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

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

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

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

Horses and the problem of sore backs

“Sore backs appear inseparable from mounted service, they have existed as long as the horse has been used in war … it was reasonable to suppose … as knowledge advanced, a reduction in this class of injury should have been possible.”

So says Frederick Smith in his book A veterinary history of the war in South Africa 1899-1902 (item id 003722) in the section on the history of sore backs.  He then goes on to claim that in the 40 years following the Battle of Waterloo all “the lessons of war appear to have been forgotten.”

Later campaigns meant that the topic became a matter for discussion again. In the early 1880s General Sir Frederick FitzWygram, Commander of the Cavalry Brigade, studied the problem showing that it was often the construction of the saddle that was to blame.

Smith - skeleton of a horse shoing back bone and ribs

Smith’s Skeleton of horse showing back bone and ribs

The topic then became the subject of a series of lectures, delivered by Smith, at the Army Veterinary School in Aldershot. These lectures were eventually published in 1891 as A manual of saddles and sore backs (item id 26542).

The manual is set out in four sections: the first covers the anatomy and physiology of the back because, as Smith states, “no accurate conception of the fitting of a saddle … can be formed until we have some knowledge of the structure on which the saddle rests.” This is followed by 16 pages on the construction of a saddle, 8 pages of instruction on how to fit one properly and finally 17 pages on ‘sore backs – how they are caused, prevented and remedied.’  The book contains 11 illustrations – 6 are anatomical, 5 on fitting a saddle with the final one showing the sites of the various injuries.

In spite of the lectures and manual it would appear that little changed – when referring to the South African War Smith states that “sore backs represented one of the chief causes of inefficiency.”

Smith - How to fit a girth correctly

Smith – How to fit a girth correctly

This view is also expressed by William Snowball Mulvey in his little (20 page) book Sore back and its causes in army horses on a campaign (item id 26379) which was published in 1902. Sore backs had been the topic of Mulvey’s RCVS Fellowship Thesis and one of the reasons for this choice was “The fact that nine out of every ten cases which came before my notice in South Africa were the so-called sore backs.” By publishing his thesis Mulvey hoped to make his observations more widely available.

The book is very much a practical manual – it identifies 9 causes of sore backs and  then shows how to prevent the injuries occurring in the first place – as Mulvey says in his closing words “the rational treatment of sore backs, is of course, the removal of the cause.”

Interested in finding out more? The notes and illustrations Smith made when carrying out research for his lectures and manual form part of the Frederick Smith Collection , they provide a fascinating insight into the meticulous way Smith carried out his rearch on this topic.


Mulvey, William Snowball (1902) Sore back and its causes in army horses on a campaign . Fellowship theses later published by H & W Brown

Smith, Fred (1891) A manual of saddles and sore backs London: HMSO

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

Brunel on the power of the horse

Title page of Youatt The Horse

Title page of The Horse with Brunel’s name incorrectly written

Search the library catalogue for Isambard Kingdom Brunel, born on this day in 1806, and you will find one entry – for William Youatt’s book The Horse: its history, breeds, and management to which is appended, a treatise on draught first published in 1831.

The link to Brunel?  The inclusion of his ‘treatise on draught’ – though the work is not always attributed to Brunel and in at least one of the editions of The Horse his name is given as J. K. Brunel (see picture to the right)

 Brunel’s opening paragraph states:

“the subject of draught by animal power … has long … occupied the attention of theoretical and practical men … our object [is] to collect what has been said and done … arrange it methodically, to show in what manner the information may be applied … rather than to attempt to produce anything absolutely new.”

So the treatise is in effect a literature review which covers, in nearly 50 pages, the practical  application of theoretical investigations into the power of a horse.

A glance at the contents reveals the breadth of the topics covered:  ‘the power of the horse, how calculated’; ‘difference of opinion as to wheels’; ‘draught regarded as to the act of drawing, and the resistance to power employed’; ‘the manner in which the animal adapts himself to his load’; ‘errors with regard to this in some ancient sculptures: real action of the horse in walking, trotting and galloping’; ‘advantage of springs [on carts]’; ‘hardness of road surface’ etc.

Illustration from Youatt The Horse -

Illustration showing the action of the horse when pulling depending on the angle of the harness.

Brunel includes theories from ancient history, referring to the Elgin marbles and the usage of horse harnesses in the Illiad, as well as those that were current at the time he was writing.  He also includes a number of predictions about  the future eg the demise of the canal system due to the growth of the railway system.  (The treatise was written two years before the founding of the first major British Railway, the Great Western Railway in 1833.)

So how is it that a treatise by Brunel is included in Youatt’s book?  It would appear that it is for the simple reason that both works were commissioned by the ‘Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge’ and put together as each complemented the other.  (See Ewer, TK (1991) Youatt and Brunel.  Veterinary History Vol 6 No. 4 pp120-124 for an exploration of the link between Youatt and Brunel.)

We will return to The Horse and look at Youatt’s much larger contribution in a later post.

