Book Review: Horses in the British Army 1750 to 1950


by Janet Macdonald

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate Publishers, 2017. Pp. xiv, 210. Illus., maps, gloss., appends., notes, biblio., index. $50.00. ISBN: 1473863716

Horseflesh for the Slaughter

Horses – and their kin mules and donkeys – were once ubiquitous in armies, and as John J. Pershing, himself an old trooper, once pointed out their disappearance due to motorization, while regretted by many old cavalrymen, was certainly to the benefit of the equine race. Dr. MacDonald, who has written widely in British military and naval history, with an interest primarily in administration and logistics, gives us an excellent account of the horse in British service.

MacDonald doesn’t just concentrate on cavalry horses and officers’ mounts, which, albeit the most famous, were by no means the most numerous equines in the armies. Horses and their kin were vital to the movement of artillery, munitions, rations, troops, and more.

MacDonald covers virtually every aspect of the role of the horse in the British Army, the need to matching breeds to missions, how suitable animals were selected, procurement and price, training, transportation by sea and rail, saddlery and accoutrements, veterinary care, vehicles, and much more.

MacDonald also takes quick looks at the problems of maintaining equine strength on campaign during the Peninsular War, the Crimea, the Second Boer War, and the Great War, in this last with a particular look at operations in the Middle East. As a bonus, MacDonald throws in some observations on the logistical use of several other animals, camels, elephants, oxen, even yaks and men. A

Although MacDonald’s prime concern is the equine in the British Army, Horses in the British Army will prove a very valuable resource for those interested in logistics in the age of horse powered armies.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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