Wednesday, February 24 has been designated the world’s first War Animal Day and we are proud to be leading the tributes from the UK, remembering the service and sacrifice of animals in two world wars and numerous conflicts since.
We join organisations and charities from Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada and France who, like us, will wear their purple poppies, the official symbol for War Animal Day, with pride. Doing so honours the many millions of horses, mules, donkeys, dogs, cats and pigeons who served and often died alongside the soldiers. Sadly, vast numbers were killed, often suffering agonising deaths from wounds, starvation, thirst, exhaustion, disease and exposure.
Eight million horses and countless mules and donkeys died in the First World War. They were used to transport ammunition and supplies to the front. Many lost their lives, not only from the horrors of shellfire, but also from appalling conditions. Mules were found to have tremendous stamina in extreme climates and over the most difficult terrain, serving courageously in the freezing mud on the Western Front and later at Monte Cassino in World War II. Equally they toiled unflinchingly in the oppressive heat of Burma, Eritrea and Tunisia. There are many inspiring and often tragic stories of the great devotion and loyalty shown between horses, mules and donkeys and their masters during some of the bloodiest conflicts of the 20th century.
The dog’s innate qualities of intelligence and devotion were valued and used by the forces in conflicts throughout the century. Among their many duties, these faithful animals ran messages, laid telegraph wires, detected mines, dug out bomb victims and acted as guard or patrol dogs. Many battled on despite horrific wounds and in terrifying circumstances to the limit of their endurance, showing indomitable courage and supreme loyalty to their handlers.
More than 100,000 pigeons served Britain in the First World War and 200,000 in World War II. They performed heroically and saved thousands of lives by carrying vital messages, sometimes over long distances, when other methods of communication were impossible. Flying at the rate of a mile a minute from the front line, from behind enemy lines or from ships or aeroplanes, these gallant birds would struggle on through all weathers, even when severely wounded and exhausted, in order to carry their vital messages home.
And other animals – elephants, camels, oxen, bullocks, cats, canaries contributed their strength, their energy and their lives in times of war and conflict to the British, Commonwealth and Allied forces during the 20th Century.
If, like us, you believe that remembering matters, please print the poster and put it in your window. And wear a purple poppy to show you care. Pin badges or knitted purple poppies are available from our website shop.
Our grateful thanks to the Imperial War Museum and Getty Images for the photos.