Animals in War (1914–1918)

Colour poster depicting countryside combat, with a horse-drawn tank and soldiers fleeing from the cannonade.

During the First World War, the terrain on the front lines was often muddy and without paved roads, which made it difficult to use motor vehicles. This is why armies relied on a wide array of beasts of burden, including horses. These animals were used primarily by cavalry troops, but they also served to haul cannons, ammunition and food, as well as to pull non-motorized ambulances. Horses were ever-present in the theatre of operations.In September 1914, the first contingent of troops to leave Canada for England loaded up 7,636 horses! Although they belonged to the cavalry units, most of the horses were purchased by the Canadian government from private owners to meet army needs. Hundreds of thousands of additional horses were subsequently sent to the front lines. By the end of the war, the army had lost eight million horses in combat.

Other animals were also used by the army during the First World War. Mules, donkeys and cattle primarily transported materials, ammunition and food. In eastern regions, such as Egypt, camels were also used.

The terrain—continually bombarded in some areas or very mountainous in others—made it difficult to communicate, so winged or furry messengers were called
in. There were even special units responsible for maintaining a flock of carrier pigeons, ready to be sent with messages tied to their legs. Dogs were also used as messengers.

Colour sketch of a brown dog sitting.

Colour sketch of a brown dog sitting. Source

The Canadian Army had a Veterinary Corps at the time, with blacksmith and farrier units who all saw to the care of work animals. During the conflict, veterinary hospitals and mobile veterinary units were created behind the front lines to treat animals and make sure they were well fed.
At all times, animals were alongside soldiers on the front as companions in misfortune. From the very beginning, military mascots have served to represent the group who adopted them. Even members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force had mascots during the First World War, as shown in the following image.

Group of soldiers around a goat wearing a cape with insignia.

Mascot of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Battalion, August 1916. Source

Visit our Flickr album for more photographs.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

3 thoughts on “Animals in War (1914–1918)

  1. You still have not corrected the captions to images 13, 14 and 21 in the Flickr album – please delete “the” before HMCS and HMS.

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