Animals were worked hard, which often caused death from exhaustion.
Horses were initially utilized for the cavalry, but trench warfare neutralized its effectiveness. However, horses remained essential for moving equipment to the front lines, as well as for a major method of transportation.
Tales of Animals in War
Many horses suffered terribly during the Great War, and more than eight million died during the conflict. The military used pigeons as a reliable method of communication from the front lines to headquarters in the rear.
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More than one hundred thousand pigeons were used as messengers during the First World War. Pigeons were valued for their impeccable homing instinct as well as their speed, which made it very difficult for enemy marksmen to shoot them down. In fact, the biggest threat to pigeons would have been the introduction of birds of prey, such as falcons. The military also employed dogs and cats during the war, but not to the same extent as horses or pigeons. Approximately twenty-thousand dogs worked for the allies in a variety of roles, including as sentries, scouts, messengers or mascots.
AIW - The Animals In War Memorial - Park Lane, London
As for cats, they were common in the trenches, highly valued as both companions, and for their rat-snatching abilities. While conditions for most animals in the war were grim, the First World War also witnessed the first glimmers of animal-rights sentiment. Some military personnel, particularly veterinarians and horse drivers, encouraged their fellow soldiers to treat war animals humanely.
The dog would often accompany McCrae, as he tended to wounded soldiers.
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Perhaps slightly less known is the number of pigeons that served, who risked their lives by carrying vital messages over long distances. When animals are used in warfare, animals are injured in warfare, so we offered our help to the British Army.
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Despite an official arrangement being kindly turned down because the army had its own veterinary corps, we continued to send ambulances and veterinary chests to over 3, British units when supplies were short and hard to come by. Veterinary parcels included supplies of drugs, bandages, horse salts and dressings, medicines, ointments, clippers, antiseptic, portable forges and items for humanely euthanising horses who were suffering and sadly too wounded to recover.
The bravery and selflessness of these animals in fighting alongside the men of their country captured the heart of the nation and the generosity of the British public helped to fund the work of ODFL.
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Animals have no nationality, and we extended our help to the French and Italian armies, providing animal hospitals with veterinary surgeons to treat injured horses and other animals on the battlefields. And when the Americans joined the war effort, veterinary supplies were sent to the US Veterinary Corps.
In fact, during the four and a half years of war, the Blue Cross Fund established its work in one form or another in almost every zone of its operations. Reports from our men on the battlefields reveal horses suffered from infectious diseases such as glanders, cracked heels and frost bite, as well as being injured by enemy fire or in the course of their duties.
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We used the funds to treat over 50, sick and injured horses and 18, dogs between and After the armistice, we rescued more than 4, war horses that were sold abroad as working horse and often mistreated. Ruth Turner is the granddaughter of George Turner, who worked as a driver in the British army, caring for horses during the First World War.
George risked his life to help an injured horse on the battlefields of France. Learn about his incredible story. In honour of the animals of war and the importance of the fund in both world wars, we changed our name to The Blue Cross in the s.