Submitted by Brian Roulston
For as long as there have been wars, animals have aided military personnel with transportation, communications, and companionship. They too deserve to be recognized and remembered for their heroic efforts, just as we remember our fallen soldiers on November 11th.
Purple Poppies are widely worn throughout Australia on November 11th, while in the United Kingdom the purple poppy has been replaced by a Purple Paw that is often worn year around.
In Ottawa a life size statue of a medical service dog, wearing a WW11 backpack made specifically for K9’s stands faithfully on guard over ‘The Animals in War Dedication’ at Confederation Park. Footprints of a dog, a horse and a mule are pressed in cement to represent the marks they left on the battlefield. Three bronze plaques provide interesting details of their wartime roles. This dedication sits strategically next to the ‘South African War Memorial’ which honors the 50,000 horses Canada supplied to fight in the Boer War from 1899 thru 1902.
Cavalries of horses have carried men into battle while facing arrows, bullets and charging enemies until WWI when too many horses were lost as machines changed the dynamics of warfare. Donkeys, mules, and camels, in addition to horses continued to carry water, food, ammunition, and medical supplies to the men on the front lines.
In battles before the world wars, elephants were set behind the front lines and were charged with their waving trunks into enemy territory once the initial wave battled through, scaring enemy forces into retreat. Arrows, sticks and other small projectiles were no match for the elephants thick skin and merely bounced off them. This tactic worked well until the Romans realized squealing hogs would scare the elephants and used them as a counter-measure. When cannons were invented they were effective against war elephants. Elephants still remained crucial during the world wars. At first there were elephant mounted machine guns, but they were much more suitable for clearing paths by pushing and shoving trees, rocks and other obstacles in areas that machines could not get to. In some cases where machines could get in, they were simply out muscled by these mighty beasts.
When communications were severed dogs and carrier pigeons delivered sometimes vital messages. Cats were used in the trenches, aboard merchant and fighting ships as rat killers. They were great morale boosters as well.
It should be remembered that sadly, unlike soldiers, animals were not asked to join these wars. We will never know the true extent or the numbers of the animal lives that were taken. It is estimated that over 16 million animals served in WWI. Eight million horses died in that war.
In order to conserve food rations and prevent suffering the National Air Raid Precautions Animals Committee (NARPAC) was established in Britain and advised that domestic animals be released into the countryside or euthanized prior to the start of World War II by their owners or guardians. 750,000 animals, mainly cats & dogs, were put down the first week after that notice appeared in newspapers across the U.K.
It is hoped that there will be a day when there are no wars; a day that no man or animal shall have to suffer the brutality of war. This is worth praying for….