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The Veterinary Corps: Caring and Curing


The W.S. Army Veterinary Corps came of age during World War 1, finally gaining its own command structure and status within the army.

In this section we will explore the Veterinary Corps itself, and the Injuries and Diseases that plagued our animals, including Poison Gas. Learn about the Hospitals where they were cared for in disease and operated on for wounds, and what kinds of Medicines and Supplies the veterinarians used. As well, we will look at how unprepared the army was to care for its animals, and how the French finally forced changes by cutting off the supply of animals it had agreed to sell to the U.S. Learn too about the unique work done by civilian humane organizations such as Blue Cross and Red Star, and how World War 1 led to the founding of the world's largest equine humane organization, the Brooke family of charities, of which Brooke USA, sponsor of this page, is a part.

Army Veterinary Activities During The Great War

World War 1 was difficult for veterinarians. Experts on the care of animals and well trained in means to fight against disease and injury, they found themselves up against an unexpected adversary – the bureaucratic processes of the U.S. Army.

vet officer collar insigniaAmazingly, at the outbreak of the war the army was very unprepared to see to the health of its largest asset other than its men; that is, its animals. The direct result of this neglect was enormous suffering on the part of the animals and degraded performance on the part of the army itself. For instance, by one estimate, approximately 76% of the mule casualties in the A.E.F. occurrerd as a result of inadequate veterinary care, not as a result of battle injuries.2

Veterinarians had little say in planning for war because they were a small group of staff officers spread across many organizations, without any Army-wide standard procedures, plans, or organization. The upper echelons of the army failed to make veterinary care more efficient until near the end of the war. The advice and requests of veterinarians were routinely ignored until the Veterinary Corps was finally recognized as a medical branch of the service in the summer of 1918.3

After the war, the chief veterinarian of the A.E.F summed up his opinion:

“More horses and mules in the U.S. Army in 1918 did not mean more transportation in France for the Army but it meant more waste of animals, time of men and money. The needs of the army could never be met unless animals were returned to service by good medical care and recovery. We could not continue to have such a great loss and waste of animals due to lack of care and poor management and keep the Army going.”1

The Veterinary Corps Before World War 1

The old Veterinary Corps, as it existed at the beginning of the war, consisted of two officers for each horsed regiment and 17 officers as inspectors of animals and meats. Veterinarians had always been assigned as individuals to various units, with the result that there were few standardized procedures that were followed across the entire army. Vets had no command structure of their own, no way to rise up through their own ranks, set their own standards, or appeal for their own budgets or supplies.

vetcposteraFor the most part, and this became very important in France, they were trained well as individuals but had little understanding of how they fit into the larger whole of the army. Thus, they were often frustrated when their requests for supplies, medicines, or changes in care went unanswered.

If the unit to which they were assigned was led by a cavalry officer or any officer who was a horseman, things went well. If it was not, their pleas often fell on deaf ears.

In 1916 the first of several reorganization orders was issued for what would eventually be recognized as the Army Veterinary Corps. The U.S. entered the war less than a year later, and hundreds of thousands of horses and mules very suddenly needed veterinary attention.

During the war the multiple reorganizations placed veterinarians themselves back and forth from one organization to the other; at various times, they were under the command of the quartermaster (a supply organization); the remount service (a horse-mounted fighting organization) and the surgeon general (a medical organization).

In June 1916 the Veterinary Corps, a minor organization at that time, was transferred from the Quartermaster Corps to the Medical Department. In September 1917, shortly after the U.S. entered the war, the Veterinary Corps was removed from the Medical Department and placed back in the Quartermaster Corps, re-designated the Veterinary Service, A.E.F., and placed under the newly-formed Remount Service, itself a newly-formed service in the Quartermaster Corps. Then less than a year later, in August 1918, the Corps was moved back to the Office of the Chief Surgeon, A.E.F.4

Partly as a result of the war, the Veterinary Corps became a recognized command within the army. But during the war vets were passed back and forth among several commands, little able to control or even influence what happened to animals, let alone what happened to veterinarians.

Army Veterinary Training in the U.S.

vetcposterdThe newly-minted Veterinary Corps organized three training schools for its personnel during WW1: one for enlisted men at the Medical Officers' Training Camp, Fort Riley, Kansas; one for officers and enlisted men at Camp Greenleaf, Georgia; and one for organizing, equipping, and training veterinary units for overseas service at Camp Lee, Virginia.5

These schools did not start operating until nearly a year after war was declared, and of course ceased operations a few months later when the armistice ended the war.

The school at Fort Riley was established February 4, 1918. At that time authority had been given to allow men to enlist in the Veterinary Corps who were both younger and older than the draft age. Practically all men who enlisted west of the Mississippi River were sent to Fort Riley for training. This school was in operation from February until September 1918, and 540 men were trained, most of whom were sent to Camp Lee in Virginia for further transfer to overseas service.6

GK campgreenleafgeneralview1918Camp Greenleaf in 1918.Camp Greenleaf was also busy: at the time the armistice was signed, about 200 enlisted men had been trained; approximately 490 officers had been graduated; 240 officers were in training, and 655 enlisted Medical Reserve Corps men (graduate veterinarians) had reported for duty, of whom 86 had been commissioned and the rest were candidates for commissions.7

preparing mule for emergency tableClean, unhurried, and out of harm's way: the school version of preparing to drop a (very cooperative) mule onto an emergency operating table made of straw bales.The Camp Lee Veterinary Training School was in active operation from April 12, 1918, to November 11, 1918, with the purpose of organizing, equipping, and training oversea units. During that time a total of 393 officers and 7,968 enlisted men passed through the school. Fifteen veterinary hospitals were organized, equipped, trained and sent to France, each consisting of seven veterinary officers and 300 enlisted men. In addition, one base veterinary hospital of 4 officers and 144 enlisted men; six Corps Mobile Veterinary Hospitals of two officers and 35 enlisted men each; three Army Mobile Veterinary Hospitals of four officers and 144 enlisted men each; and four Veterinary Replacement Units of 13 officers and 200 men each were organized and sent across the Atlantic.8

In addition, it had ready for shipment, three more veterinary hospitals, one base veterinary hospital, one corps mobile veterinary hospital, all with their personnel, plus one veterinary replacement unit consisting of 40 officers and 200 men. There was also in process of organization at this time, but not completed, five veterinary hospitals, five corps mobile veterinary hospitals and two veterinary replacement units.emergency straw operating tableThe same mule, now perhaps not quite so cooperative!

The Veterinary Corps, once organized and operating, showed a remarkable ability to meet the needs of the animals and the men they supported. But it was all a case of too little, too late.

From the beginning, the Camp Lee school was called upon to exceed its estimated capacity, and wrestled with how to staff its teaching positions with officers who could teach civilian vets about army life and regulations.

The Veterinary Corps prior to the war consisted of less than 75 officers who had seen service in fighting divisions, and none of these officers had any formal military training – they picked up all that they knew of purely military affairs as a side effect of their service. These officers would have been great instructors, but many had already been sent overseas.

Because Camp Lee was specifically tasked with preparing veterinary units for overseas duty, knowledge of military procedures was one of its primary teaching goals (after all, the veterinarians already knew how to treat sick animals – what they were lacking was any idea of how to get along in the army.)

