A Time to Remember: Animal Soldiers

holly-fisher-1BY HOLLY FISHER
Staff  Writer, UAS Whalesong

Throughout history, animals have played key roles in many human narratives. While the work of horses in World War I is well remembered, they were only one of numerous animals to fill out the ranks. Dogs, pigeons, goats, and others served as messengers, mascots, gas-detectors, and more. Herein are a small number of the most famous animals to serve in the Great War.

Sergeant Stubby is perhaps the most famous dog of the conflict, earning notable commendations and ranks. A homeless native of Connecticut, the mostly-Boston Terrier mutt was made the mascot of the 26th Yankee Division. He served with them for eighteen months in France, participating in seventeen battles during his tour of duty. Stubby was invaluable for his ability to smell poison gas, hear falling artillery, and locate wounded men in no man’s land. He was also solely responsible for the capture of a German spy in the French Argonne Forest. He held the man by the seat of his pants until guards arrived, earning him the rank of sergeant. He received so many commendations that both soldiers and citizens made several jackets to hold his medals. He died peacefully in his sleep in 1926. Sgt. Stubby’s skin was mounted on a plaster cast and placed in the Smithsonian in 1956. He is viewable along with the taxidermy pigeon Cher Ami (mentioned in the “Lost battalion” article last issue.)

Philly, also a wartime canine, has a special claim that stands out from other dogs on the front. The small mixed-breed pup was such an effective guard against German sneak attacks that the enemy soldiers put out a bounty of fifty papiermarks for her death. Despite this, she survived gassings and shellings, and lived to march in the victory parade after the war. A sergeant from the unit she served with adopted her, and the four puppies she had had while in the trenches. When Philly passed away in 1932, she was mounted, and came to be housed in the Philadelphia History Museum.

Warrior, “the horse the Germans couldn’t kill”, survived serving for the entire duration of the war. Coming from the Isle of Wight, Warrior was requisitioned into the British Army in 1914, and did not return to his home until 1918. He was targeted with bullets and bayonets, subject to bombings, and survived his stable burning down around him twice. He served at the Somme and at Ypres, and gained a status halfway between mascot and myth. He and his rider, General Jack Seely, were incredibly attached to each other, and continued to be so until Warrior’s death in 1941 at the age 33.

Sergeant Bill was a cart-pulling goat in Saskatchewan until the 5th Canadian Battalion adopted him as a mascot. His time with the soldiers was half hilarity, half heroism. He was “arrested” on multiple occasions for stealing rations and military equipment, and drank canteen beer to wash down the important documents he had eaten. Despite his off-time behavior, he was responsible for several multiple impressive feats on the battlefield. He is best remembered for saving three soldiers by aggressively head-butting them into a trench and out from under the artillery shell. He returned to Canada after the war, and lived out the rest of his life in a quiet pasture.

Lizzie, a trained circus elephant, was put to work in an English steel factory to make up for the shortage of horses due to the war. She mainly transported heavy items around the city of Sheffield, helping keep the vital production running. She was known for causing mischief, such as taking apples from schoolboy’s pockets, and reaching through windows for pies. Her antics made her much beloved by the people of the city, who fed her treats whenever possible. No one knows exactly what became of Lizzie after the war, though it is assumed she either kept working for the steel factories, or returned to the circus.

Though other species of animals did not produce specific, namable heroes, they all contributed to the war effort with the same stalwart determination.

Cats controlled rat and mice populations in trenches and on ships, while also keeping morale up by providing company and comfort. Carrier Pigeons served as both communication and surveillance, filling in where no person or technology could. Camels were employed to transport the wounded from the front lines of many non-European battlefields, making up for a lack of horses to haul ambulance wagons. Common garden slugs proved to be incredibly effective gas detectors, and were placed throughout the trenches to protect soldiers from the horrors of gas poisoning. The European Glowworm was used to light trenches bright enough for reading and planning, but not bright enough to make the reader a target of enemy snipers.

No matter what their duty was, animal veterans served in their roles with great courage and distinction. Like many of their human counterparts, they made the best of bad situations, and followed their instincts to get themselves and others through the Great War.

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