A Sporting Nation – Great British Horsemanship

Love them or loathe them the Olympic Games have arrived.  Britain’s oldest royal park, Greenwich Park, will host the Equestrian(and modern Pentathlon) events.   The picturesque venue dates back to 1433 and is the former hunting ground of the rich and athletic.  King Henry VIII introduced deer to the park in 1515, and considering himself an accomplished athlete, engaged in stag hunting and horse racing on the grounds.

Horsemanship and its related activities feature prominently in our Historical collection, so we couldn’t resist pulling out some information on the affluent country gentleman’s favourite pastime.

Livestock, in health and disease by J. Prince-Sheldon (1903?) recommends gymnastics and drill as a warm up for children learning horsemanship.  Horse riding was thought to have a number of health benefits and was often prescribed to patients whose damaged health was brought about by ‘insolence and excesses of the table, or by sedentary pursuits – intellectual or financial’.   Prince-Sheldon also cautions his readers to ‘never begin to fight with a horse unless you have breath and strength enough to win’. Sound advice.

What of female equine enthusiasts? A ‘Mrs Hayes’ instructs women on riding side-saddle in her book The Horsewoman (1893).  To ride a horse one need ‘good hands, strong seat, firm nerves, even temper and physical strength’.   Mrs Hayes recognised that perhaps the women of the day lacked the last attribute, physical strength, but were a man’s equal in ‘touch, patience and courage’.  Mrs Hayes endeavoured to match the type of horse to a woman’s figure:

‘A young lady with a slight pretty figure will look best on a horse which is all blood and quality; though a portly and dignified matron will be best suite with one of the weight carrying hunter stamp ’.

Terai hat and Norfolk jacket

Terai hat and Norfolk jacket

The subject of ‘Riding Dress’ is addressed even before instructions on riding.  The question of what a woman should wear when out riding was an important consideration – one on which Mrs. Hayes had strong views.  A lady may have wished to wear the latest fashions when riding but her only aim would have been to attract attention to herself and in doing so  ‘she will neither look, nor, in many cases, will she prove to be a horsewoman’.  The author believes that a veil has no place on a horsewoman as it ‘confers no possible benefit on its wearer, if her sole object is to ride and not to show off’.

The modern horsewoman is lucky not to be subject to quite as much sartorial scrutiny and we look forward to seeing Great Britain compete in the dressage events at the weekend.

South African War Diaries

In  1900, Frederick Smith was serving as a veterinary officer in the South African War.  The entries in his official war diary for August of that year show that the focus of his attention at that time was on finding a new site for the veterinary hospital which he had responsibility for.

The hospital was full to capacity with horses suffering from glanders and sore back.   On 13 August, Smith notes in his diary that in the previous week they had admitted 666 horses and mules of which 6 had died, 150 had been destroyed and 64 had been sent for duty.  When added to the existing animals in the hospital this gave a total of  1011.

There were also some staffing difficulties to contend with, speaking of one of the hospital staff he writes:

 “Clarke did not know a single case in the place, says he cannot remember them!  I have given him one more chance.” [16 August]

However, in true British style, the main thing that was concerning Smith seems to have been the weather as it “rained the whole day” and “rained all night.” This was causing problems for the animals “the horses are over their fetlocks in clay.  Walking can only be done by painfully putting each foot alternately in progression”.  There was also an ever present  threat of the imminent flooding of the hospital if the river rose much more.

On 30 August Smith took his Commanding Officer to see the two places he had identified as possible new locations for the hospital but these were ruled out because of “military considerations … the defences of the town are to be … contracted” which would have left them exposed to attack.

The CO identified another site which Smith didn’t like at all “owing to the difficulty of watering, the banks being nearly vertical & quite 50 feet above the river.”  Fortunately the CO later changed his mind and rejected the site because it would have taken too long to prepare.

Smith's sketch of the new hospital

Smith’s sketch of the new hospital

Finally on 1 September a new site was suggested on the north bank of the river.   This met with Smith’s approval as it was surrounded by the river giving “complete protection in the event of an attack”, it had “sandy ground” and the low banks of the river “allowed water to be pumped up easily.”   He rapidly planned the hospital drawing a sketch of what it would look like.  It was to “have six kraals each holding 100 horses, and lines for another 400… the kraals will be well built, mangers will be supplied.”

Work started on 2nd September when Smith writes “Tomorrow and the whole of next week will be occupied getting the place right.”   I hope it was compeleted before the weather got any worse!

These official war diaries, which cover the period 1899-1902,  form a small part of the Frederick Smith Collection which also  includes notes relating to his research and publications, reprints of his published articles, handwritten notes for his autobiography, photographs and notes relating to the Army Veterinary Service and letters written between 1877-1929.

A model hoof

During the recent reordering of the RCVS headquarters a 6 inch square box was found containing a cardboard model and a folded piece of paper.  Further investigation revealed it was something rather exciting – the pasteboard model of a horse’s hoof which accompanies Bracy Clark’s two page pamphlet A new exposition of the horses’ hoof.

Bracy Clark (1771-1860), the son of a Quaker, was born in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire.  According to Frederick Smith, in The early history of veterinary literature and its British Development Vol III, Clark  left school at 14 and was apprenticed to  a surgeon for seven years.    With the founding of the London Veterinary School in 1791 his thoughts turned to studying veterinary, rather than human, medicine and he enrolled at the London school some time during 1792, gaining his Diploma in July 1794.