So, non-vet instructors were brought in to teach the military side of things, with veterinary officers placed as understudies. By the time of the armistice, transition to all-veterinary officer faculty was only a short time away.9  

Mobilizing The Army Veterinary Corps: Shipping Overseas

GK table of organization for vet hospitalsVeterinary hospitals as reported after the war.Orders to form the initial veterinary units to go to France were issued December 31, 1917, but these units did not start departing until April 1918. This was because the new Corps had no Tables of Organization – there were no actual lists of what types personnel each unit should have! The three new training camps had no idea how many men or what skill levels should be assigned or trained for each unit. Instructions had been given that the units should leave completely equipped, but there were no standard supply lists so no real idea of what “fully equipped” really meant, and in any case, supplies were slow to arrive.

GK veterinarycomounted1918Veterinary Company No. 1, mounted, at Camp Greenleaf, Georgia, November 4, 1918. From the collection of Greg Krenzelok.Eventually lists were developed, all supplies except horse ambulances were in place, and the units were authorized to proceed without the ambulances. African-American (“colored”) and white enlisted men were at first mixed in the staffing of veterinary hospitals No. 3, 4 and 5, but, reflecting the standards of the times, the departure of those hospitals was delayed while the white men (a minority) were transferred out and the units could be re-staffed with all colored troops. Finally, they were on their way to France.

A second wave of men began being shipped overseas in mid-July 1918. The recruits for this phase were obtained by a special draft and were practically all ranch men from the western part of the country, ideally qualified for duty with the veterinary units. The delay was unfortunate but undoubtedly resulted in securing men already competent at handling animals.

Bandaging a Horse's Foot

Date: 1918


Veterinary Hospitals and Battlefield Operations

The Corps In France

GK Barracks and Mess Hall at Veterinary Hospital No 7 FranceBarracks and Mess Hall at Veterinary Hospital No. 7 in France, from the collection of Greg Krenzelok.The Veterinary Corps in France was represented by veterinary officers and enlisted men, veterinary hospitals, veterinary convalescent depots, and veterinary supply depots.

By April 1918, the 132 veterinary officers available in France were quite able to meet all needs, but the situation was quite different in so far as enlisted men were concerned. The first two veterinary hospitals, comprising some 300 men each, arrived in France on April 4, 1918, the delay in their arrival being due to the same cause that delayed other Medical Department organizations; that is to say, shortage of tonnage and the necessity for giving priority to combatant troops. Some remount personnel were detailed to assist the veterinary service.

GK army mobile vet hops patchGK Army mobile veterinary hospital shoulder patch, from the collection of Greg Krenzelok.GK base vet hospital 2 patch from Perri Harpers grandfatherArmy base veterinary hospital No. 2 patch, from the Veterinary Corps Historical Preservation Group's collection.In addition to hospital groups listed above, other personnel were sent over with divisions, corps, and army organizations, until the Veterinary Corps, A. E. F., reached a maximum of 890 commissioned officers and 9,701 enlisted men. The latter were augmented by 2,000 labor troops who were assigned to this service, and at various times temporarily by several hundred men of the remount service. There was no appreciable service diminution until April 1, 1919, when the veterinary service began to be gradually reduced and personnel sent to the United States for demobilization and discharge.10



When the U.S. entered the war there were no plans for hospitals that would support horses and mules on the battlefield.

Both the British and the French had long recognized the need for hospitals. But the U.S. had not planned to enter the war. And certainly, it had not thought of veterinary hospitals. This amazed the British and the French, and certainly the war in France had been going on for years with the need for battlefield veterinary hospitals plain to any who cared to look.

The lack of planning for veterinary hospitals on the part of the senior army planners was probably the result of backward-looking thinking, considering the types of battles that the U.S. had fought since colonial times. Even accounting for the very limited understanding of medicine (both human and animal) during the 1700s and up through the Civil War, the real reason there were no permanent animal hospitals on battlefields was that the armies themselves moved dozens if not hundreds of miles over the course of a few weeks.

In U.S. campaigns prior to the Great War, all battlefield structures were temporary, if they existed at all. Men lived in tents or in the open, and horses and mules did likewise. Wounded animals were left behind if they could not travel with the advancing army.

horse being operated on bn de france 1916British veterinarians perform surgery on a horse, France, 1916.All of this changed in France in 1914. Veterinary medicine had advanced to a point where disease and injuries could be effectively treated and even surgery was possible under battlefield conditions. And, most of all, the battlefield in France stayed in one place, stretched along the border between France, Belgium and Germany, and overall occupying an area about 350-400 miles long by perhaps 50-100 miles wide. To give some perspective, it is as if the entire war was fought in an area about half the size of Ohio.

By the time the U.S. forces arrived in 1917, the French and British had built port facilities, receiving stations, remount facilities, and veterinary hospitals for the hundreds of thousands of horses and mules in their armies.

They watched the desperately-needed U.S. troops arrive and were quite dismayed to see that they had little in the way of veterinary staff, and no plans for hospitals.

Interior Veterinary Hospital St. Nazaire France wwimusInterior of the U.S. Veterinary Hospital St. Nazaire, France.This was a sure recipe for disaster. Needing the U.S. horses and mules to remain on combat duty, the British and French offered the use of their own hospitals for injured and sick animals. But they had no way to influence the decisions that led to a lack of quarantine of newly-arrived animals, which was if anything, even more worrisome.

The French tried to meet the need by actually donating some of their own hospitals to the U.S. But the transfers were of the facility only, bare of even a halter or bucket. No medicines, tack, or supplies were included – and the U.S. had not thought to ship these until after the animals arrived.

The disorganization which characterizes most military mobilizations was very apparent in the care of animals by the U.S. during at least the first year in France.

GK Nevers France at Base Veterinary Hospital No 1Base Veterinary Hospital No. 1 at Nevers, France. From the collection of Greg KrenzelokEven after U.S. hospitals were built, the confused command structure of the veterinary service, with veterinarians themselves belonging to the medical side of the army, but the administration of the hospitals being done by the Quartermaster Corps and to some extent by the Cavalry, made for incessant confusion and inefficiency.

U.S. animal hospital construction never caught up to demand, with existing hospitals always overcrowded and sometimes housing twice the number of animals they were built for. In 1917 and most of 1918, animals had haphazard care because skilled personnel were not available to help them, hospitals were not yet built, and the extreme shortage of animals meant that field units kept their animals working despite disease because if they turned them in for care, no replacements would be sent.

GK Operating room at Veterinary Hospital No 9 FranceOperating room at Veterinary Hospital No 9 in France. From the collection of Greg Krenzelok.Construction continued right up until the armistice, with many of the facilities seeing only a few weeks or months of actual use before the war ended.

GK Base Veterinary Hospital No. 2 Headquarters Office in France during WW1 Headquarters Office of Base Veterinary Hospital No. 2. From the collection of Greg Krenzelok.General John Pershing, commander of the AEF, saw the need for hospitals and began organizing U.S. veterinary services at two levels in his theater of operation, without much coordination with the Veterinary Corps itself. In Pershing’s plan, base veterinary hospitals, with capacity for 10% of the animals at the base, would be located on the second or third echelon back from the front. These facilities, housing 1250 animals each, were intended to house animals with communicable diseases or which required a major surgical operation or prolonged treatment.

After the animals left these hospitals they were to be delivered to a remount depot for re-issue to the troops. There were also veterinary units at the remount depots, which saw cases of disease or animals injured during transport.

Eventually, three levels of hospitals were established, though so late in the war that they did not impact the lives of most American animals. But the statistics are still eye-opening: on August 31, 1918, there were 72,118 animals in treatment by veterinarians in the A.E.F., or about 44% of the total animals serving the army.1

fumigation for mange Galtrey bookFumigation chamber for the treatment of mange at a British hospital in France. Sydney Galtrey, The Horse and The War, p. 91.The three levels began at the rear with the established veterinary hospitals, each with a nominal capacity of 1,000 patients, though nearly all were over capacity at all times. These hospitals were staffed with 7 veterinary officers, 1 medical officer, and 311 enlisted men who provided all the animal care.

