IWM Staff
Thursday 4 January 2018

Over 16 million animals served in the First World War. They were used for transport, communication and companionship.

In 1914, both sides had large cavalry forces. Horse and camel-mounted troops were used in the desert campaigns throughout the war, but on the Western Front, new weapons like the machine gun made cavalry charges increasingly difficult.

However, animals remained a crucial part of the war effort. Horses, donkeys, mules and camels carried food, water, ammunition and medical supplies to men at the front, and dogs and pigeons carried messages. Canaries were used to detect poisonous gas, and cats and dogs were trained to hunt rats in the trenches.

Animals were not only used for work. Dogs, cats, and more unusual animals including monkeys, bears and lions, were kept as pets and mascots to raise morale and provide comfort amidst the hardships of war.

1. Naval Mascot

Togo, the cat mascot of the battleship HMS Dreadnought.
© IWM (Q 22887)

1. Naval Mascot

Togo, the cat mascot of the battleship HMS Dreadnought.

2. No. 32 Squadron's fox cub mascot

Fox cub mascot of No. 32 Squadron at Humieres Aerodrome, St. Pol, France, 5 May 2928
© IWM (Q 12039)

2. No. 32 Squadron's fox cub mascot

The fox cub mascot of No.32 Squadron at Humieres Aerodrome, St Pol, France, 5 May 1918.

3. Carrying the wounded

Dromedary camels fitted with cacolet panniers carry wounded men to safety on the North West Frontier of India.
IWM (54973)

3. Carrying the wounded

Camels carrying wounded men to safety on the North West Frontier of India, 1917.

4. Lining up for inspection

French Red Cross dogs and their handlers line up for inspection
© IWM (Q 53509)

4. Lining up for inspection

French Red Cross dogs line up for inspection on the Western Front, 1914.

5. Horses wearing gas masks on the Western Front

German transport driver on horseback wearing a gas mask
© IWM (Q 50651)

5. Horses wearing gas masks on the Western Front

German transport driver and horses wearing gas masks on the Western Front, 1917.

6. Mascot on a captured German trench mortar

Monkey mascot of the Third Army Trench Mortar School sits on a captured German trench mortar, 20 May 1917.
© IWM (Q 2483)

6. Mascot on a captured German trench mortar

The monkey mascot of the Third Army Trench Mortar School sits on a captured German trench mortar, 20 May 1917.

7. Landing mules at Salonika

Italians landing mules at Salonika, October 1916
© IWM (Q 32505)

7. Landing mules at Salonika

Italians landing mules at Salonika in October, 1916.

8. With the regimental cat in a trench

A Lewis gunner of the 6th Battalion, the York and Lancaster Regiment with the Regiment's cat mascot, in a trench near Cambrin, 6 February 1918.
© IWM (Q 8463)

8. With the regimental cat in a trench

A gunner of the York and Lancaster Regiment with the regimental cat in a trench near Cambrin, France, 6 February 1918.

9. Carrier pigeons in their travelling basket

French troops with two carrier pigeons strapped in their travelling basket.
IWM ( Q 55233)

9. Carrier pigeons in their travelling basket

French troops with two carrier pigeons strapped in their travelling basket.

10. Laying telephone wires

A German war dog, fitted with apparatus for laying telephone wires, walking across muddy ground, 1917.
© IWM (Q 50671)

10. Laying telephone wires

A German war dog, fitted with apparatus for laying telephone wires, walking across muddy ground, 1917.

11. Animal welfare on the Western Front

British troops scraping mud from a mule near Bernafay Wood on the Western Front, November 1916.
© IWM (Q 1619)

11. Animal welfare on the Western Front

British troops scraping mud from a mule near Bernafay Wood on the Western Front, 1916. British military authorities tried to ensure that animal handlers cared for their animals properly.

12. Carrier pigeons during a gas drill

German soldiers wear gas masks as they place carrier pigeons into a gas-proof chamber
© IWM (Q 48439)

12. Carrier pigeons during a gas drill

German soldiers wearing respirators as they place carrier pigeons into a gas-proof chamber, presumably during an anti-gas drill.

13. Proving camels are tame creatures

An Australian demonstrating the docility of his camel by putting his wrist in its mouth, Egypt, 17 September 1917.
© IWM (Q 12578)

13. Proving camels are tame creatures

An Australian demonstrating the docility of his camel by putting his wrist in its mouth, Egypt, 17 September 1917.

14. Messenger dog on the Western Front

A dog handler of the Royal Engineers (Signals) reads a message brought to him by a messenger dog, France, 19 May 1918.
© IWM (Q 10960)

14. Messenger dog on the Western Front

 

A dog handler of the Royal Engineers (Signals) reads a message brought to him by a messenger dog, France, 19 May 1918.

15. A pack horse during the Battle of Pilckem Ridge

A pack horse with a gas mask is loaded up with equipment during the Battle of Pilckem Ridge, Belgium, 31 July 1917.
© IWM (Q 5717)

15. A pack horse during the Battle of Pilckem Ridge

A pack horse with a gas mask is loaded up with equipment during the Battle of Pilckem Ridge, Belgium, 31 July 1917.