There are photo exhibits across Paris this summer, in sets of 100 to commemorate the 100th anniversary since WW1 began. They are incredible glimpses into this episode of our recent history. The one along the Champs Elysees was very moving, with different kinds of themes than I’ve seen before. I was moved to tears by many of them and so were others who perused these sobering images on this sunny Paris day.
I have always had an interest in the way we have used animals in our human (not humane!) wars and this photo exhibit tweaked my interest yet again. Now as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I did have a grandfather who was a cavalier in the first world war – the so called war to end all wars – and have never been able to watch the movie ‘War Horse’ as a result. The roles that animals played in the Great War’s battles is one of the poignant themes that ran through these public exhibits.
It goes without saying that horses played a critical role not just carrying mounted lancers and fusiliers but also pulling the huge guns and supply wagons through the interminable mud of the battlefields. They were often killed or injured.
Dogs too were invaluable as messengers at the front lines, pulling and carrying supplies. These Belgian gunners counted on their dog teams.
Dog kennels where dogs were trained were found all over the countryside in France.
In addition dogs were critical for finding wounded soldiers on the battlefield and medics worked alongside their canine companions. As this dog fitted with a gas mask shows they were expected to do the extraordinary.
As one of the posters read ” Never have animals been better friends to man. Millions of them were mobilized during the war effort. Horses and oxen to pull cannons, messenger pigeons, dogs to seek out the wounded. Some would be decorated for their service on the front lines.”
The inhumanity we can inflict on each other is our burden but if I may anthropomorphize for a moment I wondered, not for the first time, what our fellow animals thought of us during this terrible time.