GK Farrier WW1 uniform shoulder patchFarrier shoulder patch. From the collection of Greg Krenzelok.GK Cavalry Veterinary Corps Farrier patchCavalry Veterinary Corps farrier shoulder patch. From the collection of Greg Krenzelok.











Smaller units roamed closer to the fighting. These Corps Mobile Veterinary Hospitals had 2 officers and 35 enlisted men. Their function was to triage and treat animals that could be returned to duty within a few days, and to send more seriously wounded (but still mobile) animals to the bigger hospitals in the rear.

veterinary hospital near St. Omer France. April 16 1918 wwimusVeterinary hospital near St. Omer, France, April 16, 1918. Between these two in size was the Mobile Army Veterinary Hospital (capacity 500 animals), with 4 officers and 144 enlisted men. These units could be set up as semi-temporary installations near a battle area or could serve a small base.

In addition to the hospital units, there were Veterinary Field Units that travelled with the gun corps, which used probably half of the animals that the army had in France. For each infantry division, three veterinary field units and one mobile veterinary section were assigned, with total personnel of 12 officers and 51 enlisted men. Each infantry division leaving the United States was to be accompanied by this contingent, part of them assigned to the field units and part to division headquarters, brigades, artillery regiments and trains.

GK Captain Walter Jensen CO Mob vet hosp 1 France 1919Captain Walter Jensen, CO of Mobile Veterinary Hospital No.1, France 1919. From the collection of Greg Krenzelok.No real veterinary hospitals were established in France in 1917. In the April and May of 1918 the first three establishments became operational, and by the time the Medical Department took over the veterinary service on August 29, 1918, eleven hospitals were operational, with a total capacity of 11,580 animals. Four others had at some point been established but subsequently abandoned.

By November 1, 1918, fifteen A.E.F. veterinary hospitals were operational, though construction at some were not completely finished. The total animal capacity then available was approximately 12,000, but this was inadequate as many more cases than this number had to be cared for, thus necessitating the use of picket lines, corrals, paddocks, and other expedients. On that date, there were 14,861 animals in the hospitals. This number actually increased after the armistice, with 20,000 in hospitals by March 1, 1919.2

Wounded horses arriving at No. 5 Veterinary Hospital at Abbeville 22 April 1918Wounded horses arriving at No. 5 Veterinary Hospital at Abbeville, France, 22 April 1918

Battlefield Operations 

GK american army supply system from coast to frontAmerican army supply system from the coast to the battlefront. From the Greg Krenzelok collection.The city of Tours, over 200 miles from the front, was selected as the location of the headquarters for the Service of Supply (S.O.S.), which included the offices of the chief quartermaster, chief remount officer, chief surgeon, chief veterinarian, and others.3 As the war progressed, the distance between Tours and the battlefront was cited as an obstacle to efficient functioning of the service – recalling that radio communication was in its infancy, telephone communication was very limited, and sending tissue-paper messages in tiny cylinders attached to the leg of a homing pigeon was still a daily occurrence in the army.

It is clear from records of the army itself that little thought was given to the suffering of animals. Requests by the Chief Veterinarian that sick or wounded horses and mules should be transported to hospitals by rail were absolutely refused.

According to the Commander-in Chief’s after action report, the result of this refusal “was that while this question was being decided, hundreds of animals were lost, through being evacuated long distances overland, when in debilitated and sick condition, often suffering from serious wounds, while literally thousands were retained with divisions through the inability if the veterinary personnel to cope with the requirements of long overland evacuation.”

GK US Caisson drawn by horses wearing masksA U.S. caisson drawn by horses wearing gas masks. From the collection of Greg Krenzelok.As noted by two veterinarians (one the Chief Veterinarian of the AEF), Delwin M. Campbell and Louis A. Merillat, a veterinary history of some of the most important battles of the war could never be written.5 There was no service to keep records. Trying to trace the activities of the veterinary service during the Battle of Chateau Thierry, one of the major Marne-area battles of the summer of 1918, shows this lack.

That summer, Major Charles H. Jewell of the Regular Army was the corps veterinarian. He had made no plans for evacuating animals. There was no American veterinary hospital established in the sector, although the French had vacated the large remount depot at Claye Souilly with the expectation that the Americans would establish a hospital there for the divisions they were mobilizing in the adjacent territory.

In fact, Major Jewell did not even know where the French veterinary hospitals were located and no contact with the French hospitals had been planned. This lack of military planning is an example of the disconnect between veterinary training and expertise (which Major Jewell had), and military planning/staff expertise, which he certainly did not have, despite having risen to the rank of major.

It was this lack of staff training that the new training school at Ft. Lee was trying to address – too late to help even in the summer of 1918, only a few months before the war ended.

The battles of the Marne were long anticipated, as it was believed that the German forces would make a major effort in the summer of 1918 to push through to Paris and eventual European victory. During the weeks of waiting for the German offensive to open, the units of the various divisions disposed of disabled animals without any central direction, often simply abandoning them into the countryside.

When the troops went into action against formidable enemy resistance, the animals wrecked beyond redemption were abandoned in the open or dragged over the highways to the French hospital and left as "unidentified American property."

As U.S. veterinarians Merillat and Campbell state,

“This unfortunate state of affairs was revealed in the inspection of such of these animals as could be located, when a veterinary service was being organized for the First Army and was taking charge of the situation. The battle was then in its closing phase. The scene was distressing from a veterinary corps point of view. Not only the abandoned animals but most of those located in the French hospitals were permanently ruined.”6

Detachments of the 2nd Cavalry and division mobile sections attempted to collect the abandoned animals, but often made matters worse by grouping disabled animals at places where forage and water were scarce, if at all obtainable. Animals that should have been transported by rail were made to walk for days.

For these animals a veterinary hospital was eventually established in the empty remount depot at Claye Souilly by the First Army, two months after the Americans took possession of the territory and three weeks after the battle had begun.

US dead horses in trench wwimusThis may not be a long time by military standards but given the fact that the A.E.F. had been in France well over a year by that time with every opportunity to observe the need for animal hospitals, it was cruel and irresponsible on the part of senior commanders not to have given their attention to hospital construction sooner.

The hospital was manned by a remount squadron and plans started to collect the animals and transport them to it, but before and during the battle there were no standard procedures established for animal causalities.

Any animal that was deemed unlikely to recover in 30 days was put down.

Also sent to the rear were sick animals, though because of the shortage of mules and horses, unit commanders had a habit of keeping sick animals and working them until they were at the point of collapse before surrendering them to veterinary treatment. Many died unnecessarily as a result.

 The Franco-American Veterinary Liaison Mission

The French were very concerned about American animal care because they saw it as a waste of precious war resources. But there was another reason as well. When the A.E.F. turned sick horses out into the countryside, they were setting them loose in French farm country. Quite understandably, the French feared for the health of the animals on their farms, and for their agricultural production.

Food was scarce already, and there was a legitimate fear that epidemics of animal-borne disease could seriously impact the remaining production. Some diseases, notably glanders, could also spread to humans and had over 90% fatality rates.

The French pursued their concerns through diplomatic channels, and after several inquiries were made, a joint veterinary commission was established to inspect American animal care facilities.

