World War I and the Animals of No Man’s Land

The First World War saw some of the most unprecedented technological advances in the modern world. Soldiers on all fronts would see the introduction of huge battleships, large tanks, and enormous amounts of artillery. But, behind these innovations, there were warriors who had to deal with the everyday struggles of war, and these soldiers needed animals to help them along.

We’ve gathered the photos that best portray the strife of an animal in “no man’s land.” We look deeper into the role of these trusted creatures. What were these animals capable of doing, and how did humans teach them to do so many extraordinary things?

Tillz the hen
Tillz the hen who has her own Anderson shelter. November 1940. Photo by WATFORD/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

Some of these animals will leave you in awe of what humanity was capable of doing when faced with the reality of war. Take this chicken, for example. Luckily this little guy was actually a battalion mascot, and had his own little hut to stay cozy in! Animal war mascots are very prevalent throughout history. Like the next one you will see, some of these mascots did not make any sense…

“What Do We Call Him?”

Despite animal mascots being around for centuries, WWI mascots were downright bizarre. Soldiers of the Great War would lose their minds and find themselves leashing up any animal they saw on the front, and if they could not put it to work, they would at least use it for some cheer.

Nancy, the springbok mascot of the 4th South African Regiment
Animals In War 1914 – 1918, Nancy, the springbok mascot of the 4th South African Regiment, in Delville Wood, 17 February 1918. Photo by 2nd Lt. T K Aitken/ Imperial War Museums via Getty Images

This African Impala somehow found itself on an empty German Battlefield, being domesticated by a Scottish infantry soldier. These morale-boosting mascots would be fed more than their soldier comrades who cared more about keeping their tradition alive! Okay, so now that we had some fun, let’s get into the details of what it takes for an animal to serve the front!

Stamina and Speed

Camels were the steed of choice when drudging through the African and Middle Eastern Fronts of the war. They could last a very long time without drinking water, travel fast at long distances, and carry a lot of payloads!

The first Camel Corps
The first Camel Corps who became heroes of World War I. Photo by Alice Schalek/Three Lions/Getty Images

Camels were much smarter and more comfortable to control than horses once they were “barracked” or submitted to their handlers. They were also much calmer, too. Being a lot less prone to panic when exposed to enemy artillery and small arms fire, was a big plus in a war that saw tens of thousands of artillery rounds fired daily! But horses were given the brunt of the work during the Great War.

What Ever Needs to be Done

Hundreds of thousands of horses, oxen, and mules were used to do all types of tasks during the war, mostly for transport. It would take teams of six to 12 horses to pull field guns through treacherous terrain.

Woman war workers, at Cross Farm
19th April 1917: Woman war workers, at Cross Farm, Shackleton, Surrey. Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

The dead and wounded would be carried to safety on horse-drawn ambulances. Ammunition, food, and medical supplies often required the help of the four-legged steeds as some terrain was too much for any vehicles at that time to carry. This was a better use for the horses as the first use did not work out so well.

Battle Supremacy

At the beginning of WWI, senior military officers still believed in the supremacy of horses in battle. The Cavalry attack had proved to be a deadly tactic in all past wars in history, and the horrors of trench warfare were still not prevalent.

French Lancers Ready to Follow Up a German Retreat
FRANCE – CIRCA 1914: French Lancers Ready to Follow Up a German Retreat. Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Very quickly it became clear that barbed wire machine guns and vast minefields would make the traditional “charge” a relic of a bygone era. A perfect testament to the carnage was a famous charge launched by the British in 1918, where only four out of 150 horses would survive!

Imperative to Survival

Despite their lack of ability to contribute in battle, horses, donkeys, and camels, were still essential, and neither the Allies nor the Axis powers even considered taking them off the battlefield. Their use as transport was imperative to the survival of millions of troops across Europe and Africa.

Photograph of German Soldiers and Donkey wearing gas masks during World War One
Photograph of German Soldiers and Donkey wearing gas masks during World War One. Dated 1915. Photo by Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

To nations like Britain, horse fodder would be the most expensive commodities of the great war, but they were not the biggest animals on the battlefield. Gas masks were made for the horses once things got hairy, but a lot of them were ruined since the horses thought they were feedbags.

