Animals in War Book of Postcards
Over the last century, animals have been a vital resource during conflicts, performing a variety of roles from basic transport to searching for explosives. It is estimated that 16 million animals served in the First World War alone. While increasing mechanisation during that conflict meant that the use of ambulances and troop lorries to the front became more common in place of horse-drawn transport, this was not to be the end of animals in the front line. In the years since then mules, elephants, camels and horses, amongst others, have transported men, munitions, rations, equipment and field artillery across difficult terrain. In the Second World War, messenger pigeons proved a vital tool of communication, with more than 200,000 carrier pigeons used by Britain’s armed forces and secret service organisations.
Dogs have guarded military personnel and property, tracked down the enemy, sniffed out explosives and been sent into no man’s land to locate trapped and wounded soldiers. More recently, rats and pigs have also been trained to clear minefields, and the dolphin’s sensitive sonar has been exploited to identify mines in the Persian Gulf.
Over time, the contribution of animals in conflicts has become more widely acknowledged, and in 1943, the Dickin Medal was established for this purpose. Named after Maria Dickin, the founder of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), it was popularly known as the ‘Animals’ Victoria Cross’. Between 1943 and 1949, Dickin Medals were awarded to 54 animals, including 32 pigeons, 18 dogs, 3 horses and 1 cat, for ‘displaying conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.’ The most recent Dickin Medal was awarded to a search dog, a black Labrador called Sadie, for her work in searching for arms and explosives in Afghanistan.
Alongside their contribution on official duties, animals have also been much valued as mascots, figures of good luck and a source of comfort for those on active service.
- On board the Polish destroyer ORP Piorun, the ship’s pet cats, <0x017B>aba (Frog) and Tygrys (Tiger), are being encouraged to make friends with a stowaway. 1940.
- Pluto, the HMS Cossack’s mascot, with some of the ship’s company. 1940.
- Moving day for some of the men of the Royal Navy, Sydney, Australia. Petty Officer Irvine Farrell’s pet cockatoo, Percy, is not forgotten. 1945.
- Venus, the bulldog mascot of the destroyer HMS Vansittart. 1941.
- Sailors surround the ship’s cat, Convoy, as he sleeps in a miniature hammock on board HMS Hermione, in Gibraltar. 1941.
- One Royal Air Force squadron in France has adopted a lamb as a mascot. The squadron promptly named the lamb Aloysius. 1939.
- The ship’s kitten (born in a wardrobe of an officer’s cabin) looks out on the world through a scuttle on board the destroyer HMS Kelvin. 1941.
- On board the British battlecruiser HMS Hood, two members of the crew with their mascot, Bill, a bull terrier. 1940.
- An airman in the Second World War smiles for the camera while a baby magpie—the troopship’s mascot—perches on his cap. 1940.
- A British soldier and a mule on the Western Front. 1914–1918.
- Sergeant B Furst of No. 310 (Czechoslovak) Squadron, RAF, is greeted by the squadron mascot on returning to Duxford, Cambridgeshire. 1940.
- An Australian soldier near Shellal, Egypt, demonstrates how docile his camel is by putting his wrist in its mouth. 1917.
- On the wing of a Supermarine Spitfire Mk IIA, at Rochford, Kent, sits Commanding Officer R F Boyd with the squadron mascot, Crash. 1941.
- A member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service waits for her train. She is accompanied by a dog identified as the unit mascot. 1944.
- This small, tame mule belongs to the Royal Naval Division, Gallipoli campaign. It roams about but comes back at mealtimes. 1915–1916.
- Flight Sergeant James Hyde, serving with No. 132 Squadron, RAF, is pictured at Detling, Kent, with Dingo, the squadron commander’s dog. 1943.
- Aircraftman D Jull’s pet cockatoo, Jake, is on duty with his owner and the Visual Control Post crew at Sourabaya (Soerabaja), Java. 1945.
- Tygrys (Tiger), a dog mascot serving in Britain with Polish gunners of American descent, is at the breach of the 25-pounder field gun. 1940–1947.
- Transport for the Devonshire Regiment, with troops and horses resting near Fricourt, France. 1916.
- Nurses at the St John Ambulance Hospital at Étaples, France, waiting to see Queen Mary of Teck, 6 July 1917. One of the nurses is holding Billy, the hospital’s mascot.
- A British soldier on the Western Front, ‘shaking hands’ with a kitten on a snowy bank, Neulette, France. 1917.
- The puppy mascot of Motor Machine Gun Corps unit, seated on a Vickers machine gun, manned by a troop of the regiment, Western Front. 1915.
- The monkey mascot of the Third Army Trench Mortar School, shown on a captured German trench mortar at Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise, France. 1917.
- An officer of the Tank Corps with his pet dog on a Douglas 348cc motorcycle, Neulette, France. 1918.
- A General Service Corps officer with cages of canaries from evacuated villages, seen at Neulette, France. 1918.
- A member of Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps peers out of a tent with a pet dog in her arms in Crecy Forest, France. 1918.
- A staff officer of the 36th Division plays with a kitten outside his dugout at Essigny, France. 1918.
- A naval rating holding a dog, one of the mascots on HMS Royal Oak during the First World War.
- A British officer of the Army Veterinary Corps in the Salonika campaign (Greece) with his pets: two jackdaws, a wild goose, a wolf cub and an Alsatian dog. 1916.
- A British officer (First World War) wearing fighting kit, with a puppy in his pocket.