This was an unprecedented action and was conducted in secret. The French were very aware of the delicacy of the entire endeavor. One official memorandum noted that “the mission was to make inspections without causing friction between the two governments,” and “Officers of one army reporting critical conditions existing in another have a ticklish mission.”1

The reports from this Liaison Mission reveal how truly awful the American animal care was. Operating from May 4 – August 4, 1918, the Mission inspectors were looking at an army that had been in France for nearly a year, and in fact was only months away from the end of the war. They visited a total of twenty-three operations, all across France, including operational divisions, hospitals, training camps, remount depots, a detachment of engineers running a logging operation, and a U.S. collecting center for newly-purchased French horses. (It was the report of this last inspection that caused the French to cut off the supply of horses they were selling to the U.S.).2

The gruesome conditions that were documented showed that there was simply not a big concern about the health of animals. Conditions did vary widely from base to base, but most were poor. One of the U.S. vets on the Liaison Mission described what they observed at one camp:

“Soldiers were turning a herd of disease-harried horses from a muddy corral to a common trough, the water of which was saturated with nasty nasal discharges floating thick as moss on a stagnant pool. Among these unfortunate horses there was strangles in all its colorful variations; pneumonia and serofibrinous pleurisy; purpura hemorrhagica and pink eye; mange, glanders and cutaneous injuries; and claudications galore. The agony and morbidity among these miserable unhospitalized animals ran from 75 to 80 per cent, and there were no remedial measures in force, and obviously none were contemplated.”3water call at Veterinary Hospital 9 France around 1919 vet websiteIn contrast to what was observed in 1918, this water call at Veterinary Hospital 9 in 1919 shows an organized (and perhaps staged) water call for the contagion ward. From the collection of Greg Krenzelok.

They also found a general lack of respect for veterinarians because they were usually junior officers and were outranked and, thus, not consulted regarding any decisions to be made about animals. In one case, the commanding general was so apathetic about the welfare of his animals that he reassigned the personnel of the mobile veterinary unit to Military Police duty.4

Probably the worst conditions were at the advance remount depot at Bourbonne les Bains, one of only 3 depots that were entirely of American construction.5 It had been inspected earlier, in February 1918, before the U.S. had fought a single engagement, and found to be “an aggregation of torture chambers.”starving american horse in mud

Animals “were found mired in mud up to their stifles and knees. Others, by the scores, were mired to their fetlocks, swaying back and forth in vain attempts to extricate themselves. Moreover, the weather was bitterly cold and a high wind was blowing cruelly through open sheds called remount stables.”

This was in a depot over 80 miles from any dangerous activity. The Liaison Mission commented that conditions there would always be substandard because it was built on deep clay soil that held water and would always be muddy. But poor discipline among the troops and poor veterinary management also contributed to the appalling circumstances.

As a contrast to this finding, and an example of how two branches of the service viewed the same picture very differently, the Remount Service in its final Operational Report after the war, called out Bourbonne les Bains as “deserving special credit” for “overcoming the handicaps under which they began operations.”6

Noted in the report was the task of bringing in tons of crushed stone to solve the problem of muddy corrals. Perhaps by the end of the war, conditions had improved, but what had happened before remains a permanent shame to those who caused the problem by siting the depot where they did and failing to remedy the conditions sooner, causing untold and completely needless suffering.


Injuries and Diseases

“It appears that the armies at war are more or less guilty of some form of sinful waste of horses….”1

For both men and animals, more died of disease than of injuries. For both, hospitals and ambulances were provided. And for both, limits in the knowledge of disease, lack of antibiotic medicines, and limited field treatment options led to deaths that in later wars would be avoided. Still, many horses and mules were returned to active service from the veterinary hospitals in France. In this section we will look at the most common diseases and battlefield injuries and how they were treated.

Like the soldiers they served, horses and mules needed medical care not just for injuries on the battlefield. Indeed, most of the deaths and debility of the animals came from disease and the poor care they got during their service in France. Tallies vary depending on the source, but according to the Remount Service, 22.5% of the animals sent to France died there – a full 5% of these after the Armistice.2

Their problems started as soon as they were purchased for Army use. Shipping horses and mules causes stresses of its own in these animals, lovers of routine and never happy in ever-changing conditions. Everything from being separated from familiar herd-mates and home stable to fluctuation of temperature, deprivation of both food and water, and lack of ability to move can negatively impact animals during shipment.

Generally poor conditions on the battlefield resulted in skin diseases, corns and infected nail pricks from ill-fitting shoes, frost-bite, swollen joints, girth and harness galls, saddle sores, and lameness.

Three major respiratory diseases, a serious epizootic disease, and skin parasites were the most common contagious diseases.  

Respiratory Diseases

Putting hundreds of animals in close proximity, under stress and with lowered immune response, was the perfect recipe for the transmission of two very contagious respiratory diseases, influenza and strangles, as well as a more generic disease simply referred to as “shipping fever.”

Equine influenza was regarded as one of the major diseases of the battlefield, contracted from French horses that were purchased for the A.E.F. as well as brought into the country with new arrivals from the U.S.3GK The Pneumonia Wards at Veterinary Hospital No 9 FranceThe pneumonia wards at Veterinary Hospital No 9 in France. From the collection of Greg Krenzelok.

Today, there are vaccines for strangles and equine influenza, but horses still suffer from shipping fever, especially if they are tied in trailers and not allowed to lower their heads frequently.

Shipping fever is caused by bacteria normally present in the equine environment that the horse would usually blow out of his respiratory tract if allowed to stretch his neck down regularly, but during shipping, with the crowding of the rail cars, the animals were too confined to clear their airways and were often under additional respiratory stress from breathing highly ammoniated air from a closed boxcar filled with manure and urine.

Even if the shipped animals were examined and cleared by a veterinarian prior to shipment, somehow these three diseases appeared in nearly every shipment. There was no treatment except to feed the animals well and wait for the disease to clear on its own.


Another very contagious disease that was rampant during the war years was glanders. It was greatly feared because, in addition to infecting horses and mules, the same bacteria could also infect humans, with a human mortality rate approaching 90%.

Caused by a the bacteria Burkholderia mallei, glanders can take several forms but the fatality rate is high in horses and mules in all but the carrier state. There was a fairly reliable test for glanders that was used extensively during the war, the mallein test, which is still used a century later.

Mallein is a product of the glanders bacillus. The injection of mallein into normal animals produces no reaction, whereas the injection into glanderous animals causes a rise in temperature and a local reaction about the lesions. With the mallein test a large proportion of latent and occult cases of glanders can be diagnosed, but the test must be made and interpreted by an experienced veterinarian, or the results may be unreliable. A significant number of both false positives and false negatives are possible with the intradermal mallein test.

The ophthalmic test for glanders is reliable, and has a great advantage over other tests on account of its very simple application. In this test, three drops of concentrated mallein are put into one of the eyes of the animal, or introduced via a soft brush. The reaction usually commences in five or six hours after the introduction and is quite marked, with swelling of the eyelids and a purulent secretion from the tested eye. Irritation of the conjunctivae due to cold weather, dust and other irritating influences must not be confused with a positive reaction, but it is easier to get an accurate reading from the eye test than the skin test.4

Glanders did not just infect horses on the battlefield. A serious outbreak at the British shipping depot at Camp Dodge caused some 1,700 horses to be destroyed. They had to be buried deeply and then all the pens had to be disinfected in the entire shipping depot.5 These were horses that had been purchased by the British but were still in the U.S. awaiting transport to England.

A vaccine for glanders had been tested as recently as 1914 but proved completely ineffective;6 there is still no vaccine one hundred years later.

Glanders is still a health issue for animals in the developing world, and is seen by Brooke veterinarians, who are then placed in the position of having to recommend that the animal be destroyed despite its economic importance to its owner.

