A model engineering exhibition might be thought an odd place to rediscover equine history. Each year in the autumn a venue by the side of the Fosse Way in Warwickshire hosts a prestigious event which attracts individuals and coachloads of model engineers from all over the country. There is an almost carnival air surrounding the vast array of trade and society stands, demonstrations and individual exhibits, all engineered to an amazingly high standard.
This October, one of the first collections to excite the visitor entering the Warwickshire Exhibition Centre was presented by the Guild of Model Wheelwrights. Standing out amid numerous and varied examples of haywains, carts and agricultural equipment was one unique model which held a particular resonance for anyone interested in the history of the horse.
This artefact was a highly detailed 1/8th scale model of a Mk II Royal Army Veterinary Corps horse drawn horse ambulance.
Its creator, Brian Simpson from Stoke on Trent, spent a week taking precise measurements of an original discovered in store at Deepcut Barracks. Ambulances of this type were used in the 1st World War and had many ingenious design features to facilitate loading, transportation and unloading of equine casualties. These included detachable shafts which could be fixed to either end, a driving seat which could be attached to either side of the ambulance, a special support for horses likely to collapse and a clever four point jacking system.
In addition to fabricating the model, Brian also carved the horses. White markings apart, the horses bear some resemblance to CBs. Literally millions of horses perished on the battlefields of WWI. Among them must have been countless Cleveland Bays. Some at least were rescued and would have relied on the RAVC ambulance. Brian's superb model is a timely reminder of the debt we owe to the warhorses for their service and sacrifice nearly a hundred years ago. It is ironic that for those who made it home, the world and agriculture were already turning to mechanization.
We are indebted to Brian Simpson for taking the time to explain the ambulance and permission to photograph for this article. His model was awarded a first prize when first shown in 2005.
While researching the background for the above, another interesting artefact came to our notice. The oil town of Petrolia in Ontario has restored a 1908 horse drawn ambulance (for people!) See the website for some fascinating history.
If you have any information about horse drawn ambulances or the Cleveland Bay in WWI that you could share please let us know by using our Contact Us page, available form the Main Menu.