10th International Veterinary Congress: a case of unfortunate timing

At 11pm on 4th August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany.  That same evening at the Natural History Museum 300 guests were gathered for the conversazione and reception of the 10th International Veterinary Congress.  A Congress that had been many years in the planning ….

Programme of music at the reception

Programme of music at the reception

London had been chosen as the venue for the 10th meeting of the International VeterinaryCongress  (IVC) at the previous meeting in 1909.   The original plan had been to hold the 10th IVC in 1913 but as there was already an international medical congress in London that year the date was moved to the summer 1914,

The organising committee consisted of Sir John McFadyean, Principal of the Royal Veterinary College, his son-in-law Stewart Stockman plus 28 others including the RCVS Registrar Fred Bullock.  In July 1911 the Committee met for the first time – the main topic of discussion was how the estimated £3,500 needed to run the Congress would be found.

By October 1912 good progress was reported to have been made with the scientific and social programmes but only £300 had been raised.  Planning continued throughout 1913 – the RCVS voted to make distinguished foreign visitors Honorary Associates and the ‘coffers’ increased to £3,180.

In early 1914 it was announced that: the money had been raised; places at the commercial exhibition were selling well, and the papers to be presented had been translated into English, French and German ready for printing.

By June some 1300 delegates had registered and the stage was set for a successful congress and then … on  the 28th Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo and everything changed.

Over the coming weeks as the threat of war grew McFadyean and his committee considered postponing the congress but in the end, with so much at stake, they decided to carry on.

Congress badge

Congress badge

The first event, an evening reception at the Hotel Cecil on the Strand, took place on the 2nd August with far fewer attendees than had been expected

The following morning McFadyean officially opened the congress. There was good representation from the USA, Canada, China, Brazil and South Africa but representation from Germany, France, Austria, Serbia, Holland, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy was practically none existent.

After the opening addresses and the election of officers for the meeting, McFadyean announced the scientific programme would start the following day.

At 11am on the 4th August McFadyean again mounted the podium and uttered the following words “Yesterday we felt the cloud of anxiety… and today the cloud has become much darker”. He then proposed that the meeting should adjourn and reassemble at 3pm to transact the “business necessary to bring the Congress to a close”.  This they  did with all activities cancelled except for the conversazione that evening.

Thus 300 delegates were at the Natural History Museum, listening to the String Band of the Royal Artillery and studying the specially selected exhibits, as Britain officially entered the war.

Boxes of unused badges from the 10th International Veterinary Congress

Boxes of unused badges

It would appear that much of the winding up activities were left to the RCVS registrar Fred Bullock. This is probably why the records (letters, receipts, minute book, accounts etc) are in our archives.  Perhaps the most poignant memento we have of the congress that never was are the boxes of pristine congress badges whose intended recipients never even made it to London

For a  fuller account of the 10th IVC  see Bruce Vivash Jones (2014)  Unfortunate timing Veterinary Record  174(25)  pp 627-629

A time for reflection: Lieutenant Vincent Fox

Last Friday the Royal College was delighted to accept a portrait of Lieutenant Vincent Fox from his great grand-nephew.   Vincent Fox was killed in action on the 26 August 1914: the first member of the RCVS to die during World War 1.   His obituary in the Veterinary Record 3 October 1914, simply read:

Vincent Fox, MRCVS, Lieut AVC, Dublin: December 1911

Vincent Fox

Vincent Fox

Vincent Richard James Fox (1889-1914) was born at Hacksballscross, Carrickastuck, County Louth.  The youngest of 10 children, his father died in 1890, his mother in 1908. The 1911 census shows the family, headed by the eldest son, Patrick, living at 25 Quay Street, Dundalk.

Fox entered the Royal Veterinary College in Ireland in 1907, and graduated MRCVS in December 1911. He initially worked in Dundalk, then in May 1912 he sailed to Calcutta. Here he worked for RS Hart Bros, described as a ‘Royal Horse Repository and Veterinary Infirmary’ by its owner Robert Spooner-Hart MRCVS. The work was varied, ranging from veterinary surgery to horse breeding and dealing; the company also acted as consulting veterinary surgeons to the Calcutta Turf Club. Spooner-Hart died in March 1914, and about that time Fox returned to Ireland, keen to pursue a military career.

