The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 1 No 6 - June 1970



With the establishment of the South African Dog School at Voortrekkerhoogte in January, 1964, and the recent decision to reintroduce mounted sections as an integral part of certain Commando units, the requirement for the services of veterinarians will increase. The number of dogs at present in the SADF, employed on various duties and centres throughout the Republic, is very considerable, and their services are gradually being extended. In addition, a Riding School of fifteen horses, for the training of young officers and candidate officers in this art, as part of their training, was established in April, 1968, at the Military Academy, Saldanha Bay. Prior to these developments, and since the South African Artillery was mechanised(1), only a few horses at Potchefstroom and Voortrekkerhoogte were retained. The numbers were such that even the services of a single veterinary officer was unwarranted.

Probably the first veterinarian to come to South Africa was the officer attached to the 8th Light Dragoons at the Cape in 1799. Of the forty-five veterinary surgeons who, up to 1881, worked in this country, no less than thirty-six were Army veterinary officers. In July, 1899, the Veterinary Department of the Natal Volunteer Service was created, and the brass cap badge incorporated the crest of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, London, the motto being "Vis Unita Fortior".

In 1909 the Veterinary Department, Transvaal Volunteers (later designated the Transvaal Veterinary Corps) was formed. It was during this year, too, that central veterinary control was created. In 1908 the title N.V.C. was changed to Natal Veterinary and Remount Corps, but the cap badge remained unchanged. Both the Natal and Transvaal units were, however, disbanded in 1913 since they were, under the S.A. Defence Act, 1912, excluded from the then Union Defence Force.

With the exception of these two units the Cape Mounted Rifles was, up to the time of Union of the four colonies in 1910, the only corps which, for most part of its existence, employed a veterinary surgeon.

The first veterinary surgeon to be appointed to the C.M.R. was Lieut. T. B. S. Dawkins, who was posted to the Right Wing of the Regiment in 1879. The following year Lieut. G. Garnett was appointed and posted to the Left Wing. Neither of the above officers remained with the regiment very long; the latter left during 1882 and the former followed the following year. Thereafter, until the outbreak of the Bechuanaland Rebellion in 1897, the regiment was without the services of a veterinary officer. A. G. M. Tomlinson (rank unknown) was appointed to the C.M.R. Field Force for the duration of the campaign.

After the campaign the post again fell vacant and was only filled in 1903, when J. A. Worsley accepted an appointment as Regimental Veterinary Surgeon with the rank of Honorary Lieutenant. He was promoted to Hon. Captain during 1906 but, at the end of the following year, returned to the Civil Veterinary Department. During the times that the regiment was without a veterinarian the services of Major W. P. Shaw, a qualified veterinary surgeon who hailed from London, were utilized as and when necessary and convenient.

The regiment was singularly lucky in that two young veterinary surgeons, J. Walker and W. Newman, joined up as Troopers in 1897. Tpr. Walker was promoted to the rank of Corporal and performed the duties of a veterinary officer. His stay was, however, of short duration as, realising the limited prospects in the regiment, he left at the end of 1898.

Tpr. Newman remained with the Regiment and served throughout the 1899-1902 War. Thereafter he was appointed as the first veterinary officer to the newly formed South African Constabulary. Although both the Natal and Transvaal Veterinary Units were disbanded in 1913, the newly constituted Permanent Force did, however, retain the services of one veterinary officer. Taken over from the Natal Police(2) and transferred to the SA Mounted Rifles, he was based in Pretoria and placed in charge of the combined training depot for the SAMR and the SA Police. He also acted in an advisory capacity to the Inspector-General on veterinary matters.

At the outbreak of World War I the total veterinary complement comprised the aforementioned officer, one corporal clerk and one civilian storeman. On mobilisation the total animal establishment numbered 8,000, which figure increased rapidly until, at the peak, there were some 160,000 animals in service. Immediately after the outbreak of war a Director of Veterinary Services, with four Assistant Directors, was appointed and a Base Veterinary Depot, where the enlistment and training of personnel commenced, was established at Booysens, Johannesburg. As personnel reached the required standard, units were formed and professional officers appointed. At Cape Town a Base Veterinary Store was established at the South Arm Docks. It was during this initial stage that members of the old Natal and Transvaal Veterinary Corps came forward to fill the vacuum, and the establishment reached 47 officers, 450 NCOs and men and 750 Bantu.

