Cornflowers and floppy mule ears

She is very stupid but I am very fond of her. © National Library of Scotland.
WarMule Tue, 22/04/2014 - 19:11

Did you know the commemorative flower for military horses, donkeys and mules is a blue cornflower? I'm currently reading The Military Mule in the British Army and Indian Army: An Anthology by Brian Nicholls, Philip Malins and Charles MacFetridge and came across this reading the preface:

In the very early hours of St George's Day, a small group of people gather at the Cenotaph to lay a wreath of blue cornflowers to commemorate the thousands of horses and mules who, alongside the men, gave their lives, often in the most distressing circumstances in two World Wars. The cornflower was chosen as a symbol because, like the poppy, it flowers profusely during the summer in those areas of France and Belgium that have been the scene of so much bitter conflict.

Following interesting leads on the Internet, I wanted to see if this still took place in April but believe this now takes place on Remembrance Day at the Animals in War Memorial in Hyde Park, London which was officially opened in November 2004 by Princess Anne, the Princess Royal. It is estimated that the British Army used 1.2 million horses and mules in WW1 of which 484,000 sadly died in battle.

I have since found out that Brian Nicholls, one of the authors of the anthology, played a part in shaping the final design of the Animals in War Memorial. Reading a newsletter article on the U3A (University of the the Third Age) website from Brian Nicholls, it all started when he was nearing retirement age from academic work. Knowing that he would miss what he enjoyed doing, he embarked on extending his hobby of equine military history by starting a research project on military mules in the British and British Indian armies.

In his article, it's a heart-warming thought to know that soldiers had a close relationship with their mules:

On the ‘Line of March’ many a lonely young soldier has whispered his fears into the long floppy mule ears. He might even have got a soft bray in return. Because of this personal contact, British, Indian and African soldiers often became so sentimentally attached to their charges that when the mule had to be destroyed through injury, the handler was often inconsolable.

Being a specialist in art and design, Brian Nicholls felt he was qualified to make a critical appraisal of the designs that had been short listed, namely that a decorative prancing horse appeared to be the dominant theme of the memorial and as the mule had played a far superior role in the war, he felt the chosen design was in danger of relegating the mule to a subsidiary role.

Thank you Brian for the part you played in ensuring that the thousands of mules who played their part have not been forgotten or will be forgotten.

One day I hope to go and visit the Animals in War Memorial myself and quietly whisper my own personal thoughts into the long floppy mule ears.


Brian Nicholls, Philip Malins and Charles MacFetridge (2006). The Military Mule in the British Army and Indian Army: An Anthology. British Mule Society.

Brian Nicholls (2014). The ‘Animals in War’ Memorial. Hyde Park, London.

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