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Four-Legged Soldiers

Updated on November 8, 2014

Animals in War

Since man lived amongst man there have been wars. And in these wars there were always animals who played important roles. This lens is a preview of the unit study that looks at some of these animals that were in war. In a mix of fun and learning this unit study can inspire further learning.


Alexander the Great of Macedonia was one of the first great horse warriors. The Cavalry of the nineteenth century was the most important part of any battle. And mounted soldiers were still used during World War I. Cats have served aboard warships for hundreds of years. More than 2000 years ago the Romans carried pigeons into battle and from that point on they were continued to be used in war. Dog soldiers have been involved in uprisings for hundreds of years. From Queen Elizabeth I battle against the Irish rebellion in 1560 with the help of 8000 mastiffs to Napoleon guard dogs chained to the city of Alexandria. Dogs served in the American Civil War, both World Wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.


Thousands of dogs have served in wartime with various missions as guards, messengers, lay telephone wires, pull wagons, sniff out trip wires, booby traps and explosives. The horse was used as a vehicle in war. They gave warriors the height and speed that could overwhelm the enemy. They pulled cars, carried troops, rode into battle and even fought themselves by trampling, kicking and stomping the enemy. Armies also used mules and donkeys to carry heavy loads. Camels transported people and equipment in the Middle East and in North Africa during World War One. Cats were also considered good luck to have on board ship and heir job was to catch the mice, rats and other pests that threatened the food supplies. Pigeons were able to go where no one else could get through and by doing this could provide communication links that would normally not exist.

The Animals in War Memorial is inscribed:

"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."

A Menagerie of Mascots

Animal Mascots in War

Animal mascots held a place during the wars for various purposes. First of all, they were considered to be good luck. Often, mascots would represent the soldiers' homeland, especially for those far from home. The native animals would symbolize national pride. For example some Australian troops smuggled in kangaroos and koala bears in their backpacks to keep them connected to their home. The 8th Wisconsin troop had an eagle named Old Abe as a mascot in their camp.

designed by Sandra Wilson
designed by Sandra Wilson
source Australian War Memorial
source Australian War Memorial

Help for the wounded

Ambulance dogs and donkeys in the war

Ambulance dogs were sent to carry food and medical supplies to injured soldiers in No Man's Land (the area between the trenches of the two fighting armies). Mercy dogs learned to bring back a soldier's helmet or a scrap of uniform to show they found a soldier in need of help. Murphy was an award winning donkey who, with the help of Private John Simpson of the 3rd Field Ambulance, Australian Army Medical Corps, would pick up wounded soldiers and carry them back to the hospital tent. Simpson was shot and killed while saving a wounded soldier but Duffy was able to bring the injured man to safety and first aid. Some animals lived in or frequently visited hospital wards to bring comfort to the wounded. Birds, dogs and cats all were able to uplift spirits and therefore help in the healing process.

photo by Sandra Wilson
photo by Sandra Wilson

Left Behind

Animals after the war

After the war, many animals got left behind either for reasons of quarantine, desire of the country to not have them return or simply because of the difficulties getting back. For some cities, this meant an influx of foreign animals to their zoos. But for some animals it meant abandonment in a strange country. Although some animals found homes with local townsfolk, others were killed or left to fend on their own as strays.

The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada runs with the ideal that "Compassion and respect for people, animals and the rest of the natural world are vital, as is the recognition of the interdependence of all living things. " They Sanctuary takes in Donkeys, hinnies and mules that are to be destroyed, are being abused and that just need somewhere to go. There are over 100 of these animals at the farms. A visit to the Sanctuary encourages visitors of all ages, to appreciate the animals as well as the principles the farm is run by.

To find out more about the Donkey Sanctuary, or to donate to the cause go to Donkey Sanctuary of Canada

The Donkey Sanctuary - Guelph, Ontario, Canada

Click thumbnail to view full-size

War Horse - the movie

Try it Yourself

The full version of Four-Legged Soldiers and animals in war unit study has now been released.

For the complete unit study message us through hedremp at yahoo dot ca

Comments on my page? - Thanks for reading!

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      happynutritionist 5 years ago

      Excellent, really enjoyed this page. Such an important topic, to remember how animals help man...and they don't have a choice about the matter like we do most of the time.

    • Brandi Bush profile image

      Brandi 5 years ago from Maryland

      This is a very heartfelt and emotional lens. I loved reading about the Donkey Sanctuary in Canada...awesome! :)

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      AlleyCatLane 5 years ago

      Great idea for a lens. Enjoyed it and your quiz.