The field opposite the Rockley turning, alongside what is now the A346, used to be called "The Remount Field", following its use during the First World War, together with the Stables by Canadian Remount units. Although next to the railway and the siding put in by Frederick Lineham, the horses were led in strings to the railway stations in Marlborough, where the loading facilities were more adequate for the number of animals involved. A recently published book(1) has outlined the use of horses in WWI.
The peacetime establishment of horses was 25,000. On the outbreak of war this was raised overnight to 165,000 and was accomplished in two weeks by impounding civilian horses, often during the course of their work. About 17% of the horse population was taken into the Army. A year later, 1915, the number had risen to 500,000 of which 368,000 were used on the Western Front. In addition there were 82,000 mules in France and Belgium. The peak was reached in 1917 with 591,324 horses, 231,149 mules, 47,000 camels, 11,000 oxen and 6,800 donkeys (all theatres).
Purchasing commissions (largely civilians) were sent to Canada, the USA and South America to buy horses, which were then shipped in special transports. In the USA, huge depots were utilised, some of which had been built to supply the needs of the British during the Boer War(2). Remount depots in Bristol, Liverpool and Southampton acted as quarantine stations for three weeks until the horses were issued to regiments for training. Experienced horses needed only a week or so to train (mainly to ignore loud noises), unbroken horses required six weeks or so.
The need for four legged animals was due to the unreliability of motor transport and its inability to work off-
The Army had four main groups of horses, those for: riding, pulling field guns, pulling heavy guns and transport. Within each group there were further subdivisions. Officers' horses were lighter boned than those of cavalry troopers, for example. The former were light hunters of 15hands 2" and costed at £100. The latter were heavier with a guide price of £40 (Household Cavalry need 16hand horses at £70). Artillery horses were light draught types of 15hand 2" to 15hand 3" (£40). Carthorses were used for the heavy artillery. Transport horses were "parcel vanners" of 16hands (£35 -
The Royal Army Veterinary Corps took care of the animals, with one vet for every 354 horses, but losses were inevitably heavy. By 1917, 250,000 horses had died through wounds or disease. However this wastage was less than 1.5%/month of the monthly strength at a time when commercial firms worked on a figure of 20%.
FROM THE TIMES DECEMBER 11, 1918
The war has confounded many prophecies but none more so than that which predicted the extinction of the horse through the rivalry of mechanical transport. Cavalry, it is true, had few opportunities, but were indispensable to a well-
What the Army authorities intend to do is to bring back to this country approximately the same number of good sound horses under 12 years of age as were taken from it. This will mean, as we reckon, nearly 130,000 horse. Demobilized horses are to be sold 100 at a time in large towns throughout the country, and by the 25 in smaller towns. Among them will be thousands of broodmares, and in their case the Government will retain a lien on the progeny up to three-
Meanwhile the question of the disposal of surplus horses abroad is certain to provoke controversy. In Egypt alone there are some 100,000 horses and mules. Repatriation is out of the question owing to lack of transport. Destruction would mean massacre wholesale, and sale to local buyers may expose the Army authorities to denunciation on the ground that the animals are being "sold into slavery". General Allenby does not agree with this view, and sale on the spot is seen as the best solution of a very ticklish problem.
(1) Mud, Blood and Poppycock -
Cassell Military Paperbacks 2004 ISBN-
(2) The Story of the British War-
from 'The Great War -
vol. 9 London Amalgamated Press Ltd. 1917
(3) Illustration by Fortunino Matania