We’d like to mark the enormous sacrifice people and animals have given in times of war, sometimes without choice and often above and beyond the call of duty. This blog honours the many animals who have helped and continue to help safeguard our future.

Animals of War

by Santina Lizzio

Their blood stained the land, as they served with pride. A duty to their master, they stood side by side. From the sky, to the sea, through a vast open land, together they fought—both animal and man.

They flew through the sky, as messengers on wing dodging bombs and bullets, for salvation to bring. Their wings did strain, till their hearts near burst, they flew day and night, never fearing the worst.

They walked together midst a bomb spangled field, both dog and handler, neither one would yield. The bond and the friendships they shared through war, will live and be remembered for ever more.

Through the sand so fine, they lolloped to the fore they’re the ships of the desert, the Camel Corp. Over hills and through valleys, the line did twine as they carried their loads to the firing line.

Into combat they rode, both man and steed, through the fear of battle, they were a special breed. The mateship of horse and rider was strong made the parting in death, seem so heartless and wrong.

As beasts of burden, they were put to the test, with hearts filled with anguish, they gave their best. They died where they fell, while the others pulled on.

Are they lost in life’s story, can we still hear their song? The theatre of war—hell for animal and man whatever the cost, they cannot understand.

So remember them kindly, as you walk through life, for they too served proudly, to help make things right.

For the love of animals and remembrance

Remembrance underlines the enormous sacrifice people and animals have given in times of war, sometimes without choice and often above and beyond the call of duty. 

The Animals in War Memorial in London’s Park Lane by sculptor David Backhouse is a fitting tribute to all the animals that served, suffered and died alongside the British, Commonwealth and Allied forces in the wars and conflicts of the 20th century. A service of Remembrance is held every year with purple poppies worn to represent the special commemoration of animals. One of the inscriptions reads:

“This monument is dedicated to all the animals that served and died alongside British and Allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time.”

“They had no choice.”

The Animals in War Memorial, Park Lane, London

This blog takes inspiration from this along with poet Santina Lizzio’s words. It takes a brief look at the enormous contribution animals from every part of the world have made ~ and continue to make ~ to safeguard our future.

War horses

War Horse gave us an insight into the appalling fate of millions of horses and how many never made it back from the Great War. In total, eight million horses and countless mules and donkeys died in WW1. Many were commandeered from farms and ordinary people who said goodbye to their beloved – often essential – animals never to see them again. Amongst other things, they were used to transport ammunition and supplies to the front. Many died, not only from the horrors of shellfire but also in terrible weather and appalling conditions.

Although the use of horses had generally ceased by WW2, mules, noted for their incredible stamina in extreme climates and their ability to negotiate the most difficult of terrains, continued to be used. Consequently, in addition to their courageous service in the disgusting mud of the Western Front, they were commandeered to move equipment and supplies over steep, rocky terrain that was inaccessible by vehicles in the WW2 Italian Campaign such as at Monte Cassino. They also toiled unflinchingly in the oppressive heat of Burma, Eritrea and Tunisia. 

Dogs ~ forever by our sides

Dogs, with their supreme qualities of loyalty and intelligence, have served us faithfully in times of war, ever since we domesticated them. They are the only animal that has served throughout while others have come and gone. Initially against using dogs in WW1, the British government set up the British War Dog School in 1917. It was run by Lt-Col. Richardson who ensured the dogs were kindly trained with positive reinforcement techniques despite the dreadful irony that such gentle methods were being used for something so ultimately tragic.

Dogs were used for all sorts of things:

  • To deliver messages
  • As scouts to sniff out the enemy
  • To detect gas in trenches
  • For sentry and patrol works
  • To lay telegraph wires
  • As ratters
  • As mascots
  • To give emotional comfort to stressed and injured soldiers  

The government encouraged the public to donate their pet dogs, and strays were rounded up and recruited from places like Battersea Dogs Home. Those pet dogs – prime sniper targets – walked out onto the battlefield carrying first aid to soldiers who could self-administer to themselves and to their comrades. More gravely wounded soldiers would take solace from these ‘mercy dogs’ who would wait with them whilst they died. 

