Animals in War: They didn’t volunteer – they had no choice

This Sunday’s Remembrance parades help us reflect how lucky we are; paying our respects to those brave heroes who fought for us in every bloody battle, conflict, and terrible war.

But does anyone consider those poor animals that helped bring us peace, chosen by mankind for war? They didn’t volunteer – they had no choice.

Horses, one of the most useful all-purpose methods of transport, formed the Cavalry drawing artillery. Eight million died during the Great War from disease, starvation, or exposure; one of man’s most loyal servants reduced to shivering bags of skin and bones – even chewing their own rugs for food.

Oxen, mules, and donkeys were used for carrying supplies, arms, and our wounded, with camels and elephants better suited to deserts, mountains and tropics. Mules serving in the jungle had their vocal cords severed, ensuring their braying would not betray Allied positions to the enemy.

Sniffer dogs suffered high casualty rates searching for mines and trip-wires, while the remainder ripped their paws to shreds scrabbling through rubble searching for survivors. Para-dogs were dropped behind enemy lines, and the Soviet Army strapped explosives to their dogs’ making them anti-tank weapons (pictured).

Animals were pitted against other animals, e.g. carrier pigeons attacked by German hawks, with some 100,000 pigeons killed from 1914-18. Cats controlled mice and rat populations on warships, canaries would alert sappers to gas, and the little known glow-worms provided World War I soldiers with invaluable soft light to read their maps by before going over the top.

We must never forget. Not them, nor anyone or anything else that has made unimaginable sacrifices for every single one of us alive today.

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