Page 14 - Chiron Spring 2018
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   the wounded, some even tried to drag the wounded back whilst others lay beside the gravely wounded providing some physical warmth and moral comfort. Casualty dogs could also work at night and in fog making good use of their training.
In the French army and especially the Belgian army they were used extensively as draught dogs pulling small carts with general supplies, ammunition and machine guns; Italy also used draught dogs (St. Bernards) to pull carts and sledges, and on occasions pack saddles were used on steep ground in snow, whilst imported Alaskan huskies were similarly used by French troops. This ability to carry a small load also enabled them to be used to carry spools of telephone wire to relay lines damaged by shellfire. Mines and other buried explosives were also detected by the superior scenting ability of military dogs.
At the end of World War 1, it was estimated that 7,000 dogs were thought to have lost their lives. That number is disputed however, and the United States Veterinary Corps put the total deaths at 16,000. France destroyed 15,000 war dogs whilst the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Italy and Russia also destroyed many; thus the actual total of dogs destroyed after the war is unknown.
Two factors impeded the successful return of British war dogs – rabies quarantine requirements together with the costs of transport and kennelling for that period of six months. The RSPCA defrayed these costs for 542 dogs for individual soldiers and sailors, approved by the with Army Council, whilst Battersea Dogs Home built new kennels to accommodate 452 dogs from France, 25 from Salonika, 15 from Egypt and 10 from Italy. Even so, several dogs were illegally and improperly smuggled in and rabies broke out in Plymouth, South Wales, London and the Home Counties in 1918.
The appalling conditions in the trenches along the Western Front were not alone in that together with Gallipoli and the Italian Front another undesirable and horrific
aspect was present; huge rats in their thousands were everywhere, feeding upon the discarded ration tins and also upon decomposing bodies of the dead soldiers. They carried disease and were known to even run over wounded and sleeping soldiers. It was forbidden to waste ammunition in shooting them, as it never ever reduced the numbers, and so terriers became the best method of control.
Regimental or unit mascots have been known for a long time taking part in ceremonial parades and were much loved by the soldiers, and many were serving before the outbreak of the Great War.
The horrors endured by soldiers in all theatres of that war were unimaginable to those who did not experience them and it
“The horrors endured by soldiers in all theatres of that war were unimaginable to those who did not experience them”
not surprising that men clung to anything that offered some degree of psychological comfort and detachment from the violence around them. Men became attached to their animals be they horse, mule, donkey or dog as the companionship of a trusting animal was intensely personal and was often regarded as an extension of the soldier’s own being. Mascots abounded throughout the Army and stray dogs as well as military dogs, horses, mules and even pigeons were treated with genuine affection as they offered some moments of escapism reminding the soldiers of their home life before the war when things were normal and acceptable.
The RFC and Royal Navy were no strangers to mascots with a pet fox being kept by a Royal Flying Corps squadron. Royal Navy ships have almost always had
Austro-Hungarian dog unit hauling supplies
Belgian Army dog cart with Hotchkiss machine gun
Rats caught after 15 mins in a French trench –1916
a ship’s cat and wartime did not stop this tradition.
Some mascots were out of the ordinary and a baboon [South African Scottish regiment], an eagle [in the Balkans], goats, donkeys, kangaroos, bears and rabbits, chickens and geese have all been documented as well as a pig.
Mascots were exposed to the hardships of the battlefield just as the men and other military animals and the wounding or even loss of an animal was keenly felt. Anecdotes are numerous but it is the emotional attachment that encouraged the repatriation of many mascots after the war ended to be pets or just to have a peaceful life.
Rags was a Cairn terrier mix who served as the mascot of the US 1st Infantry Division during World War I. He “joined up” in 1917 in France and held his title until his death in 1931. His greatest moment of heroism came during the Meuse-Argonne Campaign in 1918, when he ran a vital message through falling bombs; although the terrier was gassed and partially blinded, he survived.
‘Sergeant Jimmy’, a donkey borne in 1916 during the Battle of the Somme and was wounded three times during the war learned to raise his hoof to those soldiers who cared for him and raised thousands of pounds for the RSPCA after the end of the war.
A large pig kept was on board SMS DRESDEN, a German light cruiser that barely escaped the Battle of the Falkland Islands in 1915 only to be scuttled on Robinson Crusoe Island. The pig was spotted in the sea and taken aboard HMS GLASGOW, adopted by the crew as a mascot and named Tirpitz, after Grossadmiral Alfred von Tirpitz. Staying aboard for a year it was eventually transferred, after quarantine, to a shore station in Portsmouth. Auctioned off for a charity in 1919 he raised £1785 for the Red Cross. His stuffed head now resides in the Imperial War Museum.

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