The Australian Army Veterinary Corps played a vital yet unsung role in World War I. The previously unpublished letters and photos of Hugh Bird Ford is a tribute to their contribution.

Story By Annabelle Brayley

The Australian Army used horses in several theatres of war across the early 20th century, and their capability rested on the unsung attentions of the Australian Army Veterinary Corps (AAVC). The Mobile Veterinary Services (MVS) were an integral part of the Corps’ success. Hugh Bird Ford served as a trooper in the AAVC, one of the supporting personnel who assisted the veterinarians in the Corps during World War I. He was 21 when, in March 1916, he enlisted in the Australian Army. Simply called ‘Bird’ by his family and friends, he was only 171 centimetres tall and slightly built. According to his enlistment papers, he was assigned to the No 2 Australian Infantry Reserve Unit, which was virtually a holding unit for recruits until it was determined where they could best serve. After a brief sojourn in the Australian Army Service Corps, biding his time as a driver, he was able to sign on a second time, in October 1916, with the AAVC. Although he cited carpentry as his trade on his enlistment papers, he had been working on his brother Jack’s farm at Kumbia in the Southern Burnett area of Queensland when he signed up, so apparently someone thought he would be of best use looking after sick and injured horses. It suited him perfectly. Little has been published about the AAVC. Dr Ian Parsonson addressed the void with Vets At War – A History of the Australian Army Veterinary Corps 1909-1946, published in 2005. A retired veterinarian, Ian’s research found that horses played an integral part in the long and fierce Boer War, 1899-1902. The total loss of horse-life in South Africa was enormous and subsequent inquiries found several reasons for their high mortality rate, among them the shortage of veterinary expertise.

This story excerpt is from Issue #64

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2009