Animals during the war

Cavalry horses lowered onto land in sling from ship 1915: Allied cavalry troops' horses are lowered down in a sling onto the quayside as they arrive in Salonika, Greece

Elephant power

Elephants at work
Elephants at work

Elephants at work ploughing fields and pulling artillery

War Horses

Battle Of The Canal Du Nord, 27 September - 1 October 1918, Horse team of the Royal Field Artillery pulling an 18 pounder field gun up the slope of a cutting through the bank of the Canal du Nord near Moeuvres

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During the war, millions of horses were used in many different roles. Before 1914, wars had mainly been fought by cavalries - soldiers who fought on horseback using swords and guns.

When World War One began, most people thought this would be the case again. In fact, only 2% of the British army was cavalry, though the Germans and French had far more.

Cavalry were used in the first battles such as the Battle of Mons. Even though technology in battle developed during war, there were some cavalry charges right up to the last day of the war.

Horse power

Both sides soon realised men on horses could not win the war in the trenches. The muddy ground, barbed wire and machine guns made it very difficult for horses, so they were used for transportation instead.

Cars and tanks often went wrong but horses and mules could be relied on to get food and equipment to the front line.

Ambulance horses carried wounded soldiers and artillery horses carried weapons, ammunition and other heavy loads. They had to be strong. Soldiers were not small and light like jockeys - most weighed around twelve stone. Fully armed and equipped, they were a lot heavier.

In total, around 8 million horses from all sides died during the war. Horses had a food ration of 20lbs of grain per day. When grain was in short supply, German horses were fed sawdust cake.

Other animal power

Donkeys and mules were sometimes used to pull heavy equipment, including artillery. Elephants were taken from circuses and zoos and photographs of them pulling heavy guns were used to show people back home that even exotic animals were 'doing their bit' in the war effort.

Teachers' notes

Teachers' notes and classroom ideas looking at animals during the war.

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