I am going to be a bit solemn in this weeks blog post. Memorial Day is upon us and with it the unofficial start of Summer. For many it is a time for trips to the beach and picnics. The air will be filled with the smoke from millions of backyard grills and the laughter and chatter of people enjoying a well deserved long weekend.
It was on a Memorial Day weekend many years ago that I was looking through a photo album that belonged to a family member whose father had served overseas during World War I. One photo struck me deeply. It was a photo of a lone tree on a scorched battle field and in that tree, high off the ground, was the corpse of a horse. This photo of a dead horse in a tree made a very strong impression on me as to how terrible it had to be on the battlefield and how much deadly force man can inflict on man.
I in no way want to denigrate the sacrifices that our brave men and woman have made for our country, what I want to do here is point out as others have before me that up until the end of the First World War it was the horse that served alongside the soldier and it was the horse that gave it's life as did so many brave members of our armed services.
Great Britain sent some 1,000,000 horses to war in the early part of the 20th century. In great part due to the intervention of Winston Churchill and his love for horses, some 60,000 horses were returned to England after the war. The name given to the Australian Cavalry horse was “walers.” Of the 136,000 horses sent overseas during World War I only one, a horse named Sandy, that belonged to Major General Sir William Bridges returned home. Approximately 11,000 of these horses made their way to India where they were used as cavalry horses while others were sold in Egypt.
Many horses served in the Middle East during the war. At the end of the war, 22,000 horses had survived. These horses were either sold or euthanized. These horses had suffered greatly during the war living in the desert heat and those used as draft horses carried more weight than any horse should have to endure and the treatment took a physical toll on them.
Between the years 1930 and 1934, Dorthy Burke purchased some 5,000 horses and mules that had formerly served in the Middle East. These animals were identified by the brands that they carried. In 1934, upon seeing the condition of not only these remaining war horses but the condition of other equines in Egypt, Dorothy Brooke founded The Old War Horse Memorial Hospital in Cairo. This hospital is still working today providing free care to equines that in many cases are at the core of their owners ability to make a living. Many of us who live here in the United States have lost touch with the fact that there are still a lot of working horses, mules and donkeys in the world.
To quote John Trotwood Moore, “Where ever man has left his footprint in his long ascent from barbarism to civilization, we will find the hoofprint of a horse beside it.” On this Memorial Day, we should remember the great sacrifice of those men and woman who died for us but we should also remember those horses who gave their all. Like so many who made the ultimate sacrifice for us they were drafted into the service of their country and answered a higher calling than many of us will ever hear.
Photo: This file is a work of a sailor or employee of the U.S. Navy, taken or made as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.