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Horse Power: The Horse and World War I

Horse in ambulance

The image traditionally associated with the horse in war is that of the cavalry. A charging horse was a devastating weapon when used against infantry. However, the role played by the horse behind the front lines on both sides of World War I is often overlooked, and without them war would have been almost impossible. The majority of horses used during World War I were work horses.

Draught horses and mules were taken from plains and farms, from factories and cities, and transported by ship and rail to provide support to the soldiers fighting on the front lines.

Horses could travel more easily than motorised transport in the deep mud and rough terrain, and were essential for pulling heavy artillery and transporting ammunition up to the trenches. Wagons carrying food, water, medical items and many other supplies were all pulled by horses, often in pairs or large teams.

Care of the work horses was paramount and soldiers developed strong bonds with their animals. Large veterinary depots were set up to care for sick and injured horses and many were returned to duty.

Eight million horses died during World War I and are remembered for their Trojan work in the face of horrendous conditions.

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