Remembering the war time service of animals

Sarah Rae Murray is a writer, former veterinary practice receptionist and an advocate for all animals. 

Remembrance Day gives us the opportunity to recognize and honour the service and sacrifices of our war veterans. This Remembrance Day marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. As we pay our respects, we’d also like to take a moment to reflect on animals in war. 

Animals held a variety of roles during wartime. From mascots to messengers, they were combat comrades and true companions for many soldiers. Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, writer of the renowned poem “In Flander’s Fields,” served with both his horse, Bonfire, and his dog, Bonneau.  Historical accounts of the war offer numerous examples of the way the human-animal bond flourished in these devastating conditions.

Unfortunately, not all animals were treated as valued companions. They were also treated as objects of utility. The First World War began to inspire talk of animal rights and saw military personnel advocating for the humane treatment of war animals. 

To remember our fallen war animals, we must reflect on their service. Here are some of the animals that served on the front lines and what their duties entailed:


When you consider animals in war, horses are probably the first to come to mind. Horses were used in the First World War to transport soldiers, artillery, and supplies. This war resulted in the heart wrenching number of 8 million equine fatalities. This number would’ve been even higher had it not been for veterinary organizations. Britain’s Royal Army Veterinary Corps treated over 2.5 million injured horses during World War I.


An estimated 20,000 dogs served in the First World War as messengers, medical assistants, search and rescue aids, bomb and gas detectors, and mascots. When necessary, they were even given respirators and parachuted behind enemy lines to alert on explosives and dangerous gases. They were also compassionate companions that brought comfort to both soldiers and civilians. To this day, the Canadian Armed Forces continues to enlist the help of military dogs.


In naval history, cats were ship’s helpful mascots. They protected food supplies and sailor’s health by catching rats. Cats were also found in the trenches on the front lines of battle. They once again helped control rat populations but they were also highly valued for their companionship and kept as pets in an attempt to create a sense of home.

Carrier Pigeons:

These birds have both a keen directional sense and can fly at speeds up to 100 km/h. Pigeons carried important message from the front lines to headquarters. Their speed allowed them to escape even expert marksmen’s bullets.


These fascinating creatures emit a soft light through the natural phenomenon of bioluminescence. Soldiers used this subtle glow to safely read letters, messages, and maps at night without compromising their location.

“Animals in War Dedication.” Government of Canada, 2018, Web.

Kaknevicius, Ariana. “Animals that played a part in the First World War.” Canadian Geographic, 2014, Web.

Knapp, Jessica. “Animals in war.” Canada’s History Society, 2018, Web.

 Veteran Affairs Canada. “Tales of Animals in War: The Road to Peace.” Government of Canada, 2018, Web.

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