It wasn’t just men and boys who answered Britain’s call to join the armed forces in her hour of need.
Hundreds of thousands of animals left behind their peaceful, rural homes and made the journey across the English Channel to join their human comrades in the trenches.
Two years before the outbreak of what would become known as the First World War, the Blue Cross Fund had provided vital veterinary care to animals during the Balkan War. At that time, our charity was called Our Dumb Friends League (ODFL) and we named the fund after the flags displaying blue crosses that flew above animal hospitals and ambulances to distinguish help for animal casualties from The Red Cross, which provided aid to wounded soldiers.
In 1914, we knew our help would be needed once more.
Horses were an essential part of cavalry warfare and soon became needed to haul colossal artillery pieces, ammunitions wagons, machine guns, ration carts and other vital supplies.
This act of courage shows how deep the bond was between my grandfather and his horses. Just three men survived the shelling that day but, despite great danger to himself, he refused to leave his horse to die a painful, lonely death. Ruth Turner, granddaughter of George Turner, who used his Blue Cross handbook to help look after horses on the battlefields
Dogs too were vital on the battlefields as they were used to run messages, detect mines, and act as patrol dogs, among many other tasks.
Perhaps slightly less known is the number of pigeons that served, who risked their lives by carrying vital messages over long distances.
When animals are used in warfare, animals are injured in warfare, so we offered our help to the British Army. Despite an official arrangement being kindly turned down because the army had its own veterinary corps, we continued to send ambulances and veterinary chests to over 3,500 British units when supplies were short and hard to come by.
Veterinary parcels included supplies of drugs, bandages, horse salts and dressings, medicines, ointments, clippers, antiseptic, portable forges and items for humanely euthanising horses who were suffering and sadly too wounded to recover.
One ambulance costing £2,000 was sent as far afield as Egypt, after being inspected by the King at Buckingham Palace.