Dogs of War

30 November 2018

History | War and Conflict

This year marked the centenary of the end of the First World War, and stories of bravery proliferated in our media, reminding us of the enormity of the war’s impact. Looking at the First World War Portal, I quickly found several of these accounts, making it nearly impossible to choose just one to write about.

Inspired by my faithful companion, and not knowing where else to begin, I did a quick search for the word “dog”. To my delight, it delivered several hits. In particular, Frank Hart’s printed book The Animals Do Their Bit in the Great War caught my attention. Charmingly illustrated, this document highlights the extraordinary efforts of dogs and other animals as they joined soldiers in various theatres of war and assisted on the Home Front.

Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

Anyone who lives with a dog will tell you that they are a true friend, providing unconditional love and hours of humorous entertainment. They can also be excellent workers, helping humans carry out tiresome tasks throughout history. Hart’s publication gives examples of exceptionally well-trained canines showing incredible bravery, including details of first-aider dogs sniffing out wounded soldiers on the front line, directing medics to their location; errand-dogs carrying messages between troops; and as companions for sentries on lonely posts, alerting their master to approaching hostile forces. Dogs teams, like those depicted in the French Army in the Vosges district, were also used as “beasts of burden”, transporting supplies through the war.

Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

I look fondly at my dog as I read these descriptions, wondering whether he would show such daring, only to see him running away from a fly that is now chasing him around the living room. Needless to say, I don’t think he would be particularly effective in the military, or indeed, in any form of employment.

Hart’s publication also details the admirable efforts of horses, donkeys, oxen, and camels, and their important role within the war effort. He describes ambulance horses carrying wounded soldiers from the battlefield, camel-mounted soldiers engaged in desert theatres, and various animals transporting ammunition and supplies to troops on the front line.

Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

At a time when we have been reflecting on the impact of the First World War and have learned so much about the tragedies of the conflict, accounts of these lesser known heroes are a testament to the far-reaching nature of the war and give a wonderful insight into less conventional war efforts.

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About the Author

Emma Sudderick

Emma Sudderick

Since joining the editorial team at Adam Matthew in August 2018 I have had the opportunity to work on several interesting projects, including American Consumer Culture and First World War Portal. My academic background is in English Literature, and I am particularly interested in the Gothic genre and the interdisciplinary relationship between literature, culture and palaeontology.

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