A tribute to veterinarians in the First World War
Programme Officer, Sub-Regional Representation for Eastern Africa, World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE ), Nairobi, Kenya
The designations and denominations employed and the presentation of the material in this article do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the OIE concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers and boundaries.
The views expressed in this article are solely the responsibility of the author(s). The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers, whether or not these have been patented, does not imply that these have been endorsed or recommended by the OIE in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.
On the occasion of the centenary of the First World War, remembered across the world from 2014 until the end of 2018, many aspects and experiences of this global conflict have been re-examined or brought to light for the first time, as we honour the memory of those estimated 16 million soldiers and civilians who perished in what was then known as the ‘Great War’, or the ‘War to End All Wars’. So many of these died on the infamous fields of Flanders, where Allied and Central Forces dug themselves into trenches for the better part of four years.
Over the past few years, new research has brought to light many insights into the plight of animals in this War, which – for the younger readers amongst you – was fought at the dawn of motorised warfare, using anything powered by two or four feet or paws, from the homing pigeons delivering secret messages across enemy lines, to the traction provided by oxen and mules to pull cannons and other heavy artillery, to the horses of the cavalry. Not least among these roles was the supply of animal protein to the troops, whether this came through the specific designation of animals for this purpose or as the result of a failed attempt at delivering any of the above services. Several leading publications today have documented the role (and suffering) of animals in ‘La Grande Guerre’.
Less so the role of veterinarians in the ‘War to End All Wars’. Who were they? How many? How were they organised? What did they do, on either side of the enemy lines? The present article is a humble attempt to shed some light on these veterinary colleagues, based on available, mostly grey, literature…
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