Fox received his commission, in the rank of Lieutenant, on probation, in the Army Veterinary Corps, on 31 July 1914. His entrance into the army had obviously moved at quite a pace, since by 22 July  he had already obtained his uniform from W T Castle, Military Outfitters of 23 Saville Row, London, for which he was invoiced a total of £22 18/-.

Fox was one of the first veterinary surgeons to depart for France.  Serving as Brigade Veterinary Officer to 8 Infantry Brigade he arrived in Boulogne on 14 August.  The Brigade were deployed north into Belgium, and by 22 August were at Mons, facing the advancing German army. The position of the British troops meant there was a real risk of their being cut off and on 22 August the order was given to retreat. By 25 August 8 Brigade were positioned in the town of Audencourt, to the east of Le Cateau.

Here the commanding officer deployed the bulk of his troops around Le Cateau to provide support for the men of I Corps as they retreated on his eastern flank. He was ‘advised’ to withdraw but informed the Commander in Chief that he was unable to move any men, and that he had decided to stand and fight.

The Battle of Le Cateau took place on Wednesday 26 August.  The headquarters of 8 Brigade were initially sited in a farm in Audencourt, The brigade diary reported that:

No field ambulance and no medical officers being available,
the wounded were taken into the church, a very solid stone structure
and here Lieut V Fox AVC
took charge and dressed the wounded.

At about noon the brigade came under a sustained artillery barrage and it was decided to move south. The horses were taken to a nearby orchard; the wounded, being treated by Fox, were to be left in the church, since it was considered strong enough to withstand shell fire. At 2.30pm the Germans commenced a bombardment of Audencourt, with disastrous consequences. Shelling of the orchard led to the death of all the horses and in the late afternoon the church was hit. Witnesses described how the spire was struck, followed by an explosion and the building caught fire. At least one high explosive shell entered the building, causing substantial damage and destruction, resulting in the death of Lieutenant Fox. His family were later to receive reports that his dead body was found, ‘without a mark or scar on it’.

RCVS World War 1 memorial

RCVS World War 1 memorial

Fox was buried in the Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery at Caudry (British Cemetery)  and is commemorated on the RCVS Memorial  alongside 66 other MRCVS who died in World War 1

Vincent Fox died whilst treating human, not animal, patients, and in doing so clearly demonstrated his commitment to the treatment of the sick, regardless of species. Although so little was written about his actions at the time in the veterinary press, an obituary in his local paper, the Dundalk Democrat, said that he was:

Killed whilst in pursuit of his humane duty behind the British firing line.
A man could not well die a nobler death.


For more information on the Battle of Le Cateau see The Battle of Le Cateau and subsequent actions via “The Long, Long Trail: the British Army in the Great War (accessed 20/8/2014)

I would like to thank Dr Paul Watkins MRCVS for his help in compiling this post. 

Shining a light on veterinary artists

The Lightbox in Woking, is currently showing an exhibition describing the role of horse and mules in World War 1.  The Horse at War: 1914-18  has a wide ranging display of artwork both from the war itself as well as more recent works, most noticeably ‘Joey’ the life size puppet from the National Theatre’s stage production of War Horse. Amongst the many paintings on display are works by a number of official war artists including Sir Alfred Munnings, CRW Nevinson and Lucy Kemp Welch.

There are a number of interesting veterinary connections amongst the paintings.  We have loaned two paintings by Lionel Edwards .  Born in Bristol in 1878, Edwards was one of the most popular illustrators of hunting and sporting subjects of the twentieth century. His artistic talents were apparent early in life, drawing horses from the age of six. He studied in London at Heatherly’s School of Art, before pursuing a professional career as an artist. At the outbreak of war he enlisted and served as a Remount Purchasing Officer, responsible for purchasing horses, an experience he described as ’four solid years of nothing but horse.’

Also on display are a number of works by official war artist Edwin Noble.  Noble studied at the Slade School of Art and the Royal Academy and became an established illustrator prior to the war.  He served with the Army Veterinary Corps, rising to the rank of sergeant, spending much of the war at No 8 Veterinary Hospital in France. Here he recorded in great detail the diseases affecting horses, ranging from mange through to the effects of mustard gas. His pictures were described as providing an ‘almost veterinary eye view of the misfortunes of horses on active service.’

