Animals during the war

Dog jumping over trench With a message tied to its collar, a dog jumps over a soldier in the trenches

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Most communication systems used in the war broke down easily. Animals were often the most reliable way to transport messages.

Bus used as pigeon loft
Pigeon in soldier's hand

A former London motor bus camouflage-painted and used as a travelling loft for carrier-pigeons. Pernes, 26 June 1918.

Dogs helped to get messages across the front line from one base to another. They were faster than humans, less of a target for the enemy and could run through difficult conditions.

Pigeons

100,000 carrier pigeons were used as messengers during the war. Pigeons always flew home when released, so the troops made sure the pigeons' nests were in places they needed to send messages. At the Battle of Marne, the pigeons advanced with the French troops as they attacked. Whenever troops needed to get a message back to their base, they tied it to one of the pigeons. It would fly home and deliver the message.

Pigeons were far more reliable than man-made machinery to get messages from one military base to another. In fact, records say they delivered 95% of their messages correctly. Pigeons were kept at military bases and headquarters. Sometimes they were also kept in unusual places, like old London buses which were brought over from England. Pigeons became so valuable the British government issued a poster saying "Killing, wounding or molesting homing pigeons is punishable under the Defence of the Realm regulations by six months imprisonment or £100 fine".

One pigeon, called Cher Ami, meaning Dear Friend in French, became famous. Used by US forces, Cher Ami managed to get 12 very important messages through one of the battles in 1918. It also saved the lives of nearly 200 soldiers during another battle. Cher Ami received a medal from the American government for her bravery.

The Germans also used pigeons. Some were even seen with cameras attached. This was most likely used to take photographs of enemy troop positions.

Teachers' notes

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

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