When we think of World War One combatants, we remember the brave men and women who fought in the military and served in the medical corps. However, animals played an important role in the war as well.
Let’s examine the these brave animals that had no comprehension of what was occurring but obediently served their masters.
Millions of horses and mules were used during the war. Most, however, did not serve in the cavalry. They were used to transport supplies and guns. Thousands of others transported soldiers.
So plentiful were the equines that armies had a veterinary corps.
An estimated eight million horses gave their lives during the war. Some were shot or gassed in battle, but others died of weather and disease.
In the Middle East, camels were used instead of the horses.
Elephants also were used, requisitioned from zoos and circuses.
Canines served in several capacities. They were used as guards, and as messengers, for carrying first-aid supplies, for laying lines of cable, killing rats and alerting soldiers of danger.
One dog even reached the rank of sergeant. His name was Stubby, and he served with the U.S. Army. He was able to sense mustard gas, warning the troops, and he once attacked an enemy soldier, allowing him to be taken prisoner. Stubby served in 17 battles over the course of 18 months and survived the war although he was wounded on several occasions.
Sometimes dogs had no official capacity. They were simply companions, friends and mascots, providing comfort and a morale boost.
One hundred thousand homing pigeons carried messages and took aerial photography. Their success rate was 95 percent.
One pigeon, Cher Ami, is credited in saving the lives of nearly 200 American soldiers during the Battle of the Argonne Forest. The last homing pigeon the unit had left alive, Cher Ami was sent to deliver a message to division headquarters 25 miles away. Cher Ami flew through a rain of bullets. She arrived at HQ covered in blood. She had been shot in the chest, one leg was hanging by a tendon and she was blind in one eye, but she had successfully delivered her message in under half an hour.
She carried the note: “We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.”
The bird survived her wounds, but she used a prosthetic leg for the rest of her life.
For her bravery delivering messages in Verdun, she was awarded the Croix de Guerre.
Cher Ami is on display at the Smithsonian Institute near Sergeant Stubby.
Cats, like dogs, served as companions and mascots. So did a bear, a koala, a baboon and a fox.
Bioluminescent European glowworms were used to illuminate dark trenches.
On the home front, elephants took the place of horses plowing fields and pulling wagons. Animals also served as a food source in nations faced with starvation.
So essential were animals to the war effort that special equipment was manufactured to protect them.
Were you aware so many animals served in the war? Leave a comment below.
Enjoyed reading this post? Join the mailing list and receive updates in your inbox whenever a new post is published. Simply enter your email address in the form on the bottom right of this page.
Latest posts by Melina Druga (see all)
- Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front - September 26, 2017
- The Committee on Public Information - August 28, 2017
- World War I Led to Prohibition - August 14, 2017