Today we pay tribute to the war horses who fought on both sides during the Battle of Waterloo. If you read through the lists of Regiments who fought at the Battle, you will find that most had a veterinary surgeon assigned to their ranks. For all practical purposes, in the aftermath of the Battle there were hardly enough medical staff to care for the human wounded – hospitals were sadly understaffed and medical supplies lacking. The sheer number of wounded overwhelmed even the most dedicated of the medical staff attached to Wellington, the Allies and the French. Many horses were so badly maimed or wounded that they could not be saved, nor could they be allowed to suffer. Many soldiers who had just witnessed the most horrific human casualties on the battlefield still found the heart to put their equine brothers in arms out of their misery in the hours after the Battle.
Of course, there is no visual record of the bonds that were forged between soldiers and their mounts at Waterloo other than, perhaps, the Duke of Wellington’s own bond that was forged with his horse, Copenhagen, with whom he shared command during the Battle. After living out his retirement at the Duke’s country estate, Stratfield Saye in Hampshire, Copenhagen was buried with full military honours, his grave and tombstone still to be seen on the property.
Pure History Specials: War Horse – The Real Story (60 minutes) is a superbly made documentary that uses period film, first hand accounts and historians to tell the story of how the soldiers of World War I lived, cared for and fought with their horses and sheds light on the day to day bond they shared and the attachments they forged with these equine brothers, and sisters, in arms. Though WWI took place one hundred years after Waterloo, we can’t help but believe that things hadn’t changed all that much during the intervening century and that what held true in 1815 held true in 1914.
Here is a five minute clip of the British Heavy Cavalry from the film Waterloo (1970) with Christopher Plummer as Wellington.