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Did you know animals play an important role in wartime?

Join IWM expert Clare as she shares real life stories about courageous animal heroes. Clare will tell us about animals that are super smart and can do amazing things that modern equipment and highly skilled people cannot!

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Amazing Animals

Part of the Adventures in History series created during the UK lockdown in Spring 2020.



Hello, my name's Clare and I work at Imperial War Museums. And this is my friend Rolly. And we're here today to help you learn more about history from home. Now Rolly is very good at digging but in my job as a public engagement producer I dig and seek out all the fascinating personal stories that we have in IWM's collections. 

Now when I say collections, I mean all the interesting objects, documents, art, photographs, film that all help to tell the personal stories of war and conflict about real people and even some animals. 

Now Rolly and I are going to tell you three fascinating stories about animals in wartime and we both really like this topic because no matter who you are, where you're from, whether you've got feet, wings or paws, everyone that has been affected by war and conflict has a story to share.  

So, are we ready for our first story? I think Rolly is. 

Our first story takes us back to the Second World War which happened over 70 years ago. Now if you watched my friend Craig's Adventures in History last week, you'll remember all about Grumpy the pilot and his very special pet dog Flash. Now we're going to talk to you about another very important dog from the Second World War but don't worry if you missed Craig's video you can go back and watch it on IWM's YouTube channel. But for now, we're going to talk about Rip.  

Rip the dog was a very special dog indeed. What makes Rip so special is that he was a stray and that means he didn't have a family or a home before the Second World War. We also don't know what breed of dog he was either but that didn't matter because he had a very important job to do during the Second World War and the Blitz. Blitz is a bit of a funny word and it comes from the German word Blitzkrieg this means lightning war and when we say blitz we mean the attacks over British cities during the Second World War often at night time which meant that people had to stay safe in air-raid shelters and the ARP wardens or air raid precaution wardens had the really important job of making sure that everyone was safe during the Blitz. This included going out after the attacks to check if anyone was trapped in any rubble from buildings that had been destroyed. This was incredibly difficult and incredibly dangerous, often rubble was piled so high and there were lots of tight nooks and crannies so these ARP wardens really needed some helping hands - or should I say paws. 

Introducing Rip. Now dogs like Rip are very good at two things in particular: the first is sniffing, dogs have a really good sense of smell they have over 300 million receptors in their little noses compared to just 6 million in our human noses. This means they're very good at sniffing out people that might be trapped under rubble during the Blitz. Dogs are also very good at listening. They have around 18 muscles in their furry little ears compared to just around 6 muscles in human ears, so this means they're really, really good at listening and hearing if anyone is trapped under rubble - and this is exactly what Rip did in London during the Blitz. Rip would sniff out and listen out for anyone that might be trapped under the rubble, and he would stay where he could hear or smell them and often, he would woof or bark to let the ARP wardens know that someone was trapped under the rubble.  

Now Rip also had a very important job - not just saving people but something that dogs do even today. Can you guess what that might be? Well, that is keeping us humans company and making sure our spirits are kept up. So, Rip the dog would often go and visit children in air-raid shelters to make sure that they were all tucked up and safe and he even enjoyed a spot of gardening in his spare time helping ARP wardens grow cabbages in their 'Dig for Victory' garden.  

Rip was such a brave dog that he was even awarded the Dickin Medal. The Dickin Medal is the highest medal of honour and bravery that an animal can receive in wartime, and it was founded during the Second World War by Maria Dickin, the animal welfare pioneer who founded the PDSA veterinary charity. Now lots of other animals have received the Dickin Medal including some other dogs, some horses some pigeons and even one cat. But Rip was so brave he was awarded his medal. So had it not been for the ARP wardens that took Rip in and trained him up, life would have been very different for Rip and the people that he met during the Second World War. Not bad for a stray.  

For our next story we're heading back even further in time to the First World War. Now when we think about animals from the First World War, we often think of the very brave horses that carried equipment for soldiers and the very clever little pigeons that would fly around the trenches and deliver messages. But what if I were to tell you that all sorts of animals were involved in the First World War, from elephants carrying really heavy shells for the army, to a poor little tortoise called Tommy who ended up with a piece of shrapnel stuck in his shell after an air raid, to even a very special animal that lives in the desert.  

The First World War took place over a hundred years ago and it affected the whole world and everyone in it including animals. Now some of you may know already that the First World War took place in trenches, but it also took place in some really faraway places like parts of Africa and the Middle East. Now if I were to say the word ANZAC to you, you might think of the delicious biscuit, but the word Anzac actually stands for something really important. Can you guess what that might be? 

Shall we tell them Rolly? 

Well, it stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and we recently had Anzac Day on the 25th of April, a day when we remember all the Australian and New Zealand soldiers that have fought in wars from the First World War to the present day. Now during the First World War lots of Anzac soldiers were stationed in parts of Africa and the Middle East. This meant they had to deal with some really difficult conditions like the desert where it would have been scorching hot and there would have been some creepy crawlies to deal with - yuck! 