Dogs continue to be used today. Mine detection, locating improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in places like Afghanistan and digging out bomb victims have been to their duty list over the years.

GI Joe and other brave pigeons

An American pigeon called GI Joe of the United States Army Pigeon Service saved more than 1,000 lives in WW2 when he got a message through saying that the village of Calvi Vecchia that was about to be bombed had actually been recaptured by British forces. He was dispatched as a last resort and arrived at the airbase just in time to stop the Allied air force from bombing their own men.

In all, over 100,000 pigeons served Britain in WW1 and 200,000 in WW2 saving thousands of lives by carrying vital messages when other methods of communication failed or were cut off. Capable of flying at the astonishing rate of a mile a minute, these birds set out in all weathers from the front line, from behind enemy lines, and from planes and ships bravely carrying on even when severely wounded and exhausted, in order to deliver their vital messages.


Togo was the cat mascot of the battleship HMS Dreadnought in WW1. Cats have been kept onboard Royal Navy and merchant ships to hunt vermin and protect the food stores from rats – a role they have played throughout history. In 1949, Simon served as the ship’s mascot on HMS Amethyst and was key to dispatching rats on the ship during the Yangtse Incident. He continued despite being injured in a shell blast and was promoted to Able Seaman by the crew for his fierce bravery and loyalty. He’s the only cat to be awarded the PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) Dickin Medal (see below). See our regular blogger Anna Webb’s connection with Simon here.

More unusual war heroes

Tale of brave and loyal dogs, horses and pigeons are common, but there are some more unusual animals who have aided us in times of need:

  • Tirpitz the pig who was abandoned when the German cruiser SMS Dresden sank in March 1915. She managed to escape and swim away from the sinking vessel and was luckily spotted by the crew of HMS Glasgow who retrieved her from the water and adopted her as the ship’s mascot.
  • Dolphins have been used to locate underwater mines as well as rescue personnel and locate objects. The US Navy, for example, is known to have deployed dolphins in the two Gulf Wars and sea lions after the 9/11 attacks.
  • Camels were deployed in harsh desert terrain. For example, camels carried wounded men to safety on the North West Frontier of India in 1917. Camels were also used in the Sinai and Palestine campaigns. Their ability to carry heavy loads and go without water made them ideal.
  • Elephants ~ Kiri and Many were circus elephants in Hamburg, Germany that were used to clear wreckage after bombing raids.
  • Canaries​, along with mice, were deployed to detect noxious gas in the trenches
  • An African giant pouched rat named Magawa has been awarded the Dickin Medal for finding at least 39 landmines in Cambodia.

The Imperial War Museum links here and here highlight courageous individual animals who played a key wartime role and this link describes the ways in which animals from dogs to elephants have helped in wartime situations.

Looking after animal casualties

Our Dumb Friends League provided vital veterinary care for animal casualties from 1912. It was later renamed The Blue Cross Fund (and now the Blue Cross) after the colour of the flags flying above the animal hospitals and ambulances to distinguish them from The Red Cross. 

Along with sacrifice and terror, has also come an honouring

Many wear a purple poppy alongside the traditional red poppy to honour the animals who have paid the ultimate price. There are also many charities paying tribute to the role of animals used in war. For example, War Dogs Remembered was set up by the founder of Galen Myotherapy and CAM4animals supporter, Julia Robertson, to honour the role of the dogs at our sides in war – see our blog here.

Ralph the Cavapoo honouring his fellow dogs and other animals

The Dickin Medal was instituted in 1943 by PDSA founder, Maria Dickin, to honour the work of animals in WW2. It is the equivalent of the Victoria Cross and bears the words “For Gallantry” and “We also serve” . GI Joe seen above was presented with the medal in 1946. 