The Big Beasts

Probably one of the most shocking uses of animals in WWI was that of the elephant. Elephants were needed for all types of tasks that were too big for a man, on a battlefield too rugged for trucks, to carry a payload that was far too heavy for planes.

World War I A field ploughing with an elephant of a Belgium zoo commandeered by the German army
World War I A field plowing with an elephant of a Belgium zoo commandeered by the German army (Belgium). Ca. 1915. Photo by adoc-photos/Corbis via Getty Images

Although, that’s not what you see here. This elephant is actually pulling heavy equipment to comb the landscape that was ravaged when the war was over. Thanks, big guy!

Year-Round Long Hauls

Elephants would be seen year-round, carrying some of the most massive payloads all over Europe. Every army had their own, and they came from all types of species, too!

Elephants of the Hagenbeck Zoo
Elephants of the Hagenbeck Zoo pulling containers for an ammunition factory in Berlin – winter 1917/18. Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

They were needed to carry big heavy oil tanks through the cold, snowy winter roads, big truckloads of supplies, and were even given their own trench coats to help them beat the rain. But they carried an even heavier payload and seemed to have little problem doing it.

Bringing in the Big Guns

Artillery cannons came in all different shapes and sizes, often being pieced together on the battlefield because of their complicated and huge parts. Some would not be invented had the elephant not have existed.

Source Hotsta – Instagram Viewer

The ancient creature that once carried arrow marksmen on its back would now be carrying guns that sometimes weighed more than their own body weight. They made it look easy, but some smaller animals were making just as big of a difference, too!

Here to Serve! And Please

Dogs are proven as the most trusted animal in the world! Different breeds can accomplish tasks even modern technology can’t. Dogs are fast, agile, loyal, and cunning; the perfect animal to assist in any battlefront. But it was not the first time that the trusted canine was used in battle.

A crowd of onlookers watches Major Richardson with his bloodhounds at Charing Cross.
A crowd of onlookers watches Major Richardson with his bloodhounds at Charing Cross. They are going to assist the British Red Cross in locating wounded soldiers on the battlefields of World War I. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The ancient Romans even used big mastiffs to attack alongside them, and they would have the enemy running in panic. World War I was their evolutionary proving ground, where they would use their brain more than their strength!

A Medical Benefit

Today, it is second nature to assume that dogs can help in the medical field, but during the Great War, it was nothing more than a wild guess. Humans at the time knew very few things about dogs other than training them to herd (a skill they have naturally).

Colorized postcard of a German Shepherd military dog
Colorized postcard of a German Shepherd military dog wearing a red cross vest sitting proudly in the woods of France during World War I, France, 1915. The caption reads Fidele Au Poste (Loyal to the Post). Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

People also knew how to domesticate them, or teach them to attack, but in WWI, it was a day to day trial on the field to see how they can help medics and nurses as they fought to treat the injured soldiers on the front!

Critical Help in the Trenches

Trench warfare was no easy business; snipers waited from a distance to pick off anyone who dared lift his head over to see beyond the smoke. Machine guns lay waiting to fend off the next charge that can come at any moment.

German army dog jumps across a trench in France carrying a message between outposts
World war one: German army dog jumps across a trench in France carrying a message between outposts. Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Commanders on the battlefield had to think of a solution fast, as injured soldiers were getting stuck out in no man’s land, and critical supplies like ammunition needed to be transferred from trench to trench. So, they picked dogs like this German Shepard for the job.

Therapeutic Miracles

World War One would give humans the gift of understanding the most significant contribution of dogs to humankind of all, and that’s therapy. And if there was ever a way that required a lot of therapy, it would be this one!

John McCrae - Canadian World War I poet and surgeon during the Second Battle of Ypres.
John McCrae – Canadian World War I poet and surgeon during the Second Battle of Ypres. Member of Canadian Expeditionary Force. Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images

With two out of every three soldiers on the front suffering from PTSD, dogs would prove crucial to helping these men regain some sanity. It would prove to be the most vital help that they bring to the front, as the British alone fired more than 250 million shells during the Great War. But once chemical warfare came to no man’s land, it would be man helping his best friend adapt, too.

Gas! Gas! Gas!

“Gas! Gas! Gas!” When these words were yelled out on the battlefield, soldiers would have mere seconds to get their masks on, so that they can protect themselves from the dangers of the unknown chemicals in the air.

