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.

A cat inside the barrel of a naval gun. The cat is Togo, mascot of HMS Dreadnought.
© IWM Q 22887
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1. Naval Mascot

Togo was the cat mascot of the battleship HMS Dreadnought.

A fox cub sits on the fuselage of a bi-plane fighter, the pilot sits in his seat smiling.
© IWM Q 12039
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2. No. 32 Squadron's fox cub mascot

This fox cub was the mascot of No.32 Squadron. The cub is pictured at Humieres Aerodrome, St Pol, France in May 1918. It looks as if the cub would like to take a flight in this bi-plane fighter.

Camels in India in the First World War, fitted with carriers to transport wounded.
© IWM Q 54973
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3. Carrying the wounded

Camels carry wounded men to safety on the North West Frontier of India in 1917. Camels were also used in the Sinai and Palestine campaigns. Their ability to carry heavy loads and go without water made them an ideal mode of transport in hot climates.

A line of Red Cross dogs and their handlers stand in a line ready for inspection on the Western Front.
© IWM Q 53509
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4. Lining up for inspection

French Red Cross dogs line up for inspection on the Western Front, 1914. These specially trained dogs wore harnesses containing medical equipment, which they delivered to injured soldiers on the battlefield.

A German transport driver wearing a gas mask riding a horse.
© IWM Q 50651
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5. Horses wearing gas masks on the Western Front

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

A monkey mascot sitting on a mortar during the First World War
© IWM Q 2483
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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.

A mule being unloaded from a ship in a harness. Soldiers wait on the ground to secure the animal.
© IWM Q 32505
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7. Landing mules at Salonika

Italians landing mules at Salonika in October, 1916.

A soldier in a trench on the Western Front with his cat.
© IWM Q 8463
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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.

French troops on the Western Front looking at carrier pigeons in a basket
© IWM Q 55233
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9. Carrier pigeons in their travelling basket

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

A dog carrying equipment to lay telephone wires
© IWM Q 50671
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10. Laying telephone wires

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

British troops scrape mud from a mule on the Western Front
© IWM Q 1619
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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.

German soldiers wear gas masks as they place carrier pigeons into a gas-proof chamber, presumably during an anti-gas drill.
© IWM Q 48439
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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.

An Australian soldier demonstrating how docile his camel was by putting his wrist in its mouth, near Shellal, September 1917.
© IWM (Q 12578)
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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.

A dog handler of the Royal Engineers (Signals) reading the message that has just been brought to him by his messenger dog. The dog swam across the canal to deliver the message and still looks quite wet. The photograph was taken at a Army Veterinary Corps HQ Kennel near Nieppe Wood, 19 May 1918.
© IWM Q 10960
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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.

Battle of Pilckem Ridge. British troops loading a pack horse with wiring staples. Note the horse's gas-mask. Near Pilckem, 31 July 1917.
© IWM Q 5717
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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.

Watch on

Watch on

Learn more about seven of the most important animals that accompanied men and women at war over the past 100 years.