Kuno, the Belgian Shepherd Malinois

Kuno was a recipient of the Dicken Medal in 2020. His is an amazing example of true integrated veterinary care involving top class diagnostics and surgery along with rehabilitation supported by physiotherapy and hydrotherapy:

During their last tour of duty together, Kuno and his handler were deployed to support elite Special Boat Service (SBS) forces during a night raid targeting al-Qaeda extremists in Afghanistan when they found themselves part of an assault force pinned down by grenade and machine gunfire. Kuno – aided by his night-vision goggles – was sent in to break the deadlock.  Without him bravely charging through a hail of bullets to tackle the gunman, there would have undoubtedly been casualties, but Kuno’s unhesitating action enabled the mission to be successful.  

Sadly though, in coming under fire, he was wounded in both back legs. His handler, along with medics, gave him life-saving treatment as they helicoptered out of the area, but he was to need several operations before he could return to the UK. Unfortunately, one paw had to be amputated to prevent a life-threatening infection from taking hold.

The RAF flew Kuno back to the UK with his own inflight Royal Army Veterinary Corps(RAVC) team in attendance. He was taken to the Defence Animal Training Regiment (see below) for major reconstructive surgery. This was overseen by one of the world’s leading canine surgery specialists, Professor Dick White of Dick White Referrals (one of the largest specialist veterinary centres in Europe) who is also Special Professor of Small Animal Surgery at the University of Nottingham Vet School. 


With a whole team of Army vets, veterinary nurses and canine physiotherapists, assisted by staff from the University of Nottingham, Kuno was taken through the long process of rehabilitation to restore function to his nerves and muscles in exactly the same way as any injured service personnel would be. Physiotherapy and hydrotherapy were key to the success of his treatment – Kuno was said to have especially liked the hydro sessions!

Eventually Kuno was able to be fitted with an innovative and pioneering custom-made prosthesis to replace his missing paw, as well as an orthotic brace to support his injured limb – the first military dog to have such help.  Now retired and rehomed, Kuno is able to live life to the full thanks to the wonderful treatment and dedication of all the vets and practitioners who helped him. 

The Defence Animal Training Regiment – our modern day serving animals

The Defence Animal Training Regiment, at Melton Mowbray, currently takes care of our military animals and includes Training Squadrons for dogs and horses and a Veterinary Training Squadron. There are around 230 dogs on site, with 150 under training, 60 dogs supporting soldier/airperson courses and some 20 ‘in-patients’ receiving veterinary care and rehabilitation. In addition, the centre cares for up to 360 horses, some are required for courses or are awaiting retirement and others are veterinary in-patients referred for care. The remaining horses are ‘resting and recuperating’ between state ceremonial events.

While the role of animals in British military activities has changed very little over the past 50 years, the equipment now available has enhanced the animals’ roles and made their jobs safer. At the same time, identifying how best to deploy military animals is constantly evolving. Understanding how dogs detect, for instance, is helping the military to improve the way they are trained and enhances the scope of the animal’s accuracy and ability.

Military animals are retired at the end of their service lives. This is usually after some time with specialist trainers for ‘de-training’ and preparing them for rehoming within the civilian population or with ex-military dog handlers. Horses are generally retired with equine charities that strive to offer them the relaxing retirement they deserve.

See this short video from Forces TV, about where these extraordinary animals are trained, literally, to save lives.

Isobel Hunt

Isobel is a Co-Founder and active CAM4animals supporter along with her Jack Russell who has integrated veterinary care. She has a background in wildlife conservation and writing, and is passionate about the importance of addressing animal welfare and environmental issues.

Disclaimer – Where blogs have been created by a guest author, CAM4Animals has reproduced this in good faith but cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies of information in it or any use you make of this information

The veterinary Surgeon’s Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (usually other than your own*) by anyone other than a qualified vet. Always consult a veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your animal’s health. *For full details visit the RCVS website