Three Airedale dogs
Three Airedale dogs wearing their special gas masks at a Surrey kennel. They are being trained by Lt Col E. H. Richardson. Photo by Keystone/Getty Images

They were left with two options, send the dogs back home, or make them gas masks, too, and who wants to say goodbye to their dog right? Commanders would even enforce the rule of a designated person leaving their mask on throughout the day so that they can put it on for the dogs as fast as possible. The next dog was named the most decorated canine Veteran of the war.

Sergeant Stubby

It just proves that no matter what the job at hand, a dog will always be named something cute! But Mr. Stubby was no dog to call cute. This battle-hardened warrior lived from 1916 all the way to 1926 and served for 18 long months with the 102nd Infantry Regiment of the United States Army.

Meet up with Stubby, a 9-year-old veteran of the canine species
(Original Caption) Washington, DC: Meet up with Stubby, a 9-year-old veteran of the canine species. He has been through the World War as the mascot for the 102nd Infantry, 26th Division. Stubby visited the White House to call on President Coolidge. Photo By Getty Images/
Bettmann / Contributor

He would go on to participate in 17 different battles on the western front, warning the troops before gas attacks, comforting the wounded, and at one point even catching a German soldier by the pants as he was spying on the division during the night! Stubby is the only dog in American history to be given the rank of Sergeant through combat! But help would come from the skies above just as much.

Dolphins During WWI

World War One also gave birth to new technology in the ocean that you may not have known came from dolphins, and that’s sonar. Dolphins use a natural sonar in their brain to map out the sea around them so they can navigate it safely.

Chris Conyers, known as the human mermaid, with 'Homer' the dolphin.
Chris Conyers, known as the human mermaid, with ‘Homer’ the dolphin. Photo by Ivor Davis/Express/Getty Images

World War One marked their first use in the US Navy to search for enemy subs and mines lurking beneath the waves. These genius sea mammals saved countless sailors from sure death, and helped bring supplies to the front!

More Than Your Average Bird

If you’re a kid reading this, then let me remind you that in the early 1900s, there were barely any working phone lines on the battlefield let alone text messages. There was no way to convey the massive amounts of information needed to run a war without the help of a pigeon.

World War I,: Team of the k, u, k, (imperial and royal) post office Numbre 611 of the Army Postal Service and their homing pigeons,
World War I,: Team of the k, u, k, (imperial and royal) post office Number 611 of the Army Postal Service and their homing pigeons, Photograph, 1917. Photo by Imagno/Getty Images

Going to battle without one was more terrifying than being shot at itself, as they were the first message back to HQ if you’re getting ambushed on the front, or need re-enforcements or artillery cover.

Cozy and Calm

If dogs have a heart of gold then pigeons have a heart of pure ice because these bad boys were fearless! Pigeons were reported to have low heart rates even during heavy artillery barrages, and fly right out to the sky at any moment’s notice.

Carrier Pigeons Exhibition In London
Carrier Pigeons Exhibition In London On December 4Th 1931. Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

In their downtime, they would relax in their cages as their loving handlers shook in fear. Take a look at this picture, for instance. Look at the pigeons’ faces compared to that of the soldier’s.

Like Flying Angels

When the first tanks were designed in WWI, it was not even a question as to whether or not they would accommodate pigeons. Tanks were built with room specifically designed to house them and even a small slot to let them fly out at any given moment.

Soldier Letting a Carrier Bird Go.
Soldier Letting a Carrier Bird Go. Photo by: Pen and Sword Books/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Tankers relied upon the bird more than anything else to ensure the highest chance of coming home safely. Tanks may have been scary, but they were slow, very slow, and if they got lost, or stuck behind enemy lines without their little bird buddies, then they can consider themselves lost forever.

Mandatory to Learn

Even if there were soldiers on the front whose sole responsibility was to handle pigeons, every soldier of almost all the nations involved would have to learn to do it as it was a mandatory requirement.

Use of the carrier pigeon for communications
Use of the carrier pigeon for communications from the front: the closing of the tube containing the message. Italy, 1915. Photo by Fototeca Gilardi/Getty Images

Soldiers would learn different code, handwriting styles, and even other languages, writing them on a small paper, rolling them up, and then tying them tightly to the bird’s foot. It would not be long before stories of soldiers went around of them as the only ones left with nothing but the little bird beside them conveying the message that they needed to be saved from the line.

