Constantine Cornwall

A vet in the Boer War

A short AGM was followed by John Head, a retired vet from Helston sharing the experiences of his grandfather, a vet, in the Boer War (1899 – 1902). In 1898 Alfred Searle Head, a recently qualified veterinary surgeon from East Grinstead, obtained a post with a Mr Hoadley in Helston, but at the outbreak of the war in South Africa, described by John as a war of horses, he signed up to join the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons, but not before making an impression on his employer’s young daughter.

Following a month on board ship, Lieutenant Head arrived with the dragoons and 407 horses. By now the animals were already in a poor shape. Long rides north to the Orange Free State followed. The Boers burned the grassland to reduce the fodder, and there were few oats and mealies available, so the animals were poorly fed. Clear water was also an issue and poor hygiene meant mange spread freely. The horses also had to carry heavy weights (rider and all their equipment) and trek through either very dry environments or the horrendous wet season and experience extremely cold nights when the horses had to be walked all night to stay warm.

Not surprisingly there were heavy losses and vets were in limited numbers with few aids, to treat the animals. Of the 570, 000 horses 70% died, of which only 5% were lost through enemy fire.

The huge losses of animals led to improvements in horse welfare and following re-equipping and a supply of fresh horses in 1901 each soldier was allocated his own horse with severe punishment if the animal was not properly looked after. Losses of animals then reduced.

Following the end of the war Alfred remained in the army and served in Sudan.  On his return to Helston he married his employer’s daughter. During the World War 1 he ran a hospital for horses and ensured animals going to the front were in good condition before they were shipped to France. During this war losses of horses was reduced to 20%.  In World War II he took command of the Home Guard in Helston. The veterinary practice he established is still trading.

The next meeting will be on January 19th in the WI Hall Constantine at 19.15. Visitors and new members are welcome. Contact 01326 250604.

Don Garman email: djgarman@btinternet.com