A Horse Ambulance Pulling a Sick Horse out of a Field by Edwin Noble

A Horse Ambulance Pulling a Sick Horse out of a Field by Edwin Noble © IWM (Art.IWM ART 2922)

There are three works of art on display produced by a veterinary surgeon, but one who was serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps during the conflict.

Herbert Lake was born in 1883, at 33 High Street Camden, London, where his father owned a jewellers shop. Qualifying from the Royal Veterinary College in 1905, he initially worked in London passing the examinations for an Inspector of Meat and other Foods, in December 1908. Soon after he entered University College London to read medicine, gaining MRCS, LRCP in 1913 and MB in 1915. On graduation from UCL Lake joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was posted to northern France in October 1915, to serve as medical officer to 2 Cavalry Field Ambulance (2CFA) (part of 2nd Cavalry Division). War diaries show how he used both his medical and veterinary knowledge.

Herbert Lake 1883-1869

Herbert Lake 1883-1969

Soon after his arrival, responding to the cold and wet conditions, Lake noted that horses had been standing out all the time and though there had been no sickness among them, they had generally fallen off in condition. To provide protection he moved horses into the trenches. It was recorded that ‘it has not been entirely successful owing to the heavy mud, but they have been sheltered in this way from the cold winds.’ Two months later his veterinary skills were again to the fore, when he was asked to give a course of lectures in horse mastership and stable management to each field ambulance.

However it was his medical work that was to be recognised when on 8 October 1916 he led a digging party in the Ginchy area of the Somme. The party dug out three men; one was dead, the other two wounded. Lake would later be mentioned in dispatches for his actions.

Herbert Lake was also an accomplished artist, although unlike many of his contemporaries, he appears not to have had any formal training.  Making use of a number of media, he portrayed his experiences in war, and invariably horses are at the centre of his work. He graphically depicted the role of the field ambulance in a number of sketches.

Horse pulled ambulance by Herbert Lake 1917

Horse pulled ambulance by Herbert Lake 1917

In March 1917, Lake witnessed the cavalry charge at Arras, the last cavalry charge by British troops in Europe. His painting ‘Cavalry Before Arras’ portrays the intensity of the preparations for battle amongst both horse and rider. Later Lake would treat many of those injured in the battle,

Cavalry before Arras by Herbert Lake

Cavalry before Arras by Herbert Lake

After the war Herbert Lake settled in Beaminster, Dorset where he established a general medical practice. However, he remained on the register of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons until 1958, and treated patients, both human and animal, for many years.

The exhibition runs until 1 March.

I would like to thank Dr Paul Watkins MRCVS for his help in compiling this post.


A Horse Ambulance Pulling a Sick Horse out of a Field by Edwin Noble © IWM (Art.IWM ART 2922)   reproduced under the IWM Non-commercial Licence

Photograph of Herbert Lake and the paintings by him are reproduced with the permission of the Lake family.

William Moss: one man’s journey through the Somme and Beyond

1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, is a day remembered as one of the worst in British military history. The attack commenced at 7.30am; by the end of the day, 19,240 British soldiers had been killed and three times that number injured. The battle lasted 140 days, and amongst the thousands who took part was at least one future member of the veterinary profession.

WP Moss 1914

William Moss 1914

At the outbreak of war, Lieutenant William P. ‘Willy’ Moss was an 18 year old art student, noted to have a talent for capturing ‘the essence of animals.’ In October 1914 he joined up and was commissioned into the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. He was sent to France in October 1915, and was injured by both a gas attack and mortar fire in early 1916. His battalion was held in reserve at the opening of the Battle of the Somme, but early on 7 July they relieved the men of the Cheshire Regiment in the British trenches. Ordered to penetrate a breach in the German line at 09.50am Moss lead his men into ‘no-man’s land.’ Due to the heavy rain the previous night the men soon sank to their knees in the mud and were met by an onslaught of machine gun fire.

Moss was hit in the leg, fell and lay helpless and unable to move. After several hours, his batman managed to carry him over 100 yards to the British trenches. The ferocity of the action that morning was described as like ‘hell let loose.’ During the encounter 30 men of the battalion were killed and 120 wounded. Moss was evacuated to hospital with a gunshot wound to his left tibia. He was sent home for treatment, which took many months, and left him with a permanent deformity of his leg. For his actions he was awarded the Military Cross in 1917, he did not return to France.

