CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 7. . . .October 17, 2014
Millions of horses were used by armies during the First World War. Almost all died horrific deaths, whether by bomb blasts, artillery shelling, gun shots or starvation. This year, the centenary of the beginning of World War I, a British horse named Warrior will be awarded the British veterinary society’s Dickin medal, known as the “animals’ Victoria Cross,” for his gallant service during the war.
“Warrior”, said Academy Award winning director Stephen Spielberg, “is an extraordinary example of the resilience, strength and profound contribution that horses made during the Great War. [The] medal is a fitting and poignant tribute to not only this remarkable animal but to all animals that served.” (“First world war horse awarded ‘Victoria Cross for animals’”, The Guardian, September 12, 2014).
A horse with long ears, and hence called Bunny, is the hero of this incredible true, uplifting and ultimately tragic story. He is an equally suitable recipient for such a high honour. Bunny was a “handsome, reddish brown” Toronto City Police horse who, in 1914, crossed the Atlantic with 17 other horses and four Toronto police constables to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Europe. Bunny survived gas attacks at the Battle of Ypres (1915), and, when his master was killed in action, he was given to Constable Thomas Dundas to ride. Bunny and Cst. Dundas lived through three more years of terrible hardship, near starvation and together saved soldiers’ lives. The desolate scarred battle fields of France and Belgium are simply and poignantly rendered in Marie Lafrance’s effortless illustrations that bring the bleak landscape to our eyes.
Of the 18 horses sent to Europe, this handsome creature, as “brave as a tiger”, was the only one that lived to see the end of the war. However, Bunny never made it back to Canada; he was sold, as were most other horses, to Belgium farmers. We might imagine that he worked as loyally for them, in rebuilding their lives after four years of war, as he did for Thomas Dundas.
There is an interesting historical mystery in Bunny’s story. His original rider was supposedly Thomas Dundas’s brother; it seems he was one of the four police offices sent to Europe. However his name is not known or recorded anywhere. In fact, it is questionable if this person actually existed. Even with research in the Toronto Police records, the scrupulous Archives and Library Canada and Canada’s Great War Project does not reveal his identity, where he was killed or any other information that should be readily available.
Ian Stewart teaches at Cecil Rhodes School in Winnipeg, MB.
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