Horses of War

The Unsung Warrior

Warrior led the cavalry charge in the Spring of 1918 on the front line. Warrior was a hero and survived four years of the horrors of war. Warrier died at the age of 33, which is a good old age considering that Warrior, was a horse.

“He had to endure everything most hateful to him – violent noise, the  bursting of great shells and bright flashes at night, when the white light of  bursting shells must have caused violent pain to such sensitive eyes as horses  possess. Above all, the smell of blood, terrifying to every horse. Many people do not realise how acute is his sense of smell, but most will  have read his terror when he smells blood.” – Jack Seely.

Every year, we gather to pay thought and respect to those who foughts in wars, and with so many dutiful and honoured soldiers to remember, we often forget the others that lost their lives: the animals that were dragged unknowingly into an environment full of torment and death in both the first and second world war.

help horse war poster

The appointment of horses in the war affected all and as such, the mechanisms of the country had to adapt to a land where horses suddenly became sparse. Horses were bought by the army to be sent to the fields of war, leaving their owners, who had strong bonds with their animals, without the companionship and strength of the horses; meaning they had to adapt to new ways.

Horses were employed for several purposes through the wars and provided invaluable service to the war efforts:

Ambulance Horses:

ambulance horse war

Horses were employed to pull ambulance carts, transporting the wounded soldiers. They were fully open to the impending gunfire and dangers of the fields and roads.

Artillery Horses:

War horse artillery

Used to transport all manners of weaponry and arsenal, artillery horse would be forced to drag heavy equipment through horrific conditions. The muddy fields and uncertain grounds, combined with the weighty loads, meant that many horses gave in to exhaustion and died where they collapsed. There are stories of those who cared and fed them, crying at the deaths of their horses, with companionship between man and horse becoming strong on the desolate battlefield.

Cavalry Horses:

war horse cavalry

Cavalry horses were generally suited to the higher ranks of the army. Whilst cavalry had proved to be a successful tactic in wars of past, the trench systems of the First World War meant that any attack of this kind became extremely difficult to execute as the land was uncertain and often highly inaccessible. Nonetheless, cavalry attacks did happen and the aforementioned Warrior led the Calvary charge on the 30th March 1914.

‘The Horse the Germans Couldn’t Kill’

In the obituary of his death in the Evening Standard, 4/4/1941, Warrior was given the grand title ‘the horse the Germans couldn’t kill’, reporting that he had passed away back on the comfort of his home turf.

However, this was sadly not the case for most. From the million horses sent overseas to help the fight for home and country from 1914-1918, only 62,000 returned. That leaves an enormous 938,000 who did not make it through the battles.

Horse fallen to exhaustion in war

In such a horrific and alien environment, horses often fell to the same destructive and devastating causes as soldiers did: bullets, shelling, poisonous gas attacks and disease. They were often fully exposed, with absolutely no means of protection, putting them direct targets in the line of fire. Due to the desperate conditions of war, horses were often inadequately fed, making them undernourished and fatigued from the strenuous work which often resulted in death from exhaustion.

After the war had ended, the surviving soldiers returned traumatised back to their homes and remaining families. However, it was expensive to transport so many animals back and with dwindling funds remaining from the war, many were left to roam Europe in extremely poor condition; but It was the emerging organisation, the RSPCA who campaigned to save the animals from the abattoirs.


War Horse, the Spielberg production, enlightened many to the conditions, duties and involvement of horses within the war. The book, written by Michael Morpurgo demonstrates the life of a War Horse through the viewpoints of different characters throughout the duration. It was this story which bought about a greater enlightenment of the unsung heroes within the war and how the horses offered an emotional attachment for many of the soldiers in the environment which lacked positive emotion.

So, when remembering the brave soldiers of war who died to serve our countries, also remember the animals who were surrendered to help achieve this on the front line.

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