“Animals at war”

“Dogs were also used to pull small artillery pieces and machine guns, sometimes in harness just like sled dogs.”

Jeff Goodall “Fight Back”: Canada Free Press, November 11th, 2002.


It is becoming a habit for me to write at this time of the year about family members who paid the supreme sacrifice during the Great War or World War II, but this year I am not prepared to do any research into the fates of various family members. It hurts too much, and is emotionally difficult for me. But, it is Remembrance Day, so I will approach the subject from a different standpoint.

Several times recently, my cat Deva has tried to pull the poppy off my jacket lapel. To her, it is a bright, pretty toy that she wants to play with, and perhaps carry off to the secret hiding place where all her favourite playthings are kept. For me, of course, the poppy means a great deal more, and she cannot have it until after Remembrance Day. But, her innocent curiosity and determination remind me of the role, which a surprising number of different animals have played in wartime activities.

The best known would be horses, used as beasts of burden during the Great War before the internal combustion engine was brought into full use. It was often wondered in the post-war British Army why artillery crews had one man positioned off to one side, down on one knee and not required to do anything as the artillery piece was positioned and fired. Sometime after the Second World War, it was discovered that the man’s job was to hold the horses, long-gone due to mechanisation. Nobody had thought to up-date the manual.

Also used were carrier pigeons and dogs, to deliver written messages. Both were targets, with soldiers killing them on sight in order to interdict the enemy’s communications, and to obtain information. Dogs were also used to pull small artillery pieces and machine guns, sometimes in harness just like sled dogs. Bloodhounds were used to locate wounded soldiers, and were the fore-runners of the “sniffer-dogs” used today to locate people buried under collapsed buildings. Camels were also used as beasts of burden, and many of them survive to this day in the American southwest, a living legacy of the U.S. Cavalry’s surprising failure to find a suitable use for them.

Army regiments, navy vessels and air squadrons all had their mascots, many of which died along with their patrons. A particularly unfortunate animal was a cat, the mascot of the USS Monitor, which sank off Cape Hatteras in a severe gale while under tow around the end of the American Civil War. According to the written statement of one of the survivors, the cat, which was greatly distressed by the events and was howling and jumping on the sailors, was grabbed and thrown down the barrel of a cannon and the plug replaced. The ship sank soon afterward.

The message on November 11 is always one of Remembrance. And, we should also remember the many innocents, not human, who suffered and died alongside their masters.

Jeff Goodall worked for the Metro Treasury and City Finance Departments for 25 years, and served as a member of the CUPE Local 79 Executive Board for 14 of those years.

See original here.