The First Spy Drone

Yes, pigeons could spy too! Handlers were able to teach these little feathered freaks to fly for extended amounts of time before returning back to base as cameras attached to their chest would take pictures of the battlefield.

World War I. A pigeon with a camera for doing aerial survey
World War I. A pigeon with a camera for doing aerial survey (France). Ca. 1915. Photo by adoc-photos/Corbis via Getty Images

These pictures would provide crucial intelligence for mapping enemy trenches and counting heads behind enemy lines. Pigeons were a cherished position on the battlefield, and soldiers made sure to keep them happy. Now, let’s see some of the homes built for these little guys!

Pigeon Handlers

Think you love your pet? Think again! Pigeon handlers loved these little soldiers so much, that they worked painstaking hours under artillery barrages (that would sometimes last days) just so that their birds could have a comfortable travel box that would be carried on the backs of their masters.

German soldiers in the Vosges Mountains carrying baskets with carrier pigeons
German soldiers in the Vosges Mountains carrying baskets with carrier pigeons on their back; far right is a soldier carrying a gas protection box- spring 1917. Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Or is it the other way around? These little four-piece to-go boxes would have built-in water bowls, and even compartments to store snacks in! And if that wasn’t good enough? Wait until you see what they do in headquarters!

Chateau La Pigeon

What you see in front of you is not a commander’s barrack or a flower shop in Pennsylvania; it’s a pigeon coup overlooking the sunny hills in the European summer! The big trailer looks like something out of a show on HGTV.

World War I Mobile Carrier Pigeon Station
World War I Mobile Carrier Pigeon Station. Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

A freshly painted exterior, plants on the window, a beautiful view, and it’s mobile. But the pigeons deserved it; the smart little birds worked hard, never complained, and always followed orders! Scientists even ran tests to learn more about the miraculous bird, and what they discovered is astonishing!

Learning More Than to Fly

Scientists studied just how smart these little birds are, so they ran a simple test: to see if they can associate the birds with different colors by feeding them. The pigeon would look into the same hole and when a different color showed up, they got food.

Harvard professor B.F. Skinner conducts psychological experiment with pigeons
Harvard professor B.F. Skinner conducts a psychological experiment with pigeons in which they must match a colored light with a corresponding colored panel in order to receive food. Photo By Getty Images/Bettmann / Contributor

The scientists would then be able to see if the bird could differentiate between the different colors to perform tasks. The experiment worked, and the pigeons proved that they could do more than just fly to food. The Axis powers would need more than just a bullet to defeat this small enemy in the sky.

Laws of Nature

The allies had an overabundance of birds, and it was helping them greatly with the war effort. US and Allied forces fought hard, and the Axis needed something to take out the pigeons in the sky before they made it back with the locations of their new defensive positions.

Ursula, a trained two year-old peregrine falcon
Ursula, a trained two-year-old peregrine falcon, spreads her wings before taking flight from her falconer’s gauntlet, June 1945. The bird is one of a number of falcons used by British forces in World War II to intercept enemy carrier pigeons, whose messages would be retrieved and passed to British intelligence. Photo by Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

To Germany, the answer seemed simple. Send out a bigger bird that hunts small birds and send it out hungry. And that’s precisely what they did! They sent out Falcons to fend off the pigeons in their very own dog fight in the sky.

The Birth and Legacy of the Falcon Guard

When the Axis realized the war was being lost, they needed to retreat and do it fast! And retreats are the hardest maneuver any army can do! If done wrong, they can spell disaster for anyone left on the field. That’s when the Falcon Guard was created; handlers would unleash these big flying predators into the sky to prove once and for all that pigeons were afraid of something, just like everyone else!

First War memorial in Volmarstein with stone sculpture showing a soldier with eagle
Germany, First War memorial in Volmarstein with stone sculpture showing a soldier with eagle. Photo by Wolfgang Kunz/ullstein bild via Getty Images

It would be the little bird’s downfall as it was instinct to make a run for it either back to base or in a panic to another location, to stay away from the Falcons. Thus, they kept the allies from spying and at a distance from the retreating German troops trying to make it home safely. Sadly, it would be mostly birds who got the star treatment in the front.

Making Do With What They Got

When considering the millions of troops deployed to fight in WWI, it’s not too plausible that they had enough food and supplies for themselves let alone another animal or two.