In World War 1, horses and mules were a commodity, scarce in supply but simply a number as far as the army was concerned. Diseased animals threatened the overall supply and destruction was a simple decision. Today in the developing world, each animal is a vital economic link for the family it supports.

Destruction of a carrier animal, not obviously extremely sick, is very hard for owners to accept. Yet, the disease is very dangerous for other animals and for humans, and putting the animal down followed by deep burial of the carcass is the only responsible thing to do. 


One of the most insidious wartime conditions, and cause of incredible suffering, was mange – technically not a disease at all, but an infestation of skin-burrowing parasites.

mange victim before galtrey p 92A horse before and after being treated for mange. These photos and below left, Sidney Galtrey, The Horse and the War, p 92.mange victim after galtrey p 92









Very contagious, mange was dreaded because it caused the horse or mule to suffer fierce itching and hair loss, as well as loss of blood to the parasites and thickening of the skin such that harnesses rubbed the skin raw. Nonetheless, animals with mange were often worked until they were so weak that their users could not get any further work from them, at which point they would be turned in to the veterinary hospitals for treatment.

GK Camp Zachary Taylor Historical Society Ken Maguire campzacharytdippingvatMange dipping vat at Camp Zachary Taylor. Photo courtesy of the Camp Zachary Taylor Historical Society. To show the extent of this problem, on August 31, 1918, there were 19,316 cases of mange in the A.E.F.’s animals, which was about 27% of the animals on sick report. This grew to 30,736 cases by March 1, 1919, or about 62% of all sick animals.7

mange dip galtrey p 93Unlike the other diseases, there was a very effective treatment for mange, although with advanced cases it often took several months for the animal to regain its strength and re-grow hair.coming out of dipping tank

The mange parasites could be killed by dipping the horse into a huge vat filled with a solution of lime and sulphur, or sometimes arsenic. Holding hundreds of gallons, the long narrow vats were 11 feet deep at one end, completely submerging the animal as it was forced in.

 The floor then tapered up to a ramp that led out the other end, but before they came out, their heads were scrubbed with brooms to make sure that they were totally covered with the solution. The vat was in a completely enclosed room and the water was kept at 110 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The horses emerged in a room where they were rubbed down and then taken to heated rooms for drying. This treatment was very successful, though clearly labor-intensive and requiring a large facility.

fumigation chamber

Every third day 400 gallons of fresh solution was put into the vat and every tenth day the vat was entirely emptied and thoroughly cleaned. One thousand horses could be accommodated in one vat, each day, and some units had two vats in operation.8

Fumigation chambers were also used successfully against mange, as well as a means to disinfect blankets and other tack. A sulphur dust was pumped into the chambers, completely coating the animal, which had only it’s head stuck out of the chamber through a cloth sleeve. The head was treated by hand to keep the parasites from migrating there to get away from the sulphur. 



 Injuries and Overwork

Battlefield injuries were much as could be expected in wartime – shrapnel wounds from bombs or gunshots and skin and lung irritations from poison gas.

horse on tilting operating table Le Valdahon Doubs FranceHorse on a hydraulic tilting operating table, Le Valdahon Doubs, France.Simple wounds could often be stitched up and after rest and healing, the animal might well be returned to the battlefield. But shrapnel wounds often tore through tissue to such an extent that the animal had to be shot, because there was no effective means to combat the infection that invariably resulted from the multiple and jagged wounds.

Gangrene was also an issue with leg wounds, especially in certain areas of France where the soil was contaminated with Clostridium perfringens, the microorganism that causes gas gangrene. Gangrene refers to the death and rotting of tissue and cells, often in the skin but also in wounds that are exposed to dirt. It can also occur when the blood supply to a tissue is so interrupted that oxygen cannot reach the tissue and it dies, as would occur with deep or penetration wounds, or crush injuries.

Gas poisoning took longer to recover from and often caused permanent damage to the lungs. These horses and mules might be rehabilitated but often were put down, as was any animal not expected to recover in 30 days.

Overwork must be discussed separately because, had there been enough animals brought to France by the various armies, including the British and the A.E.F., there would not have been nearly as much overwork of the ones that were there. Each animal was in essence doing the work of two. Whether hitched in teams of two when four were called for, or, more likely, worked far longer hours that they should have been, animals suffered daily from overwork.

An unforeseen hardship occurred to horses when they had to march off-road, sometimes through soft plowed fields, to give precedence on the roads to “the endless caravans of automobiles, motor trucks, ambulances, field artillery batteries, signal corps units, pioneer companies and airplane sections.”9

In an article published before the U.S. entered the war, a U.S. cavalry veterinarian writes about his observations as a visitor to the battlefield in France:USArmyVetHospitalWWIOperationInProgressSurgery in progress at a U.S. Army vet hospital.

“Continual night marches particularly have resulted in heavy losses from breakdowns. It is reported by authentic sources that on arrival in camp in the morning, horses were seen to fall asleep so hard that they could not be aroused, a condition of extreme fatigue termed by soldiers sleeping sickness. Night marching is also extremely injurious to the hoofs and legs of horses. Artillery horses have been reported as having been from seventy-two hours in harness, the batteries only making enough stops to feed the horses from nose bags. Cavalry horses have been kept under saddle for three days or more to guard against an attack by surprise. It appears that the armies at war are more or less guilty of some form of sinful waste of horses….”10

Mange: Scourge of the War Horse

Date: 1918


Veterinary Care at a Stateside Remount Depot

Date: 1918



The only medication carried by every veterinarian that was given internally was for colic, that is, digestive upset that can range from mild to fatal, depending on where in the digestive tract the problem occurs and whether the intestine has become twisted, which is always fatal if not surgically corrected – unlikely on the battlefield.

Colic medication would be given as a “drench,” that is, by tipping a leather-covered long-necked bottle into the upturned mouth of the horse and hoping that most of it was swallowed rather than running out the sides of the mouth.

Even today, the first course of action for colic is generally a sedating medication, often delivered into the mouth but sometimes injected. The cannabis of 1918 has been replaced by more modern sedatives, but the desired effect is the same, to quiet the digestive tract and hopefully allow the offending food or gas to pass through.

Medicines and Supplies

The list of supplies carried by veterinarians in 1918 includes many of the things still carried by vets in 2018 – the difference being that vets one hundred years later have a much, much longer list, with many medications, vaccinations, treatments, and tests not yet available during the Great War. Bearing in mind that antibiotics were many years into the future, and that most diseases had little in the way of specific treatment protocols, the list of supplies leans heavily toward cleansing, disinfectants and salves. There are no needles or suture materials, no scalpels, no numbing agents, no anti-inflammatory medicines – all of those would have been available in veterinary hospitals but not at the battlefront level.

The Army Manual for the Quartermaster Corps of 1916 devotes part of page 492 to listing the following as adequate for 100 animals for 10 days:




Poison Gas

horse and rider in gas Battle of Verdun 1916British horse and rider in gas during the Battle of Verdun, 1916.Gas was a terrifying weapon but ironically often did not result in the deaths that were feared from it, because it depended so much on ideal weather conditions in order to be effective. But could certainly cause great damage if those conditions were optimal. A first-person account discusses the realities of poison gas and its effects on both horses and men:

“Gas was experienced at Vimy and Ypres, and many casualties occurred amongst our horses, but upon the cases being returned to a place known as Berthenwall Farm, all recovered under the care and treatment of our able Veterinary Staff.

