Our diggers aren’t the only ones who deserve recognition this Anzac Day. Animals have had—and still do have—a phenomenal impact on Australia’s war efforts. From horses, to dogs, to cats, and even birds, our furry friends have provided diggers with comfort, transport, enemy and gas detection, saving countless lives. Over 16 million animals served in the First World War, and their efforts—like our brave diggers—cannot be forgotten.
Dogs were—and still are—a major part of the war effort, with many benefits to soldiers. Dogs hunted mice and rats in trenches, leaving diggers and their supplies in better shape. Dogs carried messages and vital equipment, found and comforted injured soldiers, detected and unearthed explosives and poisonous gas, warned their units of incoming enemies, helped lay down vital communication and even became directly involved in saving lives. Dogs were even often given special gas masks, bullet-proof vests and even ear pieces, so handlers can give commands from a distance.
One of the most famous dogs in World War 1 was US Sargent Stubby, the official mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment. Stubby was found wandering the grounds of Yale University in July 1917 by Corporal Robert Conroy, who smuggled him to the Western Front under his overcoat without detection. Sergeant Stubby served 18 months in the war effort, and assisted in 17 battles. He found and comforted the wounded, warned his unit of upcoming gas attacks and became adapt in letting his unit know when to duck for cover. Stubby once even saved the lives of his entire regiment, after catching and holding a German soldier by his pants, preventing a surprise mustard gas attack. Sergeant Stubby made every major newspaper’s front page, and even met three presidents—Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge and Warren G. Harding.
In World War II, a dog named Horrie made Australian headlines after his efforts in the 2/1st machine gun battalion with his owner Private Jim Moody. Horrie was found in the desert, and eventually adopted by the entire unit. He frequently went on marchers and accompanied officers on parade, gave early warning of approaching enemies and aircraft, provided companionship, and delivered vital messages. Horrie even survived a sinking ship off the coast of Crete. Private Moody managed to sneak Horrie back to Australia in 1942. Horrie was ‘killed by quarantine officials’ in 1945 after his discovery—though more than 60 years later, Moody’s children revealed he found a similar looking dog to surrender to officials, leaving Horrie to live out his life peacefully in northern Victoria.
Also in the Second World War, Smoky the Yorkshire Terrier rose to fame with her vital involvement in laying down underground telephone lines so Allies could better communicate about enemy positions. Smoky saved lives—and vital time—when she ran through a 70-foot long pipe underground with a string tied to her collar, while her owner Bill Wynne coaxed her through. Smoky’s main job, however, was simply to keep smiles on the faces of the men she served with.
But dogs weren’t the only animals who served in the war. Over 500,000 Cats were used for comfort, enemy and gas detection, and the hunting of small animals in trenches. A cat named Pitoutchi even saved the life of his Belgian owner Lieutenant Lekux in the trenches of the First World War. Lekux was sketching a new trench in German lines and didn’t notice when three soldiers approached. He—accompanied by Pitoutchi—hid together in a hole. Just when all hope seemed lost, Pitoutchi jumped out at the enemy soldiers, evading their shots. When Pitoutchi returned to his owner, the soldiers assumed the noise they’d heard had simply been the cat.
Many other animals were also frequently used. Over 136,000 horses joined Australian troops in battle—and only one made it home. Sandy belonged to Major General Sir William Bridges, who was killed in his Gallipoli efforts. Sandy sailed from Liverpool to Melbourne, where he spent out his retirement peacefully.
Birds were used to detect poisonous gasses, provide companionship, alert Allies to enemy soldiers and deliver messages. A carrier pigeon was the first animal to ever receive a bravery medal for their efforts in the war, when it travelled through a major tropical storm to relay a message for help from a sinking army ship.
So when you take a moment of silence this Anzac Day, don’t only remember our diggers—remember the brave companions who fought alongside them, too.
I’m a journalist with a passion for all things wacky and strange. Like me on Facebook (Zoe Simmons Journalism) and follow me on Twitter (@ItBeginsWithZ) for more!