When the British army bought a stud farm and 400 acres of grazing land off Asfordby Road in Melton in 1905 they were unaware they were taking the first steps to creating a base which was set to train military dogs and horses for conflicts, and service, across the world for decades to come.
It was initially known as the Army Remount Depot, and around 8,000 horses were stationed there during the First World War before being taken into combat.
In 1946, the Royal Army Veterinary Corps (RAVC), which was given its royal prefix in November 1918, moved its permanent base to the Melton depot from Doncaster, and military animals have continued to be trained there ever since, at what became known as the Defence Animal Centre, but which is now called the Defence Animal Training Regiment (DATR).
That special relationship with Melton will be showcased in spectacular fashion tomorrow (Friday) when the RAVC celebrates its centenary with a colourful parade through the town centre.
Shops and businesses will dress their windows in the regimental colours of maroon, dark blue and gold for the event, and floral displays around the town will also display the colours, with a large planting at the town estate’s Memorial Gardens.
Lt Col Martyn Thompson, the DATR base’s commanding officer, told the Melton Times: “The army has had a presence in the town since 1905 and since the RAVC moved here just after the Second World War it has very much regarded Melton Mowbray as its home.
“We have always had a strong link with the town and I believe that relationship is as strong as ever.”
He added: “On behalf of the RAVC I would like to thank the people of Melton Mowbray and the wider community for their ongoing support.”
There was no military veterinary service until a change of thinking following a heavy loss of horses in conflicts in the late 18th century.
First veterinary surgeon to be commissioned in the army was John Shipp in June 1796 and this has since been deemed as the foundation day for the Army Veterinary Corps.
The Great War served as a proving ground for the corps when it broke out in 1914, as personnel were deployed to Europe, Africa and many other theatres of operations, to provide veterinary care for service animals.
The army had not used dogs up to this point, but the War Office was persuaded to bring them in, with many carrying messages between the trenches in Flanders.
Such was the impact of the Army Veterinary Corps on the war, with more than one million horses being treated, King George V awarded the regiment the Royal Accent when hostilities ceased in 1918.
As the military became more mechanised, there was a decline in the number of horses used until the Second World War, when the RAVC was called upon again to play an important role, particularly in the tough terrains in Abyssinia, Italy and Burma, where mules were also used to great effect.
After the war ended, it was decided to move the RAVC to the former army remount depot in 1946, and Melton became the regiment’s official home.
The Army Dog Training School was also formed at the base in this year and the role of military protection and detection dogs expanded, with some of those trained at the base going on to win seven Peoples Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) Dickin Medals, the highest bravery award given to animals.
The Melton parade, which will be led by the Chief Veterinary Officer, Colonel Neil Smith, will feature more than 200 officers and soldiers from the town’s Defence Animal Training Regiment and the 1st Military Working Dog Regiment, based at St George’s Barracks, North Luffenham.
They will be accompanied by a mounted contingent of up to 25 riders, some of them wearing authentic First World War uniforms, and 16 military working dogs and their handlers from the RAVC, with the Band of the Army Medical Services accompanying them.
They will be joined on the parade by members of the RAVC Association and the Melton Branch of the Royal British Legion.
A First World War horse ambulance, general service wagon and pack mule will also feature in the party, which steps off from the town’s livestock market at 10.50am.
It will head towards Scalford Road, continue along Nottingham Street and the salute will be taken in the Market Place by the Colonel Commandant of the RAVC, Major General Roly Walker. The parade will then continue along Leicester Street, into Wilton Road and will conclude back at the market.
Today, the Melton base is home to almost 250 personnel and more than 350 military animals. There is a regimental headquarters together with a Canine Training Squadron, an Equine Training Squadron and Veterinary Training Squadron.
Mayor of Melton, Councillor Pru Chandler, said: “The RAVC has played a huge part in local life in Melton Mowbray for many years and we are extremely honoured to celebrate their centenary.
“Many of our families in the borough have friends and relatives who have seen active service, so it is our privilege to recognise the work of our local military personnel who risk their lives to serve our country.”
The celebration has been organised in conjunction with a number of agencies and organisations including Melton Council and Leicestershire Police, who will be responsible for the traffic arrangements on the day.