A war memorial with a difference was unveiled this weekend at a famous Napoleonic battlefield near Brno. The life size bronze statue stands out immediately from similar memorials to war heroes and generals from the fact that it features a horse with no one in the saddle.
A drumbeat from soldiers in Napoleonic uniforms and broken applause greeted the unveiling at the Slavkov, or Austerlitz, battlefield near Brno on Sunday of a statue featuring a horse rising up in the moment it has been hit by a bullet in battle.
The memorial to the dying horse is a tribute to the thousands of horses killed along with around 20,000 soldiers when the armies of Napoleon clashed with the Austrians and Russians at the so-called Battle of the Three Emperors at Austerlitz, or Slavkov, in December 1805.
The leading role in pushing through the project was taken by the owners of one of the battlefield’s landmarks, the Old Post Office, now turned into hotel, restaurant, museum and stables, where Napoleon slept after the battle. One of the owners, Jiří Podolský, explains how the idea of the horse memorial was born.
“One of our colleagues, who takes part in the reconstructions of the battle, remarked that there were many memorials to the soldiers who took part in the battle but nothing at all for the around 5,000 horses who fell there. And since the Old Post Office is closely and inextricably linked to horses it was decided that it would be good if there were a monument to them as well.”
But organizers of the memorial, who include the Czech actor and horse lover Boleslav Polívka, mean it to be much more than that. They want it to be a tribute to all the animals that have been killed over the centuries in wars waged by men.
The animal war memorial is thought to be almost unique in Europe. A small statue featuring a horse, dog and carrier pigeon carrying a peace message was unveiled at the Belgian Remember Museum near the city of Liege last year. That museum mostly commemorates the World War Two Battle of the Bulge when Allied forces repulsed a Nazi counterattack at the end of 1944 and start of 1945.
Horses have not been the only animal victims of war, though over the centuries have probably been the biggest four-legged casualties. Dogs were for example used by the US Army in World War Two to clear minefields and the Russian army also trained dogs carrying explosives to jump on German tanks. The attempt was largely unsuccessful with the dogs picked off before they could reach their targets.
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