The ability and zeal of the personnel of the new service was such that within two months no fewer than eight Base Veterinary Hospitals and 15 Mobile Veterinary Sections were drafted for service to German South West Africa. In addition personnel had been provided for the establishment of numerous remount and transport depots, and for attachment to all the mounted formations, Animal Ships and Purchasing Boards. In the end services had to be provided for 160,000 animals (60,000 horses, 12,000 odd mules and close on 3,000 donkeys passed through the various veterinary hospitals during the course of the Rebellion and the GSWA Campaign).

After the conclusion of operations in GSWA the veterinary branch was called upon for service in connection with the East African Campaign. Two Base Veterinary Hospitals and four mobile sections were formed, equipped and dispatched to East Africa. Again veterinary detachments were provided for ten Mounted Regiments, while veterinary parties accompanied all of the many animal transports plying between Durban and Mombassa and other East African ports. In addition to attending to the needs of the South African Forces, the Portuguese Government was also assisted by this branch of the service. Altogether 31,000 horses and 33,000 mules were used, while at the end of the Campaign less than 1,000 of each remained. The dreaded tsetse fly was largely responsible for the enormous losses.

At the end of the war many veterinary hospitals were established at the Remount Depots in the Union, viz. at Kimberley, Roberts Heights (now Voortrekkerhoogte), Potchefstroom, Pietermaritzburg and Durban. In these hospitals 19,835 animals underwent treatment. The war over, the Corps, along with many another, practically ceased to exist as such, although a small nucleus did survive until 1935. Until that year the horse played an official and vital role in the UDF but after the mechanisation of the SA Artillery there was no further need for a veterinary corps. Only a handful of NCOs (one being W.O. Colleen) were retained as farriers. It would seem that the familiar badge (cap and collar) of a prancing stallion, was adopted by the Corps during 1921, although some records give the date as 1924. In 1923 the Corps (Permanent Force) adopted a helmet flash of horizontal maroon stripes of equal width on either side, with black in the middle. This flash was worn throughout the War. The pre-war Active Citizen Force units wore flashes of horizontal stripes -- green (for Transvaal units) or blue (for Natal), maroon and chocolate.

During World War II the Corps once again came into the picture, although not near as much as twenty-one years before. With effect from May, 1942, the Veterinary and Remount Services were amalgamated under one Directorate although not a "Q" Services Corps unit, administered by and under the control of the quartermaster-General. From the beginning of 1941 the duties of veterinary officers were extended in that they were also employed on meat and milk inspection duties, prior to these commodities being issued to the troops.

Well known veterinarians who served in one or other of the two World Wars and who have died in recent years are Prof. O. H. S. Reinecke (WW1), Dr. H. H. Curson (well known historian), Major Gordon Mcintyre (both wars) and Mr. Geoff Townsend (WW II -- engaged in transporting animals to India). Another member of the SAVC who recently passed away -- Mr. Jack Hurst - also regularly made the India run, as Farrier Sergeant- Major, and was in charge on no less than fifteen such trips, each of some 800 animals, without loss.

Military Veterinary Services in South Africa.

Today the veterinary service of the SA Defence Force is the responsibility of the Surgeon-General. The needs of the animals form an integral part of the duties of the SA Medical Corps. Other ranks undergo courses at Onderstepoort, under the guidance of Prof. Hofmeyr, before being posted from the SAMC Training Centre to areas where, in addition to their other duties, there may be a need to treat animals. Qualified veterinarians spend their National Service with the SAMC and, after a period of basic training, are utilized to best advantage on duties associated with their calling. By arrangement, and as and when necessary, the services of the country-wide link of officers of the State Veterinary Service are used in both an active and advisory capacity. In the few areas where this is neither possible nor practicable, or in cases of emergency, the services of veterinary surgeons in private practice are called in. Colonel (Professor Dr.) C. F. B. Hofmeyr, of the Faculty of Veterinary Science of the University of Pretoria at Onderstepoort, is veterinary advisor to the Surgeon-General. Should and when the need arise the nucleus already exists for the establishment of a full-time service as a separate branch of the SA Medical Corps.


1. Official History of the Great War, 1914-18.

2. "Boot and Saddle" by P. J. Young.

3. "The Colonials in South Africa" by John Stirling.

4. "Regimental Devices in South Africa, 1783-1945" by H. H. Curson. The author is also indebted to the late Dr. Curson for the copy of the accompanying illustrative plate received some years before his death.

5. "Springbok" (Magazine of the S.A. Legion).

1. Horse-drawn artillery made its last public appearance on the Union Day Parade of 1936 at the Aerodrome, Zwartkops Air Station, Pretoria, although mechanisation officially took place in 1935.

2. On 1 April, 1913, the Natal Police ceased to exist as such, its members being incorporated as the Second and Third Regiments, SA MR.

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