Animals in World War 1

A taster of some of the research the local history group are investigating for their WW1 Commemoration Exhibition in August

Animals in the Great War 1914 1918
war horse
We hear quite rightly of the terrible human losses of WW1 – 37 million casualties including 10 million military deaths and 7 million civilian deaths but it is not widely known the role played by animals in the conflict.

Animals such as horses, mules, camels, dogs, pigeons, maggots, glow worms, flocks of sheep and even Lizzie, an Indian circus elephant who was used to move machinery and metal round Sheffield all had no choice in their participation.
During the first twelve days of war, 165,000 horses were bought or acquired by ‘special purchasers’ from reluctant farmers and families. These horses had to be sorted and categorised, trained and then shipped out to the Western Front by the British Army.In the British army 484,000 horses, mules, camels and bullocks died between 1914 and 1918. It is estimated that on all fronts eight million horses alone perished, often suffering unimaginable deaths from disease, wounds or simple exhaustion. Also many hundreds of dogs, carrier pigeons and other animals also died on various fronts
The mules lived up to their reputation as the beasts of burden carrying enormous loads of food and forage to the Western Front
Behind the fighting lines came the `camp followers’ – flocks of sheep which became boiled mutton to be fed to the troops.
Dogs were used for guard and patrol; they carried messages, detected mines and human casualties. The Russian soldiers, even with 36 cavalry divisions, used them for pulling sledges as a means of transport over frozen terrain.
Carrier pigeons, said to be over one hundred thousand were used as a means of communication, often from front line to headquarters. They flew in all weathers, from planes, ships etc. They could not be relied upon for their loyalty but Cher Ami is perhaps the most famous war pigeon who was awarded the Croix de Guerre.
The humble glow worm brought some degree of comfort to those brave frightened men in the dark wet cold muddy trenches. The troops would gather many worms together to give some sort of soft light to look at a photograph from home or to read a message or map.