“We had to contend chiefly with two kinds of gas, chlorine and mustard. The former was sent over in cloud form and in shells only. For the cloud gas we were warned from the front line by telephone, so that those in the rear transport lines could prepare for eventualities. Those men and animals caught in the immediate vicinity of the direct forward areas took to the high ground, other transports in ruins of towns made hurried exits, as the latter held gas clouds for long periods."1  [Chlorine gas is heavier than air and collected in low lying areas, and could persist for long periods in places with little ventilation.]protective leggingsProtective leggings would have helped to keep legs from being damaged by gas that collected just above the ground.

Poison gas was the most feared weapon in the war, damaging men and animals alike. The Medicine in World War 1 page has detailed information on gas types, toxicity, and casualty statistics. Some of that information is repeated here, plus specifics about the impact of gas on horses and mules.GK mule with goggles permission of Kip A. Lindberg Curator of Collections U.S. Army Chemical Corps MuseumMule with goggles. U.S. Army Chemical Corps Museum collection.

“First introduced on April 22, 1915, the use of poison gas quickly became commonplace by all of the combatants. In the popular imagination, poison gas became one of the defining symbols of the Great War. All of the European powers had signed the Hague Declaration in 1899, never to use poison gas in artillery shells or other projectiles. Again, the Hague Convention of 1907 forbade the use of poison weapons. But once Germany used gas on the battlefield, all other armies began to use it. By 1917, one-third of all artillery shells contained gas. Not surprisingly, then, about one-third of all casualties in the AEF were from gas.”US horse gas mask no bridlesU.S. horses wearing gas masks. Note that with the gas mask mouthpiece in place, these horses are not wearing bridles

Treatment of both men and animals was limited to supportive care. Rest and good food brought about healing in quite a number of cases. With mustard gas, immediate washing of the skin and eyes was necessary to stop damage from progressing. Many horses lost the sight of one eye but were able to keep working after recovery. Of course, if the animal was blind in both eyes it would be put down or, if sound enough otherwise, might be sold for meat.US effects of hyperite gas on horses wwimusTwo horses showing the effects of hyperite gas.

The army responded to this new threat with the formation of what eventually became the Chemical Corps. Research on gas masks was undertaken by all combatant nations, and this included masks for animals.

Tamblyn commented on the use of gas masks:

“The use of gas masks was not practical, more especially under shell fire. Men were instructed to adjust their own masks and bring their animals to safety at a slow trot. Such advice was responsible for the saving of the lives of many men and animals, because, prior to these instructions being issued, a great number of men and animals were killed and wounded in the attempt to adjust gas masks on animals during a gas attack.”3

US gas maskU.S. gas mask.Mustard gas required different tactics. It was extremely caustic and the least exposure caused blistering of the skin. If inhaled, it was usually fatal, as it caused major injury to the lungs. Gas masks were effective in protecting humans but damage to the skin still resulted because the gas could soak into clothing. For horses, the gas would of course come into immediate contact with their skin and so the only protection for them was to move them away from the area that was targeted. Mustard gas was delivered in shells from long-range guns, targeted using observation aircraft.

When shells bearing gas attacks were observed heading toward picket lines, “the animals were cut loose and driven from the shelled areas, and when Fritz had decided he had done all the damage that could be done, the shelling would cease. The animals would then be returned to their lines, providing, of course, no shells had dropped within the actual lines, as contact with the ground where a mustard gas shell had exploded would be serious for any animal. The least touch of mustard gas on the body of an animal would produce a blister, which, when severe, let to sloughing of the skin.” 4

MAJ Robert D. Walk, a U.S. Army chemical weapons specialist, has written a summary of horse gas masks. He notes,

“The horse gas mask of World War I consisted of a large bag that fit over the horse’s nose and mouth. The horse bit into a canvas mouthpiece and the mask was held to the horse’s face by an elastic band. A canvas frame attached to the mouthpiece held the mask away from the nose so the horse couldn’t suck the mask into its nose. The carrier, a waterproof case, was strapped to the bridle or halter.”BRIT driver and team with gas masksBritish driver and team with their gas masks.

“The United States issued two horse gas masks during World War I. One was a British mask (and the American copy) and the other was the American horse gas mask. The principal difference between the two was the material used for the filter. The British mask, noted for its high breathing resistance, was made of two layers of flannelette impregnated with komplexene. The breathing resistance limited its use in horses used to move supplies and equipment around the battlefield. The carrier was a 5- by 14-inch canvas duck bag.

"The American horse gas mask was made of multilayered cheesecloth impregnated with komplexene (six layers of cheesecloth) and simplexene (eight layers of cheesecloth) and had low breathing resistance. Because the horses disliked the flavor of this mixture, oilcloth was inserted between the mouthpiece and the cheesecloth. The American carrier was a 10- by 14-inch burlap bag. The American Expeditionary Forces used the British horse gas mask until enough American masks were supplied. The British mask was standard throughout the war. “6

French horses with gas masksFrench horses with gas masks.The high breathing resistance of the British mask was a major limiting factor in its use; when Tamblyn is writing about his experiences the mask he had access to was the British mask, which is why the tactics called for moving at a slow trot or driving the animals away from the gas without using masks at all.

The Fifth Avenue Uniform Company of New York City manufactured 377,881 horse gas masks of all types. Of this total, 351,270 were shipped overseas before Armistice Day. 7


Humane Organizations

Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross and known around the world for her work to relieve suffering, wrote a letter that was published in the Animal's Guardian in London near the beginning of the war:

"I have often said, that [of] the shocking and heartrending scenes on the battlefield, the screams of wounded horses lingered more painfully in my ears, if possible, then the moans of wounded men. I think it is necessary that the veterinary surgeon is commissioned to follow the army and put an end to the agonies of the poor, wounded animals which from their great vitality and strength will live long to suffer. They die slow and hard if left to themselves, and I myself have seen the vultures hovering over and tearing at them while life yet remained."

Be Kind to Animals poster great britain WW1 eraWorld War 1 era Be Kind to Animals poster, Great Britain.Within months of the beginning of the war, it was becoming apparent that none of the armies had the resources they needed to cope with the incredible numbers of animals involved. There were not enough horses and mules but in addition, there were not enough veterinarians, grooms, drivers, or farriers to care for the animals that were in France.

In civilian life, the cause of animal welfare was growing ever more popular in both England and the U.S.

These circumstances gave rise to an unusual alliance – private organizations that raised significant funds and provided medical supplies, horse ambulances and even entire hospitals to the British, French, and U.S. army veterinary organizations on the battlefront.



The Blue Cross Society

Dumb Friends LeagueThe first to act was a British organization, the Blue Cross Society. Organized in 1912 as a branch of London’s “Our Dumb Friends League” (at a time when “dumb” as assumed to mean “unable to speak” rather than “stupid”).

Blue Cross was launched to help war horses during the Balkan War. The League was already very active in horse rescue in the streets of London, having its own horse ambulance and having opened an animal hospital in 1906 which was still operating a century later.1

The Blue Cross Society offered to assist the British army shortly after the war began. But recognition from the British was limited to letting the Blue Cross furnish “hospital requisites for sick or wounded horses,”2 i.e., supplies.

