It is estimated that ten million fighting men, almost 800,000 of them British, died in the First World War. Only a
fraction of those who were killed have a known grave –
thousands were simply blown into fragments or lie
buried, their graves unknown, in foreign soil.
decades following the war’s end hundreds of books
appeared written by soldiers, politicians, poets and
preachers, each trying to make sense of the conflict, the
appalling conditions and the seemingly pointless
slaughter. Simply put, the 1914–18 war has become a
metaphor for hell on earth.
Alongside this tide of human cannon fodder was
formed an equally large army of horses and mules –
transport animals and cavalry mounts essential to
the bloody business ahead. While men cheerfully
volunteered in their tens of thousands, similar numbers
of horses were being stripped from farms, liveries, hunt
stables and from private ownership, packed on to ships
and sent overseas. Over 8 million animals were thus
engaged in the war worldwide.
On the Western Front
alone a total of a million horses died. Of those used by
the British Army, themselves numbering almost a million,
only around 60 000 are said to have been returned to
the Britain at the war’s end.
The War Horses concentrates upon those groups of
animals who were requisitioned rather than those
‘professionally’ employed by the cavalry, in other words
the horses, mules and donkeys who took on the
drudgery of heaving rations, guns and munitions up to
the front line, returning with wounded and maimed
The author draws upon over 200 photographs
and eye-witness accounts to illustrate the actuality of
war and the vital role played by the horse on the
Western Front. Poignant memoirs reveal the bond
formed between the fighting men and the animals in
their care; remarkable stories of compassion and kindness
set against the harrowing background of ‘The War
to End All Wars’.
Simon Butler lives and works in the
Westcountry. This book grew out of
his interest in the Great War and his
friendship with those who keep alive
the bond between humans and the
Imprint: Halsgrove. ISBN 978 0 85704 084 8, hardback, 238x258mm, 144 pages with almost 200 photographs. Published May 2011.