How did animals help in World War One?

Before 1914 wars had mainly been fought by cavalries (soldiers who fought on horseback).

But both sides in World War One soon realised the muddy ground, barbed wire and machine guns made it too difficult to use horses for fighting.

Instead millions of horses were used to carry people and supplies.

Many other animals also played a big part in the war as workers and mascots.

War horses pulling a cart in a World War One battlefield
Watch our video to find out more about animals in war.

Which animals were used for work?

Many types and breeds of animals were perfectly suited to perform tasks such as guarding trenches, finding wounded soldiers and carrying messages.

Allied cavalry troops horse lowered down in a sling onto the quayside in Salonika Greece 1915

Horses carried wounded soldiers or weaponry

They had to be strong as fully armed and equipped soldiers were heavy. In total, around 8 million horses from all sides died during the war.

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Which animals were kept as pets and mascots?

There are many stories of animals who became companions to soldiers.

Jimmy the World War One donkey in a forest with a soldier and a woman

Jimmy 'The Sergeant' was a donkey born at the Battle of the Somme

Jimmy was wounded three times during the war. He learnt to raise his hoof in salute. After the war, Jimmy raised thousands of pounds for the RSPCA charity.

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Rats

Not all animals were welcomed by soldiers. Rats fed on rotting food in the trenches and could have up to 900 babies every year.

Soldiers hated rats as they were smelly and spread diseases. They tried to get ride of them using clubs, bayonets and even guns.

Despite all this, rats were sometimes helpful. Many soldiers reported how rats sensed an oncoming attack and ran away, which warned them of enemy moves.

A little terrier dog shows off its catch after a 15 minute rat hunt in French trenches, September 1916
Dogs made excellent rat catchers. This terrier hunted in French trenches, September 1916.

How did life change for animals and soldiers?

Animals were essential for both sides in World War One.

As well as working hard, they were important for morale. Soldiers were able to show their caring side by looking after animals.

RAF men with pet rabbits on the Western Front in France during World War One

Where next?

What was life like in a World War One trench?
What role did the British Empire play in the war?
What was medicine like during World War One?
World War One