Over 16 million animals served in the First World War. They were used for transport, communication and companionship.
An estimated 1.2m Horses, Donkeys, Mules and Camels carried food, water, ammunition and medical supplies to men at the front and approximately 200,000 pigeons carried messages.
Canaries were used to detect poisonous gas, and cats and dogs were trained to hunt rats in the trenches.
Dogs were also trained to be Casualty Dogs they would look for wounded troops and take them medication and supplies, they would also stay by a soldiers side to keep them company, whilst they died.
It is even believed that Glow Worms were used in WW1 as an aid for map reading.
It is estimated that 484,143 British horses, mules, camels and bullocks died between 1914 and 1918. And many hundreds of dogs, carrier pigeons and other animals also died on various fronts. Many RSPCA inspectors lost their lives in their attempts to save animals forced to participate in war.
The money raised was spent on four complete field veterinary hospitals, each one of which was able to hold up to 2,000 horses and mules, and paid for stabling at eight other veterinary hospitals.
When the war broke out in Western Europe in August 1914, both Britain and Germany had a cavalry force that each numbered about 100,000 men. Such a number of men would have needed a significant number of horses but probably all senior military personnel at this time believed in the supremacy of the cavalry attack. In August 1914, no-one could have contemplated the horrors of trench warfare – hence why the cavalry regiments reigned supreme. In fact, in Great Britain the cavalry regiments would have been seen as the senior regiments in the British Army, along with the Guards regiments, and very many senior army positions were held by cavalry officers.
However, the cavalry charge seen near Mons was practically the last seen in the war. Trench warfare made such charges not only impractical but impossible. A cavalry charge was essentially from a bygone military era and machine guns, trench complexes and barbed wire made such charges all but impossible. However, some cavalry charges did occur despite the obvious reasons as to why they should not. In March 1918, the British launched a cavalry charge at the Germans. By the Spring of 1918, the war had become more fluid but despite this, out of 150 horses used in the charge only 4 survived. The rest were cut down by German machine gun fire.
However, though a cavalry charge was no longer a viable military tactic, horses were still invaluable as a way of transporting materials to the front. Military vehicles, as with any mechanised vehicles of the time, were relatively new inventions and prone to problems. Horses, along with mules, were reliable forms of transport and compared to a lorry needed little upkeep. Citation: C N Trueman "Horses In World War One" historylearningsite.co.uk.
Citation: C N Trueman "Dogs In World War One"historylearningsite.co.uk. ).
These dogs were vital in World War One. Trained to find wounded or dying soldiers on the battlefield, they carried medical equipment so an injured soldier could treat himself and they would also stay beside a dying soldier to keep him company.
Originally trained in the late 1800’s by the Germans, they were later utilised across Europe.
Those soldiers who could help themselves to supplies would tend to their own wounds, whilst other more gravely wounded soldiers would seek the company of a Mercy dog to wait with them whilst they died.
During the war the RSPCA established temporary kennels at Boulogne in France for dogs belonging to men going on leave as quarantine restricted the animals’ return to the UK.
When the war ended, they then set up the Soldiers Dog Fund to meet the cost of bringing the dogs over and keeping them in quarantine until the demobilised men were able to take them home. Five hundred kennels were specially built at Hackbridge, Surrey, to house the dogs. www.rspca.org.uk/utilities/aboutus/history/firstworldwar/animals
On the cobbled streets of industrial Sheffield an Indian elephant dutifully lumbered along.
Her task was important - she had to cart munitions, machines and scrap metal around the city, a job previously done by three horses taken off to war.
Lizzie - as she was known - was used to performing tricks as part of a travelling menagerie.
But with the outbreak of World War One she was conscripted to help with heavy labour, fitted with a harness and sent to work at a scrap metal merchants. Lizzie was given a special pair of leather boots to protect her feet from the metal rubbish, which littered the ground at the scrap metal yard.
There is some evidence that she went on to work at a farm where the ground was more forgiving.
However, she was not the only exotic animal working in Britain.
Camels, most probably from the same menagerie as Lizzie, were also used in Sheffield to pull heavy loads.
And in Surrey, elephants from a nearby circus filled-in for absent horses, ploughing fields and transporting hay.