A new exposition of the horses hoof

Signature and date

After a period touring the continent he opened a practice in Giltspur Street, London which mainly dealt with brewery horses.  Whilst in practice Clark developed an interest in shoeing, establishing a number of forges throughout the country. He was later joined at the practice by his nephew Charles Clark and appears to have retired from active work in 1828.

In retirement Clark, now settled at Taunton Street near Regents Park, devoted his energies to publishing and re-editing his own works and experimenting with shoeing.

The pamphlet found in the box A new exposition of the horses’ hoof  is dated 1820 and signed BC.   It starts:

“It would be difficult by words or description alone to convey a correct notion of the framing and construction of the Horses’ hoof: I have therefore invented a pasteboard model, which exhibits its nature and properties very familiarly.

In order to understand it, it will be necessary to take it to pieces a few times, and put it together again, when the simplicity and manner of its construction will be strongly and clearly impressed on the mind”

Model to accompany A new exposition of the horses hoof

Clark explains how to dismantle the model by withdrawing the pins (which can be seen in the photographs) and how to learn more of the structure of the hoof by studying how the labelled flaps connect and move etc.
Model to accompany A new exposition of the horses hoof

For example writing of the wall of the hoof which has been exposed by the removal of the frog and the sole from the model:

“by reversing the situation of the Bars or Inflexions,…we now discover that they are simply a continuation of the wall, obliquely growing narrower…We can now discern, that the wall and bars are one continued piece…of an obliquely cut cylinder…and the great simplicity and power of such an arrangement must call forth our exulted admiration…”

Model to accompany A new exposition of the horses hoof

The final paragraph of the pamphlet which explains how to put the model back together concludes:

“Now the Frog-band…completes the hoof: which is in fact not merely a rude covering of horn, as been apprehended, but an elastic machine, beautifully adapting itself to all degrees of exertion, or repose of the animal.”

Considering the model may be nearly 200 years old it is in very good condition – though as yet I have not been brave enough to take it apart.  This is due to the fact that it had its own lockable box – which in itself gives some indication of its value at the time the pamphlet was written.

At the moment we do not know how it comes to be in our possession but we do know that Bracy Clark  gave a complete set of his works to the RCVS library around the time he became a Vice President of the College in 1857.  So the ‘hoof’ could be Clark’s very own model, we will let you know what we find out!

A Welsh veterinary adviser

In honour of St David’s Day, the feast day of the patron saint of Wales, I have decided to look at one of the two Welsh language items  that we have in our collection Meddyg y fferm arweinydd i drin a gochel clefydau mewn anifeiliad by James Law which was published in 1881.

Plate 7 Cheviot Ram

Plate 7 Cheviot Ram

I am no Welsh language expert, so a friend has translated the title for me, and her translation leads me to believe that this is a Welsh language version of Law’s The veterinary adviser: being a guide to the prevention and treatment of disease in domestic animals which was first published c1879 running to at least 8 editions.

These English and Welsh versions have a number of features in common: they share a publisher, Thomas Jack of Edinburgh, and their pagination and number of plates and illustrations is the same which would appear to confirm my theory that they are one and the same

As the title suggests the book was intended to be a guide for the farmer to use when they were unable to get advice from a veterinary surgeon.  It offers practical veterinary advice on common diseases of domestic animals which the farmer can use instead of consulting a ‘quack’.

Plate 5 - Short Horned and Aberdeenshire Polled bulls

Plate 5 – Short Horned and Aberdeenshire Polled bulls

The preface of the 8th edition of The veterinary adviser,  written in 1896 when Law was working in America and at a time when the American veterinary profession was still in its infancy, expresses the aim of the book rather nicely:

“This work is especially designed to supply the need of the busy American farmer…we have…livestock estimated at $1,500,000,000…affording an almost unlimited field for the…pursuit of veterinary medicine…[yet] livestock is largely at the mercy of ignorant reckless pretenders whose barbarous surgery is only equalled by their reckless and destructive drugging…to give the stock owner such information [to allow] him to dispense with the…services of such pretenders…is the aim of this book”

The book also contains 24 full page illustrations showing breeds of livestock, three of which are shown here, and numerous other illustrations within the text.

Plate 1 English Cart Horse and th method of giving draughts to horses

Plate 1 – English Cart Horse and the method of giving draughts to horses

The author James Law, a 1861 graduate of the Dick Veterinary School in Edinburgh, had a prestigious teaching career in both Scotland and America. Following his graduation he taught at the New Veterinary College Edinburgh with John Gamgee.  He was then hired in 1868 by the newly formed Cornell University to teach biology, agriculture and veterinary medicine. It was at Cornell that his later writings, including his 5 volume Textbook of veterinary medicine, took shape.

 The inscription in the front of our copy of  Meddyg y fferm arweinydd i drin a gochel clefydau mewn anifeiliad  indicates that it was owned by a couple named Thomas who lived in Llangyfelach near Swansea.  Unfortunately we don’t know anything about them so we can’t say if they actually used the book to help  care for their animals.

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!