These were forthcoming and included everything from horse ambulances to humane killers, interfering boots to wither pads, and bandages to blankets and what passed for drugs at the time – things like aniseed, liniments, felt swabs, Vaseline, alum, olive oil, methylated spirit (rubbing alcohol), chlorodyne, disinfectants, magnesia sulphate, and iodine.3

The French government was more receptive, soon granting the Blue Cross Society full authority to immediately install and operate base hospitals for sick and wounded horses at the front.4 The Society raised funds and provided supplies, even including constructing entire hospitals in France, all financed and operated (including staff) by private contributions.5 Outfitting a hospital with instruments and drugs cost about $750 in 1915 (equal to about $18,500 a hundred years later, testament to how limited and simple the drugs and equipment must have been).

dumb friends posterA correspondent for the U.S. Cavalry Journal toured the front in 1915 and reported on the work of the Blue Cross: “They have taken over cow sheds, stables and hay barns on the bank of the Seine, at Moret, with fine pasture land adjoining. Here they accommodate around 300 head of sick and wounded French Army Horses. In all they have eight different hospitals around Paris. At each of these the French Government has in charge a retired cavalry officer with generally two Veterinarians from the Reserve Corps doing the professional work.”6 By late 1917 these hospitals had treated more than a quarter-million animals.

Blue Cross terrified horseBlue Cross also operated a convalescent station at Chantilly, with a capacity of 200 box stalls and a large acreage of pasture. This facility served as a clearing house for horses discharged from the base hospitals and nearing readiness to return to the front.

If a horse or mule came into a base hospital and was deemed unlikely to be able to be sent on to the convalescent station in a reasonable length of time (about 30 days at a maximum), the animal would be shot immediately.

Blue Cross had significant difficulty in hiring veterinary staff for the simple reason that nearly all British veterinarians were already on duty with their own army. French peasants were employed to do stable work. All forage, blankets, drugs, instruments, and everything else needed at the hospitals was imported from England.

To make matters even more complicated, the Blue Cross Society at least early in the war had not been recognized internationally and its workers had none of the protection accorded the Red Cross workers by the Geneva Convention.

The Society issued appeals in the form of posters and circulars which in themselves served to raise public awareness of the plight of war horses. They asked for gifts of supplies as well as money, which might be raised in schemes such as Collecting Boxes, Blue Cross Days, Blue Cross Badges, and Blue Cross Stamps.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA)

RSPCA posterAnother well-established British organization, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, also eventually was able to provide major assistance.

Although the RSPCA had offered to help the British army in 1914, this had initially been rebuffed. But by 1915, the army was glad of any help that it could get and made the Secretary of the RSPCA an honorary Captain in the British Veterinary Corps, clearing with one stroke of the pen, any organizational hurdles to cooperation.

RSPCA cap badge copyRSPCA Army Veterinary Corps Auxiliary cap badge.One of the great advantages to this relationship was, in fact, its ability to expedite requests from the British Veterinary Corps for supplies or facilities needed on the battlefield – the Secretary could, if funds were available in the RSPCA, send a telegram approving the expenditure and bypass weeks of army red tape. 7

Through the RSPCA Fund for Sick & Wounded Horses, RSPCA collected significant donations that were passed to the front. Technically, the aid was limited to providing supplies, and that aid was considerable. But RSPCA staff also enlisted as British army auxiliary personnel, and by 1915, over half the RSPCA inspectors and other staff were serving with the armed forces, most of them with the Veterinary Corps. For a video showing RSPCA veterinarians working in France during the war, click here. 

Brit vet tx horse 1916RSPCA staff treat a horse on the battlefield, 1916.There were occasional moments of friction as the army leadership worried that they would be perceived as unprepared or incompetent to care for their own animals, but it became clear that refusing assistance would be foolish and not in the best interests of the war effort. According to RSPCA records, more than 1,850,000 horses and mules were treated in British army veterinary hospitals and 80 per cent treated were returned fit for duty.

Some of these were animals from the AEF, because the U.S. Army was still very much in the building phase with its own veterinary hospitals during the 20 months between the time the U.S. entered the war and the armistice ending the conflict.

After the war ended, General Douglas Haig, Field Marshal Commanding-in-Chief of the British Armies in France, sent a letter of thanks to the RSPCA, with a list of its major contributions.

Douglas Haig ltr RSPCA donations 1920 page 1

Douglas Haig ltr RSPCA donations 1920

American Red Star Animal Relief

American Red Star Poster No 3The U.S. counterpart to Blue Star was American Red Star Animal Relief. It was founded in 1916 as a direct response of the American public to the horrors of animals suffering in the war.

The U.S. Army’s official history of the Great War contains the following account of the beginning of American Red Star Animal Relief:

“In April 1916, the president of the American Humane Association offered the services of this organization and its allied societies to the War Department for the purpose of rendering assistance in the event of war to wounded animals employed by the Army; furnishing base hospitals, veterinary supplies, and ambulances in a capacity similar to that in which the Blue Cross functioned for the allied foreign armies.

“On May 22, 1916, the Secretary of War invited the society to cooperate much after the manner of the Red Cross for human beings in the Army. As a result of this invitation the American Red Star Animal Relief was organized under the auspices of the American Humane Association to perform this work.American Red Star Poster No 2a

“Although encouraged by the Secretary of War in May 1916, it was not until June 7, 1918, that this organization was officially authorized to function with the Army, to furnish emergency aid and such supplies as were not available from the War Department, as well as special equipment unattainable through regular appropriations.

“The Red Star rendered valuable service and in many instances supplied medicines, dressings, and other accessories to veterinary hospitals. A leaflet on first aid for Army horses was prepared and gratuitously distributed by the Red Star to soldiers handling horses, on the request of officers and veterinarians. Over 80,000 of these pamphlets were distributed for Army use.

Red Star donated twenty veterinary ambulances for use both in France and at Army facilities in the U.S.. It also built several supply buildings and sent “large quantities of bandages, surgical instruments, drugs, stable supplies, etc.”8

Because Red Star was recognized by the War Department from the start, it was able to begin work without some of the difficulties first encountered by the RSPCA or Blue Star.

PA Womens SPCA Red Star poster

 red star appeal to humanity


Red Star plaque extractedIn 1921, Red Star mounted a plaque on the State, War, and Navy Building located on 17th Street in Washington, D.C. The plaque is now in the Army Quartermaster Museum at Ft. Lee, Virginia. It reads:

“This tablet commemorates the service and sufferings of the 243,135 horses and mules employed by the American Expeditionary Forces overseas during the great war which terminated November 11, 1918, and which resulted in the death of 68,682 of those animals. What they suffered is beyond words to describe. A fitting tribute to their important service has been given by the Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces, General John J. Pershing, who has written: The Army horses and mules proved of inestimable value in prosecuting the war to a successful conclusion. They were found in all the theaters of preparation and operation doing their silent but faithful work without the faculty of hoping for any reward or compensation.”

All of these organizations still exist a hundred years later:
The Blue Cross Society is now the official name for all activities of the former Dumb Friends League. Blue Cross helps animals in England, Wales, and Scotland.
The RSPCA has not changed its name and, in 2018, is the largest British animal welfare charity, helping animals in England and Wales.
American Red Star Animal Relief is now known as Animal Emergency Services and remains a program of the American Humane Association. Red Star provides disaster and emergency relief worldwide.

And, as a direct result of World War 1, another organization was added to this list when Dorothy Brooke began her war horse rescue work in Cairo in 1934. Today the organization she founded is headquartered in London and is the world’s largest equine welfare organization. Working in the world’s poorest countries, Brooke veterinarians, farriers, and other staff assist horses, donkeys, mules and their owners to find a better life. Brooke USA, headquartered in Lexington, KY, is their U.S. sister organization and is dedicated to significantly improving the welfare of working horses, donkeys and mules and the people they serve throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the Americas and the Caribbean by raising funds and responsibly directing them to the areas of greatest need. Brooke USA does this through a holistic approach to funding which includes capacity building, sustainability programming, female empowerment and international advocacy. Brooke USA connects private philanthropists with their passion for helping relieve the suffering of working equines and their owners.Work today 4Brooke changes lives - both equine and human. Click on the link below to find out what is happening today. Learn more about what BrookeUSA does and how you can help working equines in the world's poorest countries. 

