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ILN During WWI: Animals and War

ILN During WWI: Animals and War
ILN During WWI: Animals and War
Animals and War

The long-standing bond between animals and humans made animal inclusion in war only natural; during the First World War over 16 million animals were drawn into service. Horses, donkeys, oxen, dogs, pigeons, camels, and even the occasional elephant aided armies on both sides of the conflict.

The modernisation of warfare yielded heavier artillery that required transport across battlefields by horses, donkeys and oxen. Draft animals were used to transport supplies, especially food and water, and to remove wounded soldiers from the battlefields. While horses, often donning gas-masks, moved troops over combat zones on the Western Front, the First World War brought campaigns to the desert, where the transportation of food, supplies, and men could only be done by camels.

Dogs were another common fixture; though dogs in combat were not a new innovation for warfare, dogs found new use during the First World War. Dogs still carried messages and helped render aid, but they were also trained to adapt to trench-style warfare where they stood guard in silence or hunted rats from the trenches. Yet not all animals at war were put to work, many animals, especially cats and dogs, served as companions and mascots for armies at land and sea.

Of course, with the inclusion of animals in war came the casualty of animals by war. Animals died on the battlefields, killed by the same horrors that drew down their human cohorts, but also by the indirect effects of war. Food shortages resulted in the loss of domestic animals, whose owners could not afford to provide for them as before. Hens and cows not given enough fodder to produce eggs and milk were killed, while the surviving domestic dog population in Germany was estimated at only one-quarter. In Britain, the official animal cost of war was 484,143 casualties of service animals, prompting the construction of war memorials to honour animals in combat.