Why were animals useful in World War One?

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Why were animals useful in World War One?

Before 1914 wars had mainly been fought by cavalries (soldiers who fought on horseback).

But both sides in World War One soon realised the muddy ground, barbed wire and machine guns made it too difficult to use horses for fighting.

Instead millions of horses were used to carry people and supplies.

Many other animals played a big part in the war as workers and mascots.

Watch: How animals helped soldiers

Watch our video to find out more about animals in war.

How were animals used for work?

Many types and breeds of animals were well-suited to perform tasks such as guarding trenches, finding wounded soldiers and carrying messages.

Allied cavalry troops horse lowered down in a sling onto the quayside in Salonika Greece 1915

Horses carried wounded soldiers or weaponry

They had to be strong as fully armed and equipped soldiers were heavy. In total, around 8 million horses from all sides died during the war.

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Pets, mascots and livestock

There are many stories of animals who became companions to soldiers.

Jimmy the World War One donkey in a forest with a soldier and a woman

Jimmy 'The Sergeant' was a donkey born at the Battle of the Somme

Jimmy was wounded three times during the war. He learnt to raise his hoof in salute. After the war, Jimmy raised thousands of pounds for the RSPCA charity.

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Soldiers and rats

Dogs made excellent rat catchers. This terrier hunted in French trenches, September 1916.

Not all animals were welcomed by soldiers. Rats fed on rotting food in the trenches and could have up to 900 babies every year.

Soldiers hated rats as they were smelly and spread diseases. They tried to get rid of them using clubs, bayonets and even guns.

Despite all this, rats were sometimes helpful. Many soldiers reported how rats sensed an oncoming attack and ran away, which warned them of enemy moves.

How did life change for animals and soldiers?

© IWM Q 12166
Men of No. 59 Squadron RAF with their pet rabbits at Vert Galland Aerodrome, 15 May 1918.

Animals were essential for both sides in World War One.

As well as working hard, they were important for morale. Soldiers were able to show their caring side by looking after animals.

How are animals remembered?

The Animals in War Memorial in London has been in Hyde Park since 2004.

In 2004, a memorial was opened in London to remember animals that died in wars. This includes the animals that served and died in World War One. It was funded by a national appeal and bears two inscriptions:

The first explains the memorial’s dedication to all the animals that served and died alongside British and Allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time.

The second is smaller but equally important to remember: “They had no choice.”

Activity: Quiz – Animals during World War One