The BC SPCA reminds us that, in addition to the men and women who have risked or lost their lives in times of war, millions of war animals have made contributions and sacrifices to war efforts as well.
In the First World War alone, it is estimated that eight million mules and horses were killed and another 2.5 million injured transporting soldiers, arms and supplies into battle. Dogs have also played a significant role in times of war, rescuing soldiers and civilians, delivering messages, acting as watchdogs and detecting dangerous gases, explosives and land mines, with some even parachuting behind enemy lines.
Along with horses and dogs, the list of types of animals employed in war is extensive, from birds and rodents sent into tunnels to detect poisonous gas to donkeys, reindeer and elephants used to carry heavy loads.
Animals have also been kept by military units as pets and mascots, offering comfort and companionship and helping to boost morale among troops. Cats have often fallen into this category, though they have also served by catching rats on ships and carrying messages around their necks onto the battlefield.
Even animals as small as glowworms have been used in war, as they gave off soft light that allowed soldiers to see maps and messages in the dark, without tipping off the enemy.
At both a national and international level, efforts have been made to officially commemorate the service of war animals. In London, the Animals in War Memorial in Hyde Park officially opened on Nov. 24, 2004; its inscription includes the words, “They had no choice.”
Taking its cue from the London memorial, the Canadian Animals in War Dedication was unveiled in Ottawa’s Confederation Park on Nov. 3, 2012.
Individual animals have also been honoured. The Dickin Medal, also known as the animals’ Victoria Cross, was established in 1943 to recognize animals who had shown “conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units.”