Man’s Best Friend in World War One


By 1918 up to 20,000 dogs were employed by the British Army, working alongside the soldiers of World War One.  Military dogs became so important that in 1917 the War Dog School of Instruction was established by the War Office in Hampshire.

Thousands of pets were donated by loving families, police service, with even dog pound pups becoming recruits of the Empire. In today’s #WWWednesday post, Sarah Ashbridge takes a look at what five of these determined doggies got up to..

1. Sentry Dogs

 Essentially patrol dogs, these pedigree chums were trained to accompany a specific guard, giving off warning signals such as a bark or a snarl to indicate an unknown presence in the camp.  Doberman’s were the traditional breed of choice for this role, and they are still used as guard dogs today!

2. Scout Dogs

Scout dogs worked with soldiers on foot, patrolling the land ahead of them. Due to their excellent sense of smell, these dogs could detect enemy scent up to 1000 yards away! Instead of barking, which would draw attention to the squad, scout dogs would raise their shackles and point their tail, indicating that the enemy was near, avoiding detection of the team behind them.

3. Messenger Dogs

With a maze of trenches, quick communication could be a problem.  Human runners were large, visible targets, weighed down by uniforms, and easy to extract messages from. Trained messenger dogs were faster than any human runner, presented a smaller target to a sniper and could travel over almost any terrain! One dog training school in Scotland produced a dog which travelled 4,000 miles over the Western Front to deliver a message to Brigade’s headquarters.  It wasn’t just messages that would be sent via dog, some dogs were used as pulling equipment, delivering packages containing documents, cigarettes for the troops, or even explosives  – We’ll have first class recorded and some ‘fragile’ tape, please!

4. Casualty Dogs

Originally a tradition of the Germans in the 1800’s, casualty dogs would later become utilized all over Europe. These dogs were trained to find the wounded or dying on battlefields. Strapped up with medical supplies,  these helpful hounds allowed soldiers with less severe wounds to treat their own ailments. For the more gravely wounded soldiers, these dogs provided company and solace during their final moments in the absence of their loved ones.

5. Mascot dogs

 For men exposed to the horrors of daily warfare, dogs provided a comfort to soldiers living in damp, dirty trench conditions. It is said that even Adolf Hitler kept a dog with him when he served in the German Trenches.  A regiment pet provided a home comfort and helped relieve the stresses of men, whilst also keeping pesky rats at bay.

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Written by Sarah Ashbridge

Office monkey by day, forensic archaeologist by night, Sarah Ashbridge is a jack-of-all-trades and the master of one: the forensic identification the War Dead. She trained originally as an Egyptologist, but interests in the history of death and burial saw her make the step into archaeology, completing an MSc in Forensic Archaeology and Crime Scene Investigation at the University of Bradford. Armed with an ever-increasing library of books, a handful of illustration pens and a brand new trowel, Sarah writes our regular #WWWednesday column, working towards her PhD in Forensic Archaeology.

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