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Animals and War Memorials and Water Troughs

2012 May 28


Ryan Hediger has just contacted me to let me know that the new book he is editing, Animals and War, has now been accepted by the publishers, Brill,  as part of its human-animal series. The wide range of topics includes my chapter on ‘Animals and War Memorials: Different Approaches to Commemorating the Human-Animal Relationship’

The chapter looks at different forms of memorials in different countries and explores the nature of the particular commemoration.  One form I analyse are the troughs that commemorated the thousands of horses killed in the South African Wars at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many thousands of horses had been transported from South America to South Africa to aid the war effort, but over 16,000 died on the sea voyage before even reaching the war zone. In the course of the military engagement more than 400,000 animals had died mostly through neglect and lack of food and rest, rather than injuries caused in the fighting.  Brigadier Clabby, the veterinary surgeon who would write the official history of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, declared, ‘It has been said that never in the history of any British war has there been such a deliberate sacrifice of animal life and of public money.Partly as a result of the outrage of welfare campaigners at the poor treatment suffered by animals, the Royal Army Veterinary Corps was established and in operation by the 1914 -18 war.

Martock trough

Part of the restored trough in Martock, Somerset (Thanks to Dr Katherine Vanovitch)


Animal welfare campaigners erected commemorative water troughs that would benefit animals themselves. This includes this one in Martock, in Somerset, recently restored and incorporated within the village’s local heritage outside the eighteenth century market house. Here the figure of 450,000 dead animals is given.

Another is the trough, now filled with flowers, in Burstow, Surrey, created in 1903. This was funded by William Tebb. He was a leading campaigner against compulsory vaccination against smallpox. An anti-imperialist, he was also a vice president of the National Canine Defence League (as Dogs Trust was previously called ) and a supporter of the Humanitarian League. The words commemorate ‘the mute fidelity of the 400,000 horses killed and wounded at the call of their masters during the South African war 1899-1902 in a cause of which they knew nothing.’ The sentiments embrace notions of loyalty but the last line of the inscription is significant: ‘This fountain is erected by a reverent fellow creature.’  These challenge the assumption that there is a hierarchical division between ‘masters’ and ‘horses’— or people and animals.


trough in Burstow

Trough in Burstow, Surrey erected by Willliam Tebb

The trough form, albeit on a grander scale, was also incorporated in the 1905 commemoration in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where horses had been landed. As Sandra Swart has discussed in her interesting book Riding High Horses, Humans and History in South Africa a pro- British women’s committee who had been sympathetic to the ‘dejected remounts’ disembarked there initiated this memorial. The memorial included  the critical wording :  ‘The greatness of a nation depends not so much upon the number of its people or its territory, as in the extent and justice of its compassion.’  Paid for by Mrs Harriet Meyer, from King’s Lynn and cast at Thames Ditton in Surrey it was erected in 1905 in Port Elizabeth before being moved nearby  in 1957.

This trough form was no accident. It originated from the design of Joseph Whitehead of the stonemason’s firm, Whitehead. Joseph Whitehead was the same artist who sculpted the controversial Old Brown Dog statue that commemorated animals killed  through vivisection in Battersea. Whitehead had become the official contractor to the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association founded in 1859 by leading Quaker families such as the Buxtons and Hanburys. The Association had created troughs in public thoroughfares both to benefit working animals as such but also to dissuade their keepers from frequenting public houses, the only sites in which fresh water was routinely available for horses and cattle.


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