New Zealands “forgotten army” has been remembered at Massey University’s School of Veterinary Science in Palmerston North.

On Thursday, a plaque dedicated to the officers and soldiers of the New Zealand Veterinary Corps was unveiled.

A purple poppy is the recognised tribute to the “forgotten army” of animals that gave their loyalty and lives during war.

The plaque, donated by the Australian War Animal Memorial Organisation, was presented at this year’s unveiling of the New Zealand War Animal Memorial at Waiouru’s National Army Museum on Purple Poppy Day, February 24.

As New Zealand’s only veterinary school, it was decided Massey would be the best place to house the plaque on behalf of the country’s veterinary professionals.

Featuring the horses, mules, camels, dogs and pigeons that served, the plaque carried an inscription to members of the NZ Vet Corps who “gave comfort and care to the animals of war”, and was unveiled by the university’s vice chancellor Professor Jan Thomas and Emeritus Professor Neil Bruère.

Glyn Harper, professor of war studies at Massey University, and an author of children’s books set during World War I, has two stories featuring animals, Roly, The Anzac Donkey, and, released earlier this year, Bobby, The Littlest War Hero, the story of the New Zealand tunnelling company’s early warning canary.

Harper said animals played a huge role in New Zealand wars from the conflicts of the 19th century onward, and especially during WWI, with bullocks, horses, mules and donkeys used for logistical purposes.

“New Zealand sent 8000 horses to the South African War, and 10,000 horses to WWI, before that was stopped in 1916.”

New Zealand was running out of horses and needed the remaining animals for farm work. Many of the horses sent to the front had passed through a camp just outside Palmerston North used as a base for receiving gifted and bought horses.

“On the Western Front, the New Zealand Division used 6000 horses each day,” Harper said.

The New Zealand Veterinary Corps was formed in 1907, and during WWI comprised a small number of qualified veterinarians as commissioned officers, along with blacksmiths and farriers, groomers, teamsters and wagoners, and were essential for military operations.

Harper said despite being overwhelmed by the numbers of animals they had to treat, including dogs and carrier pigeons, the vets provided exemplary service, with only 2 per cent of the animals succumbing to illness or disease.

Wreaths were placed at the base of the plaque, the Ode to Remembrance was read and The Last Post sounded during the hour-long ceremony, which was also attended by Yardley, a golden labrador explosives detection dog and Afghanistan veteran, and alsatian infantry support dog Ida, from Linton Military Camp.


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