With such difficult conditions to deal with Anzac soldiers needed all the help they could get from a very special animal indeed - an animal so extraordinary that they couldn't trek for months in the desert without even needing a drop of water. Can you guess what animal it might be? Well, it's camels. Camels are extraordinary creatures and in 1916 the Imperial Camel Corps was founded. Camels have lots of special skills including carrying water in the two humps on their backs, this means they can trek for months at a time in the scorching hot desert without needing a drink. Pretty handy when you're in the desert. Camels are also very tall and sturdy animals this means they're strong enough to carry lots of equipment and food and medicine that would have just been too heavy for soldiers to carry. Camels are also very good at trekking in the sand. Now have you ever tried to run on sand? It's pretty tricky but camels have really special flat hooves which means it's much easier for them to trek in the desert. Camels are also incredibly brave animals - they would help to carry injured soldiers who were fighting on the front line all the way back to hospitals that were stationed further away from where the fighting was taking place. Camels are just such amazing animals and not only because they have some incredible skills that us humans just simply don't have but they were also so brave and helpful for Anzac soldiers in the First World War. 

For our final story we're jumping forward in time back to the present day. Now you might think in more recent conflicts it all takes place with lots of high-tech modern equipment that's really complicated and really complex to use and needs lots of specially skilled people to operate - and you'd be right. But what if I were to tell you there's one very special little animal that's become one of the most bravest and smartest animals to be involved in recent war and conflict. Now this is an animal that often gets a bit of a bad reputation for being dirty or scary, but this unlikely animal is incredibly brave, and that animal is rats.  

Now when we think of rats in wartime, we often think of the First World War and the horrible conditions of the trenches which a lot of rats were involved in. But in more recent conflict rats have become incredibly special indeed. You would think that when the fighting stops the war ends but often in places where fighting has happened there are reminders of the war for many years later, this could include bomb damage to buildings, it could also mean that some weapons are left behind. These weapons could be live which means they haven't exploded yet and could be a real danger to people living in these areas after the fighting stops.  

In countries like Rwanda and Mozambique where the wars ended years ago there are still reminders of the fighting that took place - this includes landmines. Landmines are bombs buried in the ground that are triggered when you step on them. They're really difficult to spot which means they're very, very dangerous for people living in areas where fighting has taken place. It also means that specially trained people such as aid workers and soldiers have to work meticulously and very slowly, very carefully with high-tech specialist equipment such as metal detectors to make sure an area is clear of landmines stopping to inspect any suspicious ping. 

Enter the African pouched rat. Now they might have bad eyesight, but these rats have an incredible sense of smell they're also light enough so that if they were to tread on a landmine, they wouldn't set it off. This means aid workers and soldiers can train up these clever rats to use their very clever noses to sniff out TNT the explosive that's often used in landmines that to us humans doesn't smell of anything but not for the African pouched rat.  

Now these rats are so hard-working that they can even search up to 11 kilometres in just 20 minutes - that's an area that would take even the most specially skilled and trained person up to four days to search. This means that aid workers and soldiers who are working in places where recent conflict has happened can safely search for landmines and deactivate them which means the area will be safe for people to live in after the fighting has taken place. All thanks to the African pouched rat. 

So, we've talked about lots of different animals involved in war from dogs to more unusual animals like camels and rats. But what is it that makes all these animals so amazing? 

Well, the answer to that is that animals are already amazing - they can do things that even the most modern equipment and skilled humans just simply cannot do. They are also incredibly brave and this means us humans are very lucky to have them indeed. 

Have a think about your favourite animal and what it is about them that makes them so amazing. Could it be that they can fly high in the sky, they can swim underwater or if they're anything like Rolly then they're very good at sleeping. Now have a go at designing your own Top Trumps card about your favourite animal including what it is that makes them so amazing.  

We would love for you to share these with us on IWM's Facebook and Twitter accounts and if you head over there you can even see an example that I've made for Rolly. Hearing about these amazing animals in wartime might have left you with some questions so pop them in the comment section below or head over to IWM's Facebook and Twitter accounts.  

In next week's IWM's Adventures in History, you'll meet my friend Vicky, who will be telling you all about VE Day. Now we can't wait to welcome you back to the five sites of Imperial War Museums soon but in the meantime look after each other, stay safe and take care. Bye! 

Curriculum Links and Learning Objectives

  • KS3/4 - Challenges for Britain, Europe and the wider world 1901 to the present day. 

  • GCSE - Warfare and British society, c1250-Present.      

  • To learn about the roles animals play in war and conflict.                         

Animal Investigators

Family Mission: Animal Investigators 

Hello! My name is Clare and I work at Imperial War Museums. Except today, I’m not working at the museum – I’m working at home, with Roly! 

Now animals are amazing creatures, and they have some really special skills, including keeping our spirits up when times are tough. Especially during times of war and conflict. 

Now, for IWM’s Family Mission this week, we want YOU to become animal investigators! This means our collection is filled with photographs of amazing animals in wartime and we need you to investigate what is going on in those photographs. 

Now you could do this by writing a news report, writing a short story, or even recreating the image yourselves. You could do this with a beloved family pet, your favourite animal toy or even – a sibling! 

Now we would love for you to share your investigation findings with us on IWM’s Facebook and Twitter profiles. And if you need some inspiration, have a look in the post and thread below to see some examples from IWM staff. Bye! 


Animals are extraordinary creatures with amazing abilities, including keeping our spirits up during difficult times.

IWM experts Clare and Roly show you photos from IWM’s collections of animals in wartime. Each had a very specific job… but what were they?

Watch the mission briefing

Animals and the war effort

Private John Rudd of the 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment sitting at the roadside in a Korean village with his dog, which has been trained for guard duties.
Private John Rudd of the 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment sitting at the roadside in a Korean village with his dog, which has been trained for guard duties. © IWM BF 491

From a tiny mouse to a huge elephant - see 12 amazing photographs that show show some of the different ways animals have helped humans in wartime


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