Re: War trophies recall army past (News, Feb. 12)
The recent front page photo of Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins and Mike Reed of Esquimalt Public Works with the First World War German cannon in Memorial Park has a big horse-shaped space in it.
I see a chance for Esquimalt to join the group of cities that have recognized animals who have died because they were used in our wars.
The military mainly used horses for pulling during the war, though zoo elephants were dragooned as well.
Horses were better at getting through deep mud and over rough ground than were motorized vehicles and were used for reconnaissance, carrying messengers and for pulling field kitchens, ammunition wagons and artillery like the guns in Memorial Park. Six to 12 horses pulled each gun.
Hundreds of thousands of horses were killed in artillery fire and injured by poison gas during the First World War, and those who were treated in veterinary hospitals were sent back to the front to face unbearable conditions there.
In one year, 120,000 horses were treated for wounds or disease by British veterinary hospitals alone.
Horse war memorials have been erected in many cities, possibly the first at St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead, in 1926.
Minnesota, Australia and the United Kingdom have Animals in War memorials, while Canada erected a similar memorial in Confederation Park in Ottawa two years ago. I’m pleased to have contributed in a small way to helping it move forward.
Many of the 715,000 horses used by German forces died of starvation and many more of disease and exhaustion, and more than 375,000 horses were taken from German-occupied French territory, and 140,000 from Ukraine, their lives on farms and in racing suddenly brutalized in military service.
Horse deaths were notably high during battles of attrition. The 1916 Battle of Verdun was one such battle between French and German forces; one day in March of that year, 7,000 horses were killed by long-range shelling on both sides, including 97 killed by a single shot from a French naval gun.
When the war ended, many horses were sent to slaughter as a reward for their endurance and compliance.
More were killed because they were sick or no longer young, and the remainder went into often harsh servitude with locals for what remained of their lives.
I hope the Township of Esquimalt would be interested in commemorating the horses whose lives were connected with the cannons in Memorial Park. I am sure community and support from across Canada for the initiative would be forthcoming.