Today marks 100 years since the end of World War One. During WW1, and in the many conflicts that have followed, thousands of animals have been enlisted to help humans across the world. To this day, animals selflessly put themselves in danger and their actions continue to save countless lives. Today we are honouring the bravery and sacrifice of the thousands of animals killed or injured in the line of duty, and thanking all service animals across the world for their devotion. Did you know about these 11 roles carried out by animals during WW1 and in the years since?
If you don’t count humans, then pigeons are the species that have been awarded the most medals for gallantry. Carrier pigeons have been relied on to carry urgent messages over hundreds of miles in impossibly difficult circumstances, providing intelligence that helped save countless lives.
As long as there have been ships, there have been ship’s cats. During sea voyages sailors just can’t afford for rodents to eat through their limited food resources and spread disease, making a good ship’s cat a Navy necessity.
From Shetland ponies to circus elephants, during times of war, pack animals have provided transportation. Horses and ponies have been the most commonly used pack animals and during WW1, as well as enlisting men for the war effort, many governments enlisted horses too.
Wire Laying Dogs
When we think of animals furthering communications, the mind jumps to pigeons. The contribution of wire laying dogs isn’t something many people know about. Telephone lines were an integral part of the communication network for years, and physical lines between bases were needed to keep everyone in touch. Dogs fitted with spools of wires were sent across dangerous and difficult terrains, providing wire crucial connections.
As well as laying wires for communication, dogs have been used to send messages. Messenger dogs dashed between camps, often in the most dangerous and difficult environments, ensuring that lines of communication could always stay open.
We’re all familiar with the dog’s incredible sense of smell. For hundreds of years, dogs and their amazing noses have been used to detect everything from missing people to hidden ammunition stores.
Medical evacuation is one aspect of a huge network of medical services, which for most of history simply would not have worked without animals. Even after the introduction of motorised ambulances, horses and donkeys were relied upon to pass difficult terrain where motor vehicles just didn’t stand a chance.
Like their Naval counterparts, many army bases would use cats to control the rodent population, helping prevent the spread of disease. During WW1, this was particularly crucial, where cramped and filthy conditions made disease an ever-present threat.
Across the world, the help of countless exotic species has been enlisted. Camels are still popular pack animals and have carried hundreds of wounded soldiers to safety over the years. Exotic animals have been there to help humans even hundreds of miles away from their native countries. Elephants from circuses and zoos across Europe were involved in moving the heavy debris from bombing raids that nobody else could manage.
Perhaps the most incredible work carried out by military animals is that of the casualty dogs. Casualty dogs wear packs containing vital medical supplies and search battlefields for wounded or dying soldiers. During WW1, casualty dogs held the solemn responsibility of waiting with dying soldiers, providing them with comfort and companionship during their last moments.
Pets and Mascots
Any pet owner will tell you that the loyalty, companionship and devotion a pet can provide is completely unrivalled. Pets and mascots of all shapes and sizes, from the traditional like dogs and cats to the slightly strange like mice and pigs to the utterly bizarre, like bears and lions, have lifted morale and provided much-needed comfort in the darkest times.