War Horse; War from the Animal’s Point of View
There was a time in out history where animals too fought in our wars. Up until machines controlled the war front starting in World War One (WWI), animals were key in how to play out and survive a war, especially horses. War Horse the musical was adapted from the film made in 2011 and tells the story of a boy and his horse as they journey through WWI and is a reflective prospective of how horses were used and what they suffered through during the war. The plot mostly follows the journey of the horse Joey and his fight for survival against the introduction of machine warfare. The character of the horse Joey displays the use of warhorses during WWI such as transportation, logistical support, and companions to the soldiers fighting in the war. The use of warhorses had great effects on the animals, many of which Joey suffered during his service in the military.
During WWI, automobiles were in existence yet horses were still readily used as methods of transportation. Horses could travel for longer distances without having to gas up as well as travel through places automobiles would find difficult to travel through. Within the musical War Horse, we observe the mechanical, life-sized horses being put to use to pull ambulance carts full of wounded soldiers, carrying soldiers through trenches and the war front, and haling carts of supplies to and from the war. Horses were able to bring supplies into the war front and into the trenches were vehicles were inaccessible. Hospitals attached wagons to the horses to pick up wounded soldiers to be rushed to the medical tents. The horses were led by military efforts and were trained to reach their goals while in the face of battle.
Warhorses such as Joey also provided logistical support. Where trench warfare has now been introduced, machines such as tanks could not reach the trenches like horses could, making this a huge advantage to Calvary armies. The use of horses as logistical support still proved to be beneficial to some militaries even though obstacles such as machine guns, barbed wire, and land mines were serious hazards towards the health and well being of the horses. Horses were considered essential offensive elements to the military before the machine warfare completely took hold. There is a part in the musical where we witness Joey tangled in a mess of barbed wire and ready to give up on life. Though he is just a puppet, his realistic movements and displays emotion show the kind of pain and dismay that horses suffered during war. Joey becomes more worn and mangled as the show progresses, but many acts of heroism from Joey occur. Scenes displaying Joey as a sign of hope and comfort for the soldiers, pulling soldiers out of near death situations, and carrying a soldier bravely into battle. Logistical supports called for traveling through deep mud, rough terrain, carrying messengers, and as mentioned before pulling artillery, ambulances, and supply wagons for the war efforts. To say that horses were still invaluable to the war effort would be an understatement, yet horses were eventually flushed out war completely as horses began to die quicker than they were able to provide much needed efforts to the war. Many horses died on the front line as they were struck with bullets from machine guns, were not as lucky as Joey and were unable to escape from the barbed wire, suffocated in poisonous gas, and at some time became diseased or too wounded to continue. Animal hospitals were often kept on base, but horses were tended to until they could be of some use again on the field. Statistics show that around eight million horses died in WWI and two-and-a-half million were treated in veterinary hospitals. These heroic horses brought great service towards the war effort but it was definitely at a great cost.
Another purpose for warhorses would be the companionship they brought to the soldiers fighting a ruthless war. The musical War Horse shows the special bond between Joey and his master Albert. The two from the beginning are inseparatable. When Albert finds Joey being drafted in the war as a military service animal for the Calvary, Albert does what ever he can to get himself drafted in the army to be with his best friend and companion. The two are separated the duration of the war and their reasons for fighting to stay alive is to one day reunite with each other. During Joey’s separation from his master Albert, he meets along the way many other characters to which he becomes a source of moral support, a sign of hope, and a symbol of dedication and friendship. Soldiers fighting in WWI often looked to save the lives of their horse as much as their fellow soldiers next to them. It is known that some soldiers were told that the loss of a horse was more devastating than the loss of a human because it was harder to replace the horses. Horses were a moral for soldiers and were depended on for their sanity, lack of companionship, and as a lifeline to escape their deaths in the trenches and over rough terrains. Though as much of a comfort is was to have the horses around for the soldiers, one thing that the musical doesn’t reflect that was a fact about war was that horses increased the amount of diseases spread through the military camps. Their manure, poor grooming, and open wounds often brought diseases that spread through other horses as well as human soldiers. This brought numbers to the death tolls including the animals and humans both which brought on the fighting against the war of disease.
War Horse the musical is a reflective prospective of the beautiful and tragic story of warhorses like Joey and the service and sufferings they went through for their countries. The use of horses for transportation, logistical support, and companionship were important to the soldiers of WWI, yet with modern war fare brought into full swing, it is best that our use of Calvary in war has been put to rest and the memory of their service to be honored and forever remembered.