From 1796, veterinary surgeons were commissioned into cavalry regiments to care for the British Army’s horses and mules. Their work had previously been carried out by contracted farriers. This proved inadequate during the Crimean War (1854-56), where many animals died as a result of poor management and care. Following public protests, the regimental approach was eventually replaced by a centralised Army Veterinary Department in 1881.
In 1898, veterinary provision for most sick and injured animals was transferred to the same depots as the Army’s Remount Service. Formed in 1887, the Remount Service was responsible for supplying replacement horses and mules.
This change was carried out against the advice of many Army vets. It soon led to a rapid spread of animal disease during the Boer War (1899-1902) and further public outcry.In 1903, a separate Army Veterinary Corps of non-commissioned officers and other ranks was set up. Three years later, the Army Veterinary Department was merged into it.
During the First World War, the AVC tripled its officers, and the number of other ranks grew forty-fold. By 1918, nearly half of all veterinary surgeons in Britain were serving in the corps. Engaged on the Western Front, at Gallipoli, Salonika, Mesopotamia and Palestine, it treated sick and wounded cavalry, transport and artillery animals. It also diversified, dealing with horses that had been gassed, setting up four farriery schools, and even treating camels in the Middle East. Around 80 per cent of the animals it treated were returned to duty. Following the Armistice in 1918, it was granted the ‘Royal’ prefix in recognition of its service.
2020 N&MP Reprint of Original Edition