The dogs (and steeds) of war


!00 photos for 100 years


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.

Photos on the champs elysees

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.

WW1 horse loading

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.

Injured horse

Dogs too were invaluable as messengers at the front lines, pulling and carrying supplies. These Belgian gunners counted on their dog teams.

Belgian soldiers and 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.

Rescue dog


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.


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43 Responses to The dogs (and steeds) of war

  1. pommepal says:

    I saw the movie “War Horse and it moved me to tears.

  2. Austin Starr says:

    a moving tribute to the poor beings — human and otherwise — who have pulled in to the horror of war. It’s interesting when people say ‘he acted like an animal!’ to condemn another person. I often think the worst fate that can befall an animal is to ‘act like a human’ and your post illustrates that perfectly.

  3. Argus says:

    Nothing new here — Spouse and I were having an argument (all good clean fun) recently and her side was that ‘African elephants can’t be tamed’ whereas mine was ‘Oh yes they can, and often are, over thousands of years (so there)’. I remembered the words to the old song from when I was a bit younger: “A thousand elephants Hannibal had, When Hannibal crossed the Alps” etc etc.
    Ol’ Hannibal had hostile intentions towards Rome and I didn’t think he’d go to all the bother of importing tameable Indian elephants when his own native African could do the job … and did.

    Yup, nothing new there … and my understanding is that the survivor of Custer’s Last Stand was a horse (Commanche, from memory—I’ll look it up). I guess that until they robotise the battlefield dogs and horses and donkeys and pigeons and things will always star. And they’ll use good ol’ attack-dolphins at sea …

  4. Mustang.Koji says:

    What a wonderful story to tell… Indeed, dogs and horses were critical to any army to conduct war and for combat. So many soldiers became so attached to their dog or horse that losing them would raise emotions equivalent to losing a buddy or receiving a Dear John letter. I can understand why your grandfather could never watch “War Horse”. It is emotional even for us folks who did not endure combat.

  5. joannesisco says:

    From the sound of it, I would have cried to. Like many others have said before me, this is a very moving story. I was aware of the use of horses during WW1 … and quite frankly, all wars before then, but the dogs were something new to me. How very sad that we (meaning mankind) use and abuse everyone and everything.

  6. LaVagabonde says:

    Very interesting exhibit. Where would we be without animals? And yet they’re so often not treated as they deserve to be.

  7. Interesting post on an aspect of WWI that most people probably don’t consider. I recently read Ken Follett’s book “The Fall of Giants” which is a fictional account of the lead-up to and the history of WWI. His research is excellent, making it a very readable book for learning the history of the war. ~James

  8. restlessjo says:

    Those images had gone from the Champs Elysee on our visit 😦

  9. It’s almost impossible to image how it was like under WWI. Certainly not humane – for neither human beings nor animals. The images of the use of animals during the war are intriguing and really touching. Thanks for sharing.

  10. icelandpenny says:

    thanks for taking us there with you

  11. Sheryl says:

    I enjoyed the pictures and reading about how animals were utilized during the war. The photo of the kennel is a particularly intriguing picture.

  12. Thank you for this interesting and informative post. I will be in Paris in October. I suppose the exhibition will be taken down by then?

  13. quilt32 says:

    Thank you for a very interesting and thoughtful post.

  14. Gallivanta says:

    This is a subject close to my heart. I am so glad to see these photos. The dog kennels are intriguing. I have watched War Horse and I am pleased I did. You may like to see this short film recently put together to celebrate NZ war horses, including the famous Bess. We owe so much to these wonderful animals that we forced in to war.

  15. agnesashe says:

    Fascinating post and very interesting to see how the French are representing this part of European history.

    My mother always used to comment that the animals would be the first to suffer with the onset of a war. She was a child at the beginning of WW Two when in just over a week more than 750,000 family pets were put to sleep in Britain. It was a hysterical reaction following a government pamphlet that said: “If at all possible, send or take your household animals into the country in advance of an emergency.” The official advice concluded: “If you cannot place them in the care of neighbours, it really is kindest to have them destroyed.” Happily for my mother my grandmother ignored this and managed to keep the family dog and cat all through the war.

  16. margaret21 says:

    Thank you for a most interesting and moving post. I had no idea about the role of dogs in WWI, especially in searching out the wounded.

    • I remember researching the background on a beloved Airedale who lived with us a few years back and discovering that the breed played a big role in search and rescue on the front lines of WW1.

  17. Lavinia Ross says:

    Thank you for this post, for speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Their pictures and stories tend to fade into the murky background of mankind’s worst activities unless someone brings them to light.

  18. Sue Slaght says:

    Such amazing photos of the wonderful role these animals played. My husband’s grandfather also worked with horses in WWI.

    • So interesting about your husbands grandfather – I guess given the number of horses used in the First World War it was an important role. Horses have always been critical to history since our wars began and WW1 was the last big conflict they suffered through with us.

  19. It was an amazing exhibit and so many of the photographs were barely believable. Anthropomorphize is one of my very favourite words and I also do it all the time…

  20. This is very moving and I can never say enough about your photographs. They are spectacular. But anthropomorphize – made me look it up!

  21. Mike says:

    Brilliant. Thanks.

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