War Animals in Memory

In Memory of the large and small Animals that played their part in our War History.

From the Elephants & Horses to the Slugs & Glowworms, they have all played their part in helping to save Human lives.

At the start of the War, WW1 the British Army owned about 25,000 Horses, but they recruited over 165,000 from Britain. More were purchased from America, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Portugal and Spain. They were trained as quickly as possible and known as ‘rough riders’ When they were ready they were formed into squadrons and sent to the Western Front.
The best were used by the cavalry, the cavalry men were instructed to take the weight off them as much as possible and take great care of them.
Lots of people have written about the role of Horses in War, 8 Million died in World War 1 alone, from exposure, disease or starvation.
We surely all remember the excellent film in 2011, by Steven Spielberg ‘War Horse’ a heart wrenching story that told the story of the Horse in war far better than the written word.

Testing for best protection from Gas WW1
Jimson the Mule, Boer War

The British Army purchased a large number of Mules from America in WW1. The Mule has incredible stamina & endured the terrible conditions in the front line better than the Horses could. The British owned over 200,000 Mules.
Brigadier-General Frank Percy Crozier who took part in the Battle of the Somme said “If the times are hard for human beings, on account of the mud and misery which they endure with astounding fortitude, the same may be said of the animals. My heart bleeds for the horses and mules.” 

Elephants have been used over many years during war for combat and to carry soldiers, from charging the enemy to their role in the 20th century as an invaluable asset to be able to go where machines could not.
Sir William Slim, commander of the 14th army wrote about Elephants in the intro to “Elephant Bill” ‘They built hundreds of bridges for us, they helped to build and launch more ships for us than Helen ever did for Greece. Without them our retreat from Burma (After WW2)would have been even more arduous and our advance to its liberation slower and more difficult’
They were also used to help the war effort at home in Britain.

WW1 a Military Elephant pulls ammunition in Sheffield
WW2 RAF Sgt and Pigeon

In the late 19th & early 20th century, birds were used in military intelligence. During both World Wars Britain and America got together special Pigeon service units, with tens of thousands of birds. Pigeons were of prime importance during WW1, with anyone intentionally killing or harming a homing Pigeon being sent to jail for 6 months. There were over 16,00 Pigeons parachuted into Europe during WW2.
Hundreds of thousands of Pigeons saved countless lives during World War 1 and 2.
One of the well remembered ones was Gustav, who flew more than 150 miles back to England on D-Day to deliver the first official confirmation of the Normandy Landings. 

During the 19th & 20th centuries, Camels have been an essential part of helping the military in desert policing and patrol work especially in the Middle East and North Africa.


Painting of Imperial Camel Corps Brigade 1916

Dogs have been used through history, some trained in combat, others as trackers, scouts and sentries, some still continue now in the modern military.
During WW1 dogs were used to deliver vital messages too, approximately 1 million Dogs died in WW1.
A couple of well known Dogs were ‘Rags’ who was adopted into the 1st Div in 1918, he was a mixed Terrier, he remained their mascot until his death in Washington DC in 1936.
The other well known Dog was Sergeant Stubby 1916-1926, he was the most decorated War Dog of WW1 and the only Dog to be promoted to Sergeant through combat, America’s 1st War Dog. Stubby even captured a German spy !!


Military Dog wearing bullet proof coat in training

Far less well known than the larger animals are the slugs, who became very important for detecting poison gas. Cows, Rats, Mice, Guinea Pigs, Cats, Flies & Fleas were tested, but no good for this task.
They found that the Garden Slug when exposed to Mustard Gas, closed its breathing aperture to protect its lung membrane.
Also slugs can detect one particle per 10-12,000,000 particles of air (three times better than humans) The Slug was made available to the US Army for duty in the trenches in June 1918, saving countless lives.


Photo of Limax maximus the Great grey Slug.

Glowworms emit Bioluminescence, 10 give off equal to a road light in modern times.
These were a very unlikely War Animal, but they played a very vital role not just in the trenches, but on the battlefield also.
The soldiers collected Glowworms in their thousands and stored them in jars, they became portable lights for studying reports and battle maps and essential for troops for reading their very welcome letters from home.

European Glowworm…Lampyris noctiluca
Postcard of the Tunnellers Friends Monument

Yellow Canaries and White Mice
These were taken into tunnels for the miners, to test for bad air or poison.
There is a War Memorial to Canaries and White Mice in the Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle. 

Cats lived with Soldiers in the trenches during WW1 to kill the mice & rats

In 2004 Princess Anne, the Princess Royal unveiled a war memorial in London’s Park Lane.

 It is dedicated to all the Animals and Insects that endured hardship with the Nation’s armed services.
The Princess Royal unveiled the bronze sculptures by David Backhouse of two Mules carrying battle equipment, and of a Stallion and a Dog which stands next to a curved wall of Portland stone carved with an array of Animal profiles.
It carries the inscription “Animals In War. This monument is dedicated to all the Animals that served and died alongside British and allied forces in Wars and campaigns throughout time. They had no choice” 

The PDSA Dickin Medal
To this date 64 Animals have received this medal, which is the Animal equivalent to the Victoria Cross
It was first awarded in 1943 and the most recent was Theo in 2012, a Springer Spaniel killed on duty in Afghanistan in 2011.

At the ceremony in 2004 for the new memorial one man left a wreath of poppies at the foot of the wall, with a handwritten note attached
“Dear Animals. You have smelt our fear. You have seen our bloodshed. You have heard our cries. Forgive us dear Animals that we have asked you to serve in this way in War.”

Jilly Cooper who wrote a book about the Animals war effort, and said at the ceremony.
“We never said thank you to them. Every other Common Market country in the world has.
“They died in their millions. They carried our food and our weapons and they were phenomenal.
“In the Blitz, dogs used to wake up their owners and take them to the shelters when they heard the sirens, and in the First World War horses would neigh when they heard enemy fire but would do nothing when they heard their own fighters going overhead.
“It’s their sixth sense and it’s amazing.”

Jilly Coopers book is called “Animals In War”

Lest We Forget

Till next time then…………………………….


  1. I didn't know what animals did for us war-mongering humans during these terrible atrocities of war. I ache for their fear, anguish, pain, suffering and death due to humanity's viciousness and evil. Thank you, all animals who faced the uncertainty, terror, and horror of the wars with our humans, thank you for your warmth, love, patience, steadfastness, intelligence and loyalty. Thank you for the gifts you brought to the soldiers who were serving in the war. You were all angels!


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