Armistice Day war animals: Tributes to the forgotten heroes

11/11/14

War animals

When it comes to remembering the two world wars, animals are sometimes described as the "forgotten victims".

While they may not feature as prominently in Armistice Day services, that's not entirely true.

Since World War Two there's been a huge desire to recognise the role animals played in conflict. The Dickin medal, the equivalent of the military's Victoria Cross, was established in 1943 by the PDSA (People's Dispensary for Sick Animals), a charity that looks after injured animals.

Rip was found as a stray and helped locate many victims of the air-raids of The Blitz, He was awarded a Dickin medal in 1945
Image caption This is Rip, who was found as a stray and helped locate many victims of the air-raids of The Blitz, He was awarded a Dickin medal in 1945

There's even a purple poppy specifically to remember the animals who died. It can be worn alongside the more traditional red flower.

Horses, dogs and pigeons, this article remembers the animals who went to war.

Two American soldiers about to embark for duty, with their pets, a dachshund and a racoon.
Image caption Two American soldiers about to embark for duty, with their pets, a dachshund and a racoon.

Eight million horses and countless mules and donkeys died in World War One, according to the Animals In War Memorial charity.

Britain lost so many horses on the front line more had to be shipped in from North America. While most horses and mules were used to transport supplies, tens of thousands more were also used as cavalry and gun horses, carrying cannons.

1915: British troops landing horses from a ship at Salonika to move to the Balkan battle front.
Image caption 1915: British troops landing horses from a ship in Greece to move to the Balkan battle front.
Winston Churchill
Image caption 1914: Winston Churchill and General French walk their horses together on manoeuvres during World War I.
A horse is landed from a British military transport ship at Boulogne, France, during World War I,
Image caption A horse is landed from a British military transport ship at Boulogne, France, during World War I,

By the time World War Two came round, so many horses had been killed that there simply weren't enough horses for British troops to rely on hooves.

Britain had to start using machines rather than animals.

While French armies opted for horse and motor power, Germany and the Soviet Union decided to still mainly employ horses, using millions between them.

Over two million horses were used by the Germans in World War two
Image caption Over two million horses were used by the Germans in World War two
German troops ride through Occupied Paris
Image caption German troops ride through occupied Paris, 1940
German troops manoeuvre a trench cutter along a country road.
Image caption German troops manoeuvre a trench cutter along a country road, around 1915. Trench cutters dug ditches for the soldiers to fight in

Dogs too, have been remembered for their war work.

In World War One, Lt Col Edwin Hautenville Richardson trained Airedales to act as guard dogs, carry military messages and help find injured soldiers.

Two Airedale terriers at Lt. Colonel E. H. Richardson's canine training camp in Woking, Surrey, during World War II, 16th October 1939. One dog wears a special gas mask and the other carries rations for a wounded soldier.
Image caption Two Airedale terriers at Lt. Colonel E. H. Richardson's canine training camp in Woking, Surrey, during World War II, 16th October 1939. One dog wears a special gas mask and the other carries rations for a wounded soldier.

Wearing specially made gas masks they were even used by the Red Cross to help deliver medical supplies.

Three Airedale dogs wearing their special gas masks at a Surrey kennel. They were being trained by Lt Col E. H. Richardson.
Image caption 1939: Three Airedale dogs wearing their special gas masks at a Surrey kennel. They were being trained by Lt Col E. H. Richardson.

Up to 20,000 dogs were trained for front-line duties during World War One. Bloodhounds and German Shepherds were also used and citizens even offered up their pets for service.

2nd December 1944: German Shepherd dogs being loaded into a van by their RAF handlers. They were used to sniff out people buried in bombing attacks
Image caption 2nd December 1944: German Shepherd dogs being loaded into a van by their RAF handlers. They were used to sniff out people buried in bombing attacks

Rob was one such dog. Until his owners Basil and Heather Bayne enlisted him in 1942, this collie was working on a farm in Shropshire. After making over 20 parachute descents in North Africa, he was awarded the Dickin Medal, which has "For Gallantry" and "We Also Serve" written across it.

Rob the Collie
Image caption Rob the Collie

In total 65 animals have been awarded the Dickin medal since it was first established in 1943.

Some regiments kept dogs as mascots, not for direct service, but to help lift the soldiers' spirits. Some soldiers even took their pets with them to war.

Butch O'Brien, a spaniel mascot of the US navy on board his ship in the Sea of Japan.
Image caption Butch O'Brien, a spaniel mascot of the US navy on board his ship in the Sea of Japan.
A despatch rider in a Quebec regiment gives a lift to the regimental mascot, a British bulldog. The regiment is on invasion practice exercises in England.
Image caption A despatch rider in a Quebec regiment gives a lift to the regimental mascot, a British bulldog. The regiment is on Invasion practice exercises in England.
German army dog
Image caption A German army dog complete with binoculars

If you live in a city these days you might consider pigeons merely messy 'sky rats', but these birds are clever, fast, loyal and determined.

Around 300,000 pigeons served Britain in the two world wars, carrying vital messages. They became so important for delivering information, you could be imprisoned for six months or fined £100 (a lot more money at that time) if you hurt or killed one.

Members of the Home Guard with their racing pigeons in Blackburn, Lancashire in 1940. The pigeons were being trained as messengers.
Image caption Members of the Home Guard with their racing pigeons in Blackburn, Lancashire in 1940. The pigeons were being trained as messengers.
captain Caiger of the British Army Pigeon Service, holding a carrier pigeon equipped with a 'back carrier' message capsule, 23rd July 1945.
Image caption Captain Caiger of the British Army Pigeon Service, holding a carrier pigeon equipped with a 'back carrier' message capsule, 23rd July 1945.

Cher Ami, French for dear friend, is perhaps the most famous war pigeon. She saved the lives of hundreds of soldiers during one battle by battling on and delivering her message, even though her leg was blown off and she was blinded in one eye by German fire.

Cher Ami
Image caption Cher Ami

Although she eventually died from her injuries, she was awarded the French Croix de Guerre or War Cross Medal with a palm Oak Leaf Cluster from the US for her service. She is now stuffed and on display at the Smithsonian museum.

Whether feathered or furry, it's clear these animals have played their part in helping humans.