Lieutenant WP Moss 1917

Lieutenant WP Moss 1917

Following demobilisation from the Army Moss was unsure of his future and applied for a place at the Royal Veterinary College in Ireland. Commencing his studies in Ireland in 1919, he did his final year at the Royal Veterinary College, London and qualified MRCVS in 1923. Initially he worked as a Veterinary Inspector for the Ministry of Agriculture, in the control of foot and mouth disease. Four years later he established a veterinary practice in Woking, Surrey and at the same time joined the RAVC as a territorial officer. At Woking, he was able to rekindle his love of art, joining the Woking Art Club.

With the outbreak of war in 1939, Moss again served his country, one of several veterinary officers dispatched to Palestine with the 1st Cavalry Division. He arrived in Palestine in December 1939 and three months later was posted as Veterinary Officer to the Cheshire Yeomanry. Over the next year he combined his veterinary work with his skill as an artist, drawing many scenes of the cavalry in Palestine.

In June 1941 plans were laid to capture Lebanon and Syria, with the Cheshire Yeomanry set to play a crucial role securing the River Litani, in southern Lebanon. As the men and horses moved into position one observer recorded that they were like ‘trespassers about to partake in a picnic on forbidden ground, rather than an invading force going to war. Everyone was excited.’ Advancing across the river the yeomen came under heavy machine gun fire, six horses were killed and several injured. Moss found that evacuation of injured animals was extremely difficult due to the nature of the terrain. Eventually they started to make their way north arriving in Damascus after five weeks, where the armistice parade included the men and horses of the Cheshire Yeomanry. The battle of the River Litani was to be the last occasion when British troops went into battle on horses.

The Machine-gun Section: Cheshire Yeomanry, going into action in Syria © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 5742)

The Machine-gun Section: Cheshire Yeomanry, going into action in Syria © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 5742)

Mechanisation of the Cheshire Yeomanry in December 1941 meant Moss’ veterinary services were no longer required. He took command of a Druze Cavalry Regiment where he encountered an official War Artist, Anthony Gross who described meeting a ‘wonderful Irishman, the vet, called Moss; a real scream.’ On seeing Moss’ art work Gross advised him to write to the War Artist’s Advisory Committee (WAAC) in London. They were impressed by the portfolio, especially the black and white sketches, and Moss was awarded a ‘Category C’ contract. Other artists in this category included Stanley Spencer, Jacob Epstein and L. S. Lowry. Moss was the only veterinary or medical officer to receive a contract from the WAAC.

Farrier Sergeant Faris el Beini © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 3085)

Farrier Sergeant Faris el Beini © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 3085)

Moss continued to serve in the Middle East until early 1945, when he returned home. He did not return to veterinary practice, but instead pursued farming as well as his interest in art. A number of his original works are held by the Imperial War Museum. We are fortunate to have, in our Collections, a number of the sketches he made of the veterinary profession to illustrate articles on the ‘Modern Veterinary Surgeon’ published in Sport & Country in 1946.  William Moss, MC, MRCVS died in 1980.

At the London Clinic: resetting a broken leg of a dog

At the London Clinic: resetting a broken leg of a dog

Acknowledgements I would like to thank Dr Paul Watkins MRCVS for his help in compiling this post.

Image credits

The Machine-gun Section : Cheshire Yeomanry, going into action in Syria by W P Moss © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 5742) reproduced under the IWM Non-commercial Licence

Farrier Sergeant Faris el Beini by W P Moss © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 3085) reproduced under the IWM Non-commercial Licence

The two photographs of Moss are from a private collection and are reproduced with permission.

Cataloguing the Correspondence of Henry Gray

As the RCVS Knowledge Archives and Digitisation assistant, my main duties are to scan the historical material, upload it to our Digital Collections website and take part in the promotion of the collection. In recent months, I have worked on a side project: cataloguing the personal correspondence and research papers of veterinary surgeon Henry Gray (1865-1939).

One of the most enjoyable parts of cataloguing Henry Gray’s material is not just the insights into past veterinary practice, but also the veterinary surgeons behind that practice. I spend one day a week delving into his professional and personal life; building up a picture of his character, and his ideals, through the correspondence he received from his peers.

Portrait of Henry Gray

Henry Gray qualified from the London Veterinary College in 1885 and set up a practice in Kensington on Earls Court Road (pictured below), though sadly this original facade no longer exists.