Dorothy kept a diary of her work in Cairo that makes heart rending but fascinating reading. As the wife of a senior British army officer, Dorothy had no official status but was a woman of strong personality and determination. She was working in a culture in which women did not hold much public authority, and some of the difficulties she encountered were directly related to this cultural bias.
But, upper class foreign women were sometimes regarded as outside the cultural norms and it was this status that Dorothy used to further her work. She recruited men to help her, both British officials and Egyptian employees, and proceeded to found a hospital, giving treatment to all horses and donkeys regardless of their owner’s ability to pay.
Word of her buy-back program for former British army horses soon spread and she was inundated with owners wanting to sell her their lame and sick animals, which she humanely put to death either immediately or after a few days of loving care. For a society which worked animals until they literally dropped dead, this was considered a novel and perhaps foolish approach – euthanasia was not only never considered, it was contrary to some owner’s religious beliefs.
The work that Dorothy Brooke started continues today and reaches millions of animals and their owners every year, providing sustainable, lasting change by teaching owners how to care for their animals using locally-available food and shelter materials. Legislation focused on animal welfare and recognizing the importance of equines in the economies of developing countries is another aspect of our work.
To read more about Dorothy’s work in Cairo, see For Love of Horses: Diaries of Mrs. Geoffrey Brooke by Dorothy Brooke, ed. By Glenda Spooner, or Dorothy Brooke and the Fight to Save Cairo's Lost War Horses by Grant Hayter-Menzies.


Brooke USA logo



GK Sgt Leonard Murphy at Sougy France 1917 18Sgt. Leonard Patrick Murphy at Sougy, France 1917 or 1918.Much of the content for this page is derived from far more extensive material developed by Greg Krenzelok for the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps Historic Preservation Group. It is used with permission and gratitude for his work in assembling a vast collection of photos, personal reminiscences, official publications, and other military history sources. His work is dedicated to his grandfather Sergeant Leonard Patrick Murphy, who served in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps in WW1 at the 18th Veterinary Hospital, Sougy, France. As well, it is dedicated to all who served in the Veterinary Corps, the Remount Service, and the Cavalry, and to all of the horses and mules who served and gave up their lives. A fitting tribute!


The Army Veterinary Service During The Great War

  1. Merillat, Louis A. & Delwin M. Campbell. Veterinary Military History of the United States, Volume II, page 751.
  2. http://www.missouriovertherer.org/explore/articles/missouri-horses-and-mules , p. 3.  
  3. “History of the Veterinary Corps, A.E.F., From August 24, 1918 to March 1, 1919.” The United States Army in the World War 1917-1919. Reports of the Commander-in-Chief, Staff Sections and Services, Volume 15. Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, DC, 1991, p. 414. Hereinafter referred to as “C-in-C Report."
  4. Ibid, C-in-C Report, p. 413.
  5. Most of the material in the section on U.S. training is taken from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA), Index Vol. LV, Vol. VIII, 1919, pgs. 330-334; material originally derived from reports of the Office of the Surgeon-General of the Army, Washington, D.C.
  6. Ibid, US Army Veterinary Corps Historical Preservation Group, Facebook
  7. Ibid, US Army Veterinary Corps Historical Preservation Group, Facebook
  8. Ibid, US Army Veterinary Corps Historical Preservation Group, Facebook
  9. Ibid, JAVMA Vol VIII
  10. Ibid, Merillat & Campbell, p. 759.

Hospitals and Battlefield Operations

  1. “History of the Veterinary Corps, A.E.F., From August 24, 1918 to March 1, 1919.” The United States Army in the World War 1917-1919. Reports of the Commander-in-Chief, Staff Sections and Services, Volume 15. Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, DC., 1991. p. 415.
  2. Ibid, C-in-C Report, p. 414-415.
  3. Merillat, Louis A. & Delwin M. Campbell. Veterinary Military History of the United States, Volume II, page 629.
  4. Ibid, C-in-C Report, p. 414.
  5. Ibid, Merillat & Campbell, page 701
  6. Ibid, Merillat & Campbell, page 702

The Franco-American Veterinary Liaison Mission

  1. Merillat, Louis A. & Delwin M. Campbell. Veterinary Military History of the United States, Volume II, p. 687.
  2. Ibid, Merillat & Campbell, p. 690
  3. Ibid, Merillat & Campbell, p. 688.
  4. Ibid, Merillat & Campbell, p. 692.
  5. Operation Report of the Remount Service During WW1 A.E.F., U.S. Army, France, June 28, 1919, p 27.
  6. Ibid, Remount Report, p. 27.

Injuries and Diseases

  1. Schwarzkopf, Olaf, Veterinarian Third Cavalry. “The Changed Status of the Horse in War.” Journal of the U.S. Cavalry Association, Vol XXVI, No. 109, January 1916, p. 350.
  2. Operation Report of the Remount Service During WW1 A.E.F., France, June 28, 1919, p. 61.
  3. “History of the Veterinary Corps, A.E.F., From August 24, 1918 to March 1, 1919.” The United States Army in the World War 1917-1919. Reports of the Commander-in-Chief, Staff Sections and Services, Volume 15. Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, DC., 1991, p. 415. Hereinafter referred to as “C-in-C Report.’
  4. http://www.booksupstairs.com/Preventive-Medicine-and-Hygiene/Glanders.html
  5. Winton, Graham. Theirs Not to Reason Why. Helion & Company Ltd., Solihull, West Midlands, England, 2013, p.364.
  6. “Glanders Vaccine Not Satisfactory,” U.S. Cavalry Journal, May, 1914, p. 1028.
  7. Ibid, C-in-C Report, p. 415.
  8. https://www.facebook.com/US-Army-Veterinary-Corps-Historical-Preservation-Group-127549193983683/
  9. Ibid, Schwarzkopf.
  10. Ibid, Schwarzkopf

Poison Gas

  1. Tamblyn, David Sobey. The Horse In War. Originally printed in 1920, Jackson Press, Kingston, Ontario; reprinted by Leonaur, 2011, p. 39-40.
  2. From the Medicine in World War 1 page on this website: http://www.worldwar1centennial.org/index.php/injuries-in-world-war-i.html
  3. Ibid, Tamblyn p.40.
  4. Ibid, Tamblyn, p.40.
  5. Walk, Major Robert D.. “Military Masks Animals in Chemical Warfare.” Published online http://www.gasmasklexikon.com/Page/USA-Mil-Animals.htm
  6. Ibid, Walk.
  7. Ibid, Walk.

 Humane Organizations

  1. https://www.bluecross.org.uk/our-history
  2. Quekemeyer, First Lieutenant J.G.. “British Blue Cross Society,” U.S. Cavalry Journal, April 1915, p. 623.
  3. Ibid. p 627.
  4. Ibid.
  5. U.S. Cavalry Journal, “Report on the Royal Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals,” Volume 28, July 1917 – June 1918, p. 135
  6. Ibid, Cavalry Journal Vol 28., p. 135-136.
  7. . Ibid. Cavalry Journal Vol 28., p. 135.
  8. The Medical Department Of The United States Army In The World War. Volume I, Section III Chapter II. The Surgeon General's Office, Government Printing Office, 1923. http://history.amedd.army.mil/booksdocs/wwi/VolISGO/Sec3Ch02.htm   


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