Theirs not to reason why: horsing the British Army through two wars, 1875–1925

There is limited accommodation available at Madingley Hall for this course. If your preferred accommodation choice is not available, please contact our Registration Team on +44 (0)1223 746262.

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We will look at British Army 'horse service' during the Anglo-Boer and 1914–18 wars. The course will focus particularly on military procurement in relation to the domestic horse breeding industry, foreign supply in times of war, debate about mechanisation versus the horse, and development of an integrated military transport system. We will explore some of the myths and reality surrounding this subject and address questions like: where did horses come from, what types, in what numbers, and how were they cared for?

During the 1899–1902 Anglo-Boer War, the recently created Army Veterinary and Remount Departments and Horse Registration Scheme were severely tested and found wanting. Following the appalling suffering and loss of horses, the period 1902 to 1914 was critical for the development of the horse services. The crucial elements in effectively horsing the Army were recognised: supply, care, and organisation.

The Army depended on the creation of a rapid and effective horse mobilisation scheme and the ability to sustain expansion in the field. The civilian horse market was central to the supply of military horses in peace and war, and by obtaining reliable information on the number and type of horses available to them, the Army could guarantee a regular supply. There was also a need to learn lessons from the Anglo-Boer War for the planning and expansion of auxiliary services, for example blacksmiths, saddlers, remount depots and veterinary hospitals.

On the outbreak of war in 1914 the Army had an organised reserve and mobilisation scheme; a completely integrated transport system using horses, mechanised vehicles and rail networks. As the war progressed there were serious questions about the continuing supply of horses from both home and world markets, shortages of transport for moving them from the country of purchase, and the growing submarine menace. Developments by 1919 in mechanical vehicles were acknowledged by many as signalling the end of the military reliance upon the horse, even though it remained the main source of motive power, and cavalry the main arm of exploitation.

Lessons from the Boer War had been learnt, shown in the improved performance of the horse services during the 1914-18 war. The health of animals was maintained at a higher standard than in any former war and remounts were supplied to all theatres of war and to armies of allied nations. At the end of hostilities nearly eight million animals had to be quickly disposed of, as humanely as possible, to bring the Army back to its peacetime requirements.

Course programme

Friday 14 November 2014

Please plan to arrive between 16:30 and 18:30. You can meet other course members in the bar which opens at 18:15. Tea and coffee making facilities are available in the study bedrooms.

19:00 Dinner
20:30 – 22:00 Introduction: Creation of "Horses Services", Remounts and Veterinary 1878-1902
22:00 Terrace bar open for informal discussion

Saturday 15 November 2014

07:30 Breakfast
09:00 – 10:30 The Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902
10:30 Coffee
11:00 – 12:30 Between the Wars: The Horse Question and Army Mechanisation
13:00 Lunch
14:00 Free
16:00 Tea
16:30 – 18:00 Between the Wars : The Domestic Market
18:00 Free
18:30 Dinner
20:00 – 21:30 The 1914-1919 War: Mobilization and Expansion 1915-1918
21:30 Terrace bar open for informal discussion

Sunday 16 November 2014

07:30 Breakfast
09:00 – 10:30 The 1914-19 War: Foreign Theatres of war and Supply
10:30 Coffee
11:00 – 12:30 Demobilisation, Care of horses, Conclusion and post 1919
12:45 Lunch

The course will disperse after lunch


pdf Application form

pdf Welcome to Madingley

pdf Syllabus and reading resource list


Unless otherwise stated, teaching and assessment for ICE courses are in English. Students whose first language is not English should refer to the Competence in the English Language Policy for further guidance.

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Madingley Hall
United Kingdom
CB23 8AQ

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01223 746262

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Course details

Start date

14 November 2014 (19:00)

End date

16 November 2014 (14:00)

Course code



1 weekend


Institute of Continuing Education
University of Cambridge
Madingley Hall, Madingley
United Kingdom
CB23 8AQ

Accommodation fees

Single room: £120
Double/Twin room (per person, 2 people sharing): £100

Qualifications / Credits