This story has been written by Sally Clark, Local Historian, Windlesham.
Edward Knight of Thorndown Lane, Windlesham enlisted at Woolwich for the Army Veterinary Corps on 11 October 1915.
Edward was a Carman by trade and was therefore experienced in driving a variety of horse drawn vehicles carrying merchandise or heavy machinery. With this experience his most likely role in the Veterinary Corps would have been in logistical support, working with the horses to pull heavy artillery, transport munitions, pull ambulance carts and supply wagons as the horses were better than mechanised vehicles at travelling through the deep mud and rough terrain of the trenches.
A large proportion of Carmen attended to their own horses. Presumably Edward Knight was experienced therefore in the general care of horses, another reason for his suitability to the work of the Veterinary Corps. Two priorities were providing sufficient food for them and the requirement, due to the conditions they were operating in, for regular re-shoeing. Consequently horse fodder was the largest commodity shipped to the front and thousands of farriers were recruited.
Hundreds of thousands of horses died as a result of the conditions at the front – exhaustion, drowning, mired in mud and falling into shell holes. However the Vets working for the Corps did a magnificent job of providing medical care and treating over 700,000 horses for injuries and illness and successfully healing over 500,000.
Whilst the horses boosted the morale of the soldiers, they could be a health hazard because of the difficulty of maintaining high levels of hygiene around their horse manure which was commonplace in the battle and staging areas and which created breeding grounds for disease. Edward became ill in 1917 and was transferred back to the United Kingdom by hospital ship. A post card of the Ulster Volunteer Force Hospital in Belfast was amongst his war papers. The nature of the fighting in the Great War led to huge numbers of injured soldiers and the existing military medical facilities in the UK were overwhelmed. Many civil hospitals were turned over for military use, one of which was the Ulster hospital and presumably this was where Edward was sent for treatment.
He did not recover sufficiently to return to active service and was given an Honourable discharge on 15 August 1917 and awarded a Silver War Badge. This was worn on a coat lapel and signified that the bearer had completed their war service.
Silver War Badge
After the war, Edward was awarded the usual medals awarded to those who had served in World War 1, the Victory Medal 1914 – 1919 and the British War Medal 1914 – 1920.
Sally records her thanks to Edward’s great grand-daughter Sara White (nee Knight) for sharing some of her family history.