Issue 7 - Animals in the War

Millions of men and women served during World War I, but often overlooked are the approximately 16 million animals who also served. 

While the automobile age and new technologies were on the rise, horses were still used to move supplies, pigeons to deliver messages, and dogs to bring cheer and fight alongside their two legged companions. 

It is hard for us today to imagine how a glow worm could serve during a war, however all of these animals did their bit for the war effort.

"The young pigeons, known as 'squeakers', should be ready for service work when three months old. At this age good strong young birds will be ready to accomplish flights of from 10 to 50 miles in the field." 

- Excerpt from Carrier Pigeons in War, a 1918 pamphlet available in the collections of the  Imperial War Museums.
A cat peers out from the barrel of a large cannon.

Many animals served as mascots to boast morale, but others were put to work. Dogs helped lay telephone wires, camels carried the wounded, and horses wore gas masks while doing their job. This collection of photographs from the Imperial War Museums' collection depicts these animals and more and their contribution to the war effort. This resource also includes a short article by Jessica Talarico. View on

Recommended Grade Levels: All levels
Format: Online image gallery and article

Animals of World War 1

Horses, dogs and pigeons were some of the animals used most frequently by both sides during the War. In this video from The Great War Channel, host Indy Neidell describes in detail how these animals served during World War I. Also included in this video is information about Cher Ami, the pigeon credited with saving 194 soldiers after delivering a message while wounded. Watch on YouTube.

Recommended Grade Levels: All Grade Levels
Format: Digital Video, 10 1/2 minutes

Visit for more free education resources that you can use.
Smithsonian TeenTribune

This article by Jennifer Nalewicki for Smithsonian's collection of online educational services, TTribune, gives an overview of the use of animals in war. It also tells the stories of famous animals of WWI, including Whiskey and Soda, the lion cub mascots of the Lafayette Escadrille, and most notably Rags, a Parisian street dog who became messenger and mascot to the First Division of the American Expeditionary Forces. A post-reading quiz is also available for teachers to use with their students (free website registration required to access.) Read on Smithsonian's TTribune

Recommended Grade Levels: Middle School, High School
Format: Online Article and Quiz

Of course, Rags was not the only dog to become a household name from the First World War. While not directly involved in the fighting, international film star Rin Tin Tin was found as a puppy on the front by American soldier Lee Duncan, who brought the dog home with him to California.

And who could forget Sgt. Stubby, mascot of the 102nd Infantry. Veteran of 17 battles, Stubby was injured by shrapnel and mustard gas during his time in the war. He warned his fellow soldiers of gas attacks, located wounded soldiers, and even helped catch an enemy spy.

Sgt. Stubby in a parade. The small dog in a vest adorned with medals sits on a pedestal, presumably on a parade float, with a young girl.
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

"The noise and strain that shattered the nerves of many of his comrades did not impair Stubby's spirits. Not because he was unconscious of danger. His angry howl while a battle raged and his mad canter from one part of the lines to another indicated realization. But he seemed to know that the greatest service he could render was comfort and cheerfulness." 

- From Sgt. Stubby's obituary, published in The New York Times on April 4, 1926 and available online via the Connecticut Military Department. Stubby's remains reside at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
Read more about his life at

History in the Headlines

The Winnie the Pooh stories of A.A. Milne have delighted children for decades, but most people don't know that the "willy nilly silly old bear" was inspired by an actual bear. Winnipeg, nicknamed Winnie, was a bear cub mascot with a Canadian unit during World War I who went on to inspire the Winnie the Pooh stories. Learn more about the life of Winnie by reading this article by Christopher Klein on

Recommended Grade Levels: All Grade Levels
Format: Online Article

"... but at the call to arms the [Belgian] government acquisitioned all [dogs] that were needed. A Belgian officer on duty in Antwerp when the first lot of civilian dogs from that section were turned over to the army, told me what a pathetic sight it was. Dozens of men brought in their beloved pets and helpers, and in many cases the parting was very hard. They told the soldiers the names of the dogs, dwelt fondly on their peculiarities, especially what they liked best to eat, and exacted promises that they would be kindly treated, and brought back to them when the war was over."

- Excerpt from Animal Heroes of the Great War by Ernest Harold Baynes, published in 1925.
BBC's WW1 Uncut

How were glow worms used during World War I? This six-minute video from the BBC show WW1 Uncut answers this question and describes the unexpected service of unique animals including slugs, sea lions, and elephants. Watch on YouTube.

Recommended Grade Levels: Elementary School, Middle School
Format: Digital Video

Jackie the Baboon
Mascot of the 3rd South African Infantry Brigade

The 3rd South African Infantry Brigade had a unique mascot, Jackie the Baboon. Jackie not only boosted morale among the soldiers, he also wore a uniform, marched, drew rations and warned his companions of enemy attacks. Learn more about Jackie in this short article from the South African Military Veterans Organisation of Australasia.

Recommended Grade Levels: Middle School, High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Online Article

Looking for a way to introduce younger learners to World War I?

Try reading a story book about the unsung heroes of World War I, animals! Museum Educators recommend:

  • Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick
  • Flo of the Somme by Hilary Ann Robinson
  • Stubby the War Dog: The True Story of World War I's Bravest Dog by Ann Bausum
  • The Donkey of Gallipoli: A True Story of Courage in World War I by Mark Greenwood
  • Simpson's Donkey by Peter Stanley

Sgt. Stubby will also hit the big screen in Spring 2018 with the release of the animated film Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero. Watch the trailer, download educational activites and learn more at

BBC News Article by Nick Tarver

With millions of horses needed for the war effort, people on the home front had the difficult task of finding replacements to assist with heavy labor. This 2013 article by Nick Tarver from BBC News explores how exotic animals, such as elephants, were put to work in Great Britain during the war. Read on

Recommended Grade Levels: All Grade Levels
Format: Online Article

M is for Mates - eBook Image
Animals in Wartime from Ajax to Zep

Many countries drafted animals into service, including Australia. While many of their animals were the same as those used by other countries, some were distinctly Australian. It was not uncommon to find kangaroo or koala bear mascots with Australian troops in the war. The Australian War Memorial created this eBook for younger students to learn more about Australian animals at war from the Boer War to the present day. Download PDF eBook.

Recommended Grade Levels: Elementary School
Format: Downloadable PDF eBook (43 MB)

The United States World War One Centennial Commission invites you to explore more online resources, including its Dispatch Newsletter and weekly podcast, Centennial News.

The United States World War One Centennial Commission and the National World War I Museum and Memorial are dedicated to educating the public about the causes, events, and consequences of the conflict and we encourage the use of these resources to better understand the Great War and its enduring impact on the global community.

Partners on this project include:

The Pritzker Military Museum and Library is a founding sponsor of the United States World War One Centennial Commission.