Henry Gray pictured in front of his surgery in Kensington

Henry Gray’s daughter bequeathed his materials to the RCVS in 1955 and now I get the satisfying task of reading, cataloguing and ordering his letters, postcards, research, and notes. It’s a fascinating insight to the work of a veterinary surgeon in the early 20th century and through these letters, I get detailed opinions from Gray’s peers regarding the state of the veterinary profession. I also find out about the diseases they were researching at the time. There is also correspondence from doctors studying human medicine,  because there was often cross-over between human and animal disease, Henry Gray would consult the work of doctors and vice versa.

There aren’t many letters in Gray’s own hand and there is little biographical information about him, but I still build up a strong picture of his character from the letters he received. Gray was described as ‘pugnacious’ and, in letters written to him, his friends would often challenge him on his critical nature. What I admire most about this man was his very clear passion for his profession and his concern for the treatment of animals. He was not only relied upon for his expert opinion on animal treatments, but he was also an avid writer. Gray’s main correspondent was E. Wallis Hoare, the editor of ‘Veterinary News’, who relied upon Gray’s research and writing as content for the journal. Gray also wrote his own papers and was an extremely busy and dedicated man, eventually becoming the editor of the ‘Veterinary News’ himself. Gray was widely read, multilingual, and translated important veterinary works from French and German to English for his peers. Gray was known to be fond of saying:

Gray held this belief in high esteem and from what I have found, he had a real thirst for knowledge and shared it with his peers as often as he was able.

The breadth of topics he researched, and the topics that interested him, seems exhaustive to me –  though he did specialise. Gray became an expert on birds and established one of the first practices that specialised in small animals. He donated some very beautiful books to the library here at RCVS, my favourite is pictured below.

The Speaking Parrots by Dr. Karl Russ (1884)

One of the most surprising things, at least to me, is that vets did not feel respected. Gray’s main correspondents were incredibly dissatisfied with the state of the profession. Gray and Hoare were forward-thinking men who were interested in the progress of veterinary science and education, though Hoare was so dismayed by the men already within the profession, he often discouraged people to enter it. Hoare believed that their work made a better hobby than a living. I have found some quotes in the letters that convey some of the feeling of the time.

“Had I been a Solicitor or Doctor an Engineer or a Tradesman etc – I should have been married ages ago but a horse doctor, a dog doctor … is no catch”

– A. Cholet

The above quote appears in the letter pictured below (which includes a match making request!):

Other notable comments include:

“I am proud of having been an apothecary and medical man, and nearly always ashamed of being a veterinary surgeon”

– H. Leeney

The RCVS was often a favourite topic in the letters and got its fair share of criticism; mainly concerning the education of veterinary surgeons. One remark in a letter questioned why exams for doctors were days long whilst the RVC exam was over in a few hours.  Another comment concerned the females of the profession – specifically Aleen Cust. E. Hoare, who was incredibly progressive, was very outspoken about the attitudes of the council. He writes in one letter:

“ The Lady V.S in Roscommon; I hope to get her to write some articles and show the antiquated members of the council what a woman can do…”

– E. Hoare

I really admire the degree to which these men cared about their work and the reputation of the profession as a whole.

Another significant aspect of cataloguing this collection concerned the time period that most of the letters were written, which was during the First World War. I’ve read firsthand accounts of how the army treated the veterinary surgeons trying to care for their horses. The image below is a section of a letter written by H. Leeney; he rebukes Gray for his critical ways,  but also goes in to detail about working for the army.

There are also passing comments within the letters on major events of the time, such as the sinking of the Lusitania, and these are juxtaposed with the cases they are tackling in their own practices (away from the fighting). My favourite part of working with Gray’s personal archive is that are many facets to the collection. The material is not all clinical and scientific. I also learn about the obstacles the vets faced due to the fact that certain technology was not available. The image below is a snippet of a letter from E. Hoare where he describes his troubles chloroforming a horse.

“I tried chloroforming standing on a big horse last Monday and shall not attempt it again”

– E . Hoare

Throughout this project I  am finding out a great deal about the veterinary profession. Getting to know Gray (and his peers) has helped me understand the challenges and similar circumstances they faced, and how this compares to the present day. It definitely continues to strike me how the members of this profession never wish to stop learning, their intellectual natures and how innovative they continue to be, and often have to be. I am very much looking forward to putting this collection online! Please follow on Instagram where we add our favourite finds from the archives and historical collections.