War is never a pleasant ordeal, much less its outcomes. Although it has been more than a century since the First World War, thinking of the millions of lives lost during it is still devastating. It should come as no surprise that it is regarded as one of the deadliest conflicts of all time, with upwards of 38 million casualties. The Second World War was no less destructive either. In fact, it surpassed the death toll of the First World War, with around 60 million deaths. This number equated to 3% of the world’s population at the time.
However, the numbers we usually hear are only of the humans that died in these wars. A lesser known fact is that 8 million horses died during the First World War, and millions later in various battles that followed. While there have been efforts to honor the human lives lost during these battles, it seems prudent that horses should also be honored. Therefore, the Royal Navy held the first ever memorial for the horses that have fought with valor alongside humans in a multitude of battles.
The Royal Navy:
The Royal Navy is one of the United Kingdom’s principal armed forces. Also known as the Senior Service, the Royal Navy has strived not only to provide security at sea, but also to prevent conflict and provide humanitarian assistance to various countries. While armed forces in both the U.K. and other countries worldwide honor the human soldiers who lose their lives during armed conflict, the Royal Navy went a step ahead and honored the lives of the horses who have died as a result of human conflict.
Horses during WWI:
At the beginning of World War I, the British army only possessed a total of 25,000 horses. However, as it became apparent that these were not enough, a million more horses were deployed for war. As a matter of fact, between 1914 and 1917, the United States shipped a thousand horses every day to war-torn areas. However vital they were to the war, the horses were exceedingly vulnerable to gunfire and artillery, and adding winter to the mix did not help their fate. Despite the best efforts of the RSPCA and the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, more horses lost their lives than humans at Somme and Passchendaele.
On November 13th this year, horses got their first ever memorial at Royal Marines Riding Stables in Devon, England. Commemorating the uncountable lives of the horses that were lost during World War I and the battles that followed. Stables chairwoman Cathie Gillespie stated that it was only fitting to honor the dead horses in this month of remembrance. Five horses wore poppy garlands, including Tango who denoted the horses of the officers and Anoushka who denoted horses that fought in the Battle of the Somme. In a similar fashion, Russian horses were represented by Zabor and cobs horses by Bob. Young members of the Junior Saddle Club were also present during the service, wearing poppy badges and holding wooden crosses.
The service was a reminder that humans are not the only species that is affected by the devastation of war. While we do remember the humans who lose their lives, we seem to forget about everything else that is lost. Horses have been fighting beside humans for centuries, so the step taken by the Royal Navy is one that was long due and will help people appreciate the importance of the horses that fight our battles for us.
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