• Animals in War Dedication in Ottawa

    Animals in War Dedication in Ottawa. (Photo: Jessica Toczko)

When the First World War broke out, young men rushed to recruitment offices, patriotism surging through their bodies, eager to fight for their country.

Animals, particularly the war horse, were also hurried to the front lines to aid soldiers in battle. But there was one main difference between the two: animals had no choice.

Animals in War Dedication in Ottawa. (Photo: Jessica Toczko)

During the First World War, eight million horses were killed and another 2.5 million were injured as they transported soldiers and supplies to the battlefields.

These horses were taken from the rolling plains of the United States and Canada, as well as the fields and factories of Britain, and were shipped off to places filthy and unfamiliar.

“(The First World War) was fought in muck and crud,” says Lloyd Swick, Canadian war veteran and founder of the Animals in War Dedication Project. “In conditions where trucks were useless, any movement would have had to come from the pulling power of our horses.”

The light draught horse acted as the Army’s logistic support – they pulled supporting artillery and supplies, as well as wagons and ambulances.

The heavy draught horse, with a greater and sturdier build, pulled larger artillery pieces, but eventually was replaced when the weapons of war became so massive that only motor vehicles had the power to move them.

According to Swick, many of these horses were left in the care of those who did not know how to tend to them. There would often be a shortage of hay, a lot of it being trampled into the mud, leaving the horses starved. Shelter was scarce and the animals were left out to endure all types of weather.

Swick’s father-in-law served with the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps and recalled having difficulty trying to calm down the trauma-struck war animals. When he looked up in their eyes, there was absolute fear.

But fear or not, these animals kept on fighting. To honour their bravery, the Animals in War Dedication Monument was unveiled in Ottawa’s Confederation Park on Nov. 3, 2012.

Animals in War Dedication in Ottawa. (Photo: Jessica Toczko)

Horses may have brought the guns, but emotional support and dependable communication were just as necessary. Here are a few other animals that helped win the war.

Dogs and Cats: Fitted with gas masks and parachuted behind enemy lines when necessary, dogs played an important role in detecting dangerous gases, explosives and landmines, as well as rescuing or keeping watch of soldiers and civilians. They also laid down lines of communication from reels strapped to their backs. Both dogs and cats carried messages onto the battlefield with notes around their necks. To help normalize the difficult war environment for the troops and boost morale, both were kept as mascots and pets.

Carrier Pigeons: Flying up to 100 kilometres per hour through harsh weather conditions and direct gunfire, carrier pigeons used their keen sense of direction to deliver life-saving messages. Pigeon service units were made up of tens of thousands of birds.

Glowworms: In the dark, soldiers were able to use the soft lights of glowworms to read maps and messages, as well as comforting letters from home, without being detected by the enemy.