Honoring War Animals' Sacrifice

By Ron Fanfair

Ron Fanfair

Writer/Photographer

Police Officers marked the International Day for War Animals remembering the sacrifice of horses who served in World War I and the remarkable story of Bunny, who survived the war.

“This day is one of sombre importance to the Mounted Unit,” said Staff Sergeant Bryan Campbell. “We sent our beloved horses overseas to serve and support and several officers enlisted when the call to duty came.”

A ceremony was held by the Mounted Unit along with the Toronto Police Military Veterans Association (TPMVA) at the Horse Palace ahead of the International Day for War Animals on February 24 where each of the Mounted Unit horses at the ceremony wore a purple poppy that commemorates the deeds and sacrifices made by war animals.

 

Horses in a line
Mounted Unit horses wore purple poppies in memory of the sacrifice of War Animals Photo: Kevin Masterman

 

During World War I, dozens of Toronto Police officers enlisted in the Armed Forces and the Mounted Unit sent 19 horses to serve in the Canadian Field Artillery.

At that time, horses were the most maneuverable and mobile asset on the battlefield. A total of 81,000 horses were employed by the Canadian government in the war effort but only but only a fraction survived, and even fewer were returned to Canada.

“A Canadian 18-pounder field gun, the standard artillery piece, was pulled by a team of six horses in pairs with a driver riding on the near side horse of each pair,” said Constable Matthew Scarlino of the Mounted Unit and the TPMVA Historian. “The team would tow an ammunition cart with gunners on top and the field gun.”

During the Great War, 18 police horses succumbed to either shrapnel and gunfire, gas and barbed wire, exhaustion, disease and deep mud.

“Critically injured horses were mercifully shot by officers who spared their own riders the tragic duty of doing so,” said Scarlino, an Army Reservist assigned to the 48th Highlanders of Canada based out of the Moss Park Armoury. “But their sacrifice was not in vain. The artillery our horses pulled provided firepower and cover when our troops advanced and their fire would stem the flow of the enemy when they attacked. Their service saved countless Canadian lives.”

 

Statue of a horse on a pedestal
A statue of a horse is inscribed with the names of the fallen horses from World War I Photo: Kevin Masterman

 

Bunny was the only police service horse to survive the four-year war that ended on November 11, 1918.

“Bunny defied all odds,” said Scarlino, who has done extensive research on the participation of Toronto Police officers and their mounts in World War I and II. “He was strawberry roan in colour with white socks on his hind legs and he had long ears. In four years of war, Bunny carried his riders through hell. One of his riders was killed, another – our own Mounted Unit Constable Thomas Dundas – was wounded three times.

“Dundas was also the most decorated TPS officer to serve in the war. There is no doubt that Bunny helped him achieve these deeds and his bravery should also be remembered… For the Toronto Police war horses, there was no happy ending. We are forever in their debt and we owe them our gratitude.”

They were never able to return Bunny home because the horse did not belong to a senior military officer and he was sold to the Belgian government, despite outcry from the mayor and citizens.

The Mounted Unit maintains a horse named Bunny, a Clydesdale, in remembrance of their war horses.

Partnered with training Sergeant Kristopher McCarthy in a position of honour leading the way at the front of the troop of horses and riders, Bunny wore a ceremonial blanket with a crest of the 7th Toronto Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, the unit that represents the Ninth Battery for which Bunny was assigned and served with in World War I.

TPMVA Bugler Paul Breeze played Last Post followed by two minutes of silence and TPMVA President Dana Gidlow recited Ode to the Fallen.

To commemorate the sacrifices Toronto Police horses made during World War 1, the TPMVA commissioned a statue bearing the names of Bunny and the 18 horses who died during the Great War.

On International War Animal Day, flags will be flown in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom and France. Also, knitted poppy wreaths will be laid and purple candles lit at 11 a.m. to remember the sacrifice of tens of millions of animals who served and continue to serve alongside soldiers to give us the freedom we enjoy.

Over 16 million animals served during World War I. They were used for transport, communication and companionship. Horse and camel-mounted troops were used in European and desert campaigns throughout the conflict and horses, donkeys, mules and camels carried food, water, ammunition and medical supplies to soldiers at the Front.

Dogs and pigeons carried messages, canaries were used to detect poisonous gas and cats and dogs were trained to hunt rats in the trenches.

 

Group of people standing with officers on horseback
Members of the Military Veterans Association joined the Mounted Unit in the ceremony Photo: Kevin Masterman

 

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