained to respond to sound rather than  smell.

Whatever the explanation for these ‘tricks’ Hutchinson sums it up rather neatly “It is hard to imagine what it would be impossible to teach a dog, did the attainment of the required accomplishment sufficiently recompense the instructor’s trouble.”

Reading for Pleasure

Convolvulus Jalapa from Medical Botany by John Stephenson. Vol. 1, 1834

Today is World book day.  Some of us will remember the £1 book tokens given out at school, picking out our favourite book at the book shop and rushing home to read it– today is definitely a day for the bookworm!  World book day is a celebration of illustrators, authors and, most importantly, reading.

As a veterinary library, we are mostly visited by vets and veterinary nurses doing personal research.  We would love for more of our library users to while away the hours in our Historical Collection, reading just for the pleasure of it.  Our Historical Collection contains some fascinating and important works that our users may not know about. Even without the veterinary background that puts the contents of our collection into context, I am still constantly surprised by the beautiful artwork or an old fashioned turn of phrase.  Some of my favourite pictures and extracts make a weekly appearance on our Twitter feed.

Our Historical Collection contains some great material.  George Stubbs’ (1724-1806), the renowned English painter of horses, appears in the collection.   If early photography is more your thing, how about Animal locomotion an electro – photographic investigation of consecutive phases of animal movements ; 1872 – 1885 by Eadweard Muybridge, the man who proved a horse could fly?  Perhaps 16th century country affairs is what interests you? The oldest work in our collection is a 1514 copy of the Libri de re rustica published by the Aldine Press in Venice, purchased by the RCVS Library in 1963 for just £25.

So if you are ever in London, stop by to read and explore our truly unique collection.  We’re always happy to show it off!  Please contact the Librarian, Clare Boulton, for visiting details

Read more about how we safe guard our valuable collection, with our Adopt a Book scheme

Warrior – one of the real war horses

In an introductory note to Sidney Galtray’s  The horse and the war Field-Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces, states:

“I hope that this account … will bring home to the peoples of the British Empire …  the wisdom of breeding animals for the two military virtues of hardiness and activity.”

Last night’s Channel 4 Programme War horse: the real story brought home the reality of those two military virtues.  Images of horses pulling enormous loads and passing through the notorious ‘Hellfire Corner’ made harrowing viewing.

To counter this archive footage of soldiers talking warmly about ‘their’ horses and photos of them at rest beside their animals was incredibly moving.

This human-animal bond was clearly important and touchingly the Blue Cross provided advice in its handbook for Drivers, Gunners and Mounted Soldiers on how to comfort and revive a weary horse.  Soldiers were to told to  ‘Pull his ears and hand rub his legs and he will appreciate it.’

As the programme showed this unique relationship between horse and rider was never so clear as in the story of General Jack Seely, and his horse ‘Warrior.’  Seely and Warrior saw active service throughout WW1 as part of the Canadian Cavalry and led one of the last ever cavalry charges.

Much has been written about Seely and Warrior, not least by Seely himself in his book My Horse Warrior, which is beautifully illustrated by Alfred MunningsIn an article in the Veterinary Times Bob Michell says of this book that it is  ‘not just a eulogy, it is the most unusual love story you will ever read.’   It has recently been reprinted and is well worth a read.


Galtrey, Sidney (1918) The horse and the war London : Country Life and George Newnes
Michell, Bob (2010) Equine sacrifice for king and country Veterinary Times 17 May, p22-23
Seely, Jack (1934) My horse warrior London: Hodder & Stoughton.  Reprinted in 2011 with an introduction by Seely’s grandson Brough Scott as Warrior :The Amazing Story of a Real War Horse Racing Post Books

Celebrating women’s achievements

Thousands of events will take place around the world tomorrow to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD).  This day has been observed, in one incarnation or another, for over 100 years.   Today, IWD celebrates women’s achievements and looks forward to a bright, safe and equal future for women.

Over the next few days the Library blog will feature two guest posts, on ‘Equal pay for equal work’ for female veterinary surgeons, from Julie Hipperson, PhD student at Imperial College London.  The RCVS Charitable Trust, in collaboration with Imperial College London and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), are supporting Julie’s PhD entitled ‘Veterinary training and veterinary work: a female perspective, 1919 -2000.’  You can follow Julie’s work here, on her blog, Pioneers and Professionals.

In honour of IWD, the Library has designed a small display that showcases our extensive archive on the first female president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), Dame Olga Uvarov, a Russian refugee.