Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Dogs' WW1 jobs uncovered in records

Part of a page from the Tamworth Herald dated Saturday August 22, 1914 Image copyright PA
Image caption Dogs equipped with first aid kits were trained to seek out the wounded on the battlefields

Up to 20,000 dogs were trained for front-line duties during World War One, newly uncovered records have shown.

The canines carried aid to the wounded, took messages between the lines and sniffed out enemy soldiers.

Their roles were deemed so important that in the early months of 1917 the War Office formed the War Dog School of Instruction in Hampshire to train them.

They were also used for pulling machine guns and equipment.

A collection of old newspapers, which has been made available on the family history website findmypast.co.uk, reveals how the animals lived in the trenches.

Many, about 7,000, had been family pets, while others were recruited from dogs' homes or came from police forces.

Sentinel dogs were trained to stand quietly on the top of the trench alongside their master's gun barrel, in order to let the soldiers know if anyone attempted to approach the barbed wire.

'Heart-wrenching'

One report, from the Dundee Evening Telegraph in 1916, describes the skills: "A watchdog never barks; at the most he will use a low growl to indicate the presence or approach of a hostile force.

"More often than not the mere pricking of the ears or the attitude of expectancy is sufficient to put his master on his guard."

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Sunday Post described how dogs were used on "outpost duty" at the front
Image copyright PA
Image caption Dash, the border collie, was the regimental mascot of B Company 1st Regiment 6th Black Watch
Image copyright PA
Image caption Huge kennels were built to house the dogs - these are for ambulance and sentry dogs near the front in the north of France
Image copyright PA
Image caption Bloodhounds and Airedale terriers were among those trained to seek out the wounded on the battlefields
Image copyright PA
Image caption Dogs were also used to transport both equipment and soldiers - this dog team was used by the French on the Vosges front in eastern France
Image copyright PA
Image caption This was the French Red Cross section, which also had dogs trained to find injured soldiers

A Lt Col Richardson, the man in charge of running the War Dog School of Instruction, was quoted in the the Aberdeen Evening Express in 1918 as saying: "The skill, courage and tenacity of these dogs has been amazing.

"During heavy barrages, when all other communications have been cut, the messenger dogs have made their way, and in many cases have brought messages of vital importance."

Debra Chatfield, historian at findmypast.co.uk, said: "It's amazing, and heart wrenching to think of thousands of families saying goodbye to their pet dogs so that they could serve their country at the front line.

"Throughout human history, the bond between man and dogs has been unbreakable, and the role these animals played during the war was of paramount importance."

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