From the elephants carrying Hannibal over the Alps more than 2,000 years ago, to the dogs, dolphins, and monkeys, working with our armed forces today, animals have served and died in wars and conflicts throughout time. And, as the inscription on the Animals in War Memorial in Hyde Park reminds us, “They Had No Choice.” So today we are taking a moment to remember the incredible loyalty and bravery of animals in war.
Horses In War
More than 15,000,000 animals took part in the First World War and this included 8,000,000 mules, horses, and donkeys. These animals carried men into battle, brought supplies to the front line, and evacuated the wounded. The bonds between servicemen and their horses were often strong and this is brought vividly to life in Michael Morpugo’s “War Horse”
You might think that horses are only used in ceremonial occasions today. But this isn’t the case. Horses are still able to negotiate steep and inhospitable terrain better than any motor vehicle and they saw active service in Afghanistan.
Pigeons in War
More that 100,000 pigeons took part in WW1 and over 200,000 in the second world war. Flying at speeds of up to a mile a minute in all weathers and often injured pigeons carried life saving messages in situations where no other means of communication was viable.
As man’s best friend it’s no surprise that dogs continue to play an active part in conflicts around the world. They have talents that humans simply don’t possess and are trained to guard, patrol. Sniff out mines and bomb survivors and take messages.
Dogs also comfort and support their human comrades both during active service and beyond. Support dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD now do amazing work both in the UK and overseas.
Cats in War?
You know we said, “They Had No Choice” well, cats had a choice, of course, they did, they are cats! There are no records of cats being recruited to the military. But nevertheless, they have played a crucial role in trench warfare: controlling rats and giving comfort to the troops. Although cats were never recruited, they just turned up, as cats do.
The sheer range of animals involved in conflict and warfare is amazing: camels, elephants, dolphins, monkeys – even insects. In the first World War glow worms were used by soldiers to help them read maps in the dark.
Medals and Honours
Forces animals have their own Victoria Cross: The Dickin Medal. The medal was established by Maria Kickin, founder of the PDSA, to honour animal bravery in the Second World War. The medal is awarded “For Gallantry” and inscribed with the words “We also serve”
Over the years more than 65 animals have been awarded the Dickin medal, including hoses, dogs, several pigeons and even one cat!
What Happens to Veterans?
Despite their bravery and loyalty, animal veterans don’t fare as well as their human comrades. There is no forces pension for animals and when they reach retirement age many have to be separated from the humans they love because the humans are still serving.
The charity Hero Paws was set up by three military dog handlers to help address this problem. All donations are gratefully received, and what better way to pay our respects to those brave and beautiful animals who also served?