The landing of the Serbian cavalry at Salonica
The landing of the Serbian cavalry at Salonica, during the conflict between Greece and Bulgaria. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Well here is a fun fact: adding them all together, there were more animals than humans on the battlefield of the early 1900s. And just like the soldiers on the front, they were not going to get a good night’s sleep or a good meal until the war was over.

The Spoiled Ones Break First

Studies show that soldiers who come from good homes are more likely to suffer panic attacks, shellshock, and PTSD on the battlefield. As they would go from a sheltered life into a structured routine in the army, that structure and sense of safety were ripped apart in battle.

A member of the Canadian Cavalry waters the horses at camp during World War I
A member of the Canadian Cavalry waters the horses at camp during World War I. Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Well, the same fact seemed to be true for horses of WWI. As horses were brought from all types of conditions during the war, officers learned that their well-trained purebred stallions were not cut out for the drums of war.

Aggressive Eaters

Horses during the Great War would have to be fed with blinders on so that they would not try to fight one another for more food. They still knew food was coming, but if they could not tell who was getting the next bite, then they would stay calmer and wait for their turn.

Military Objective at Berry-Au-Bac'
Military Objective at Berry-Au-Bac’, 1939-1940, (1941). From Fighter Pilot – A Personal Record of the Campaign in France. September 8th, 1939, to June 13th, 1940. [B. T. Batsford Ltd., London, 1941]. Artist Unknown. Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images
Blinders went from being used in a race for fame to protection in a run for survival, but it’s what they ate that was the most shocking. Due to the number of horses deployed in the war, horse fodder was the highest valued commodity at the time in the world.

Worth More Than Gold

Many soldiers joked that it was more valuable than gold. This in itself caused a big crisis, after German subs came to power, and transports for supplies would become more scarce.

Cavalry, circa 1914-circa 1918. French soldiers with horses.
Cavalry, circa 1914-circa 1918. French soldiers with horses. Photograph from a series of glass plate stereoview images depicting scenes from World War I (1914-1918). Artist Unknown. Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images

For the Germans, things would not be so easy either. They decided to mix the horse food with sawdust to keep the horses full so that they could cut rations in half. This hardship for the horses did not stop there and even wreaked havoc on troops, too.

No Life for Man or Steed

Despite recruitment posters featuring a bond between man and horse, the reality was entirely different on the front. Horse manure was left virtually everywhere on the front unburied. This opened the door for various diseases to creep into the platoons, thus making the war even harder to win.

British cavalry charge across a river during World War One
British cavalry charge across a river during World War One. Photo by: Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

For the horses to stay healthy, their winter coat would be shaved off so army veterinarians can keep an eye out for infections, thus leaving the animal out in the cold elements with no protective layer. It seems like a lose-lose situation for the horse at the end of the day.

Glowworms, Too!

The name is a bit cuter than the animal itself, but never mind the cuteness! Glowworms were a vital creature when it came to the allied victory. If a commander were to try and use a flashlight to look at a map on the field at night, it would give away his position and artillery would be seconds away.

The amazing dance of the fireflies
The amazing dance of the fireflies, illuminating the Cuma forest like a starry sky. Photo by Paola Visone/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

So, these little guys were collected in jars and used to light up maps and equipment during night time raids. Now let’s look at some more cute mascot pictures that say it all!

Happy Little Guy

It’s safe to say by the smile on his face, and the tummy on his body, this little bulldog was definitely a well-fed, and well-loved mascot.

A bulldog stands guard outside a block of flats in South London
A bulldog stands guard outside a block of flats in South London. Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images

The bulldog breed was hugely popular around the world after photos like these made it back home. So, these little heart melters would not have to worry about finding a home after the war!

Iconic Window Pose

This American Boxer breed is taking his own legacy photo, and it looks great! Navy dogs helped out greatly throughout the history of the navy.

Mascots In The Royal Navy During The Second World War
Mascots In The Royal Navy During The Second World War, Venus the bulldog mascot of the destroyer HMS VANSITTART, circa 1941. Photo by Lt. H W Tomlin/ Imperial War Museums via Getty Images

Boxers were persistent and did not mind the heavy seas, thus being able to sprint from room to room on the ship and deliver mail, notes, and orders to soldier on the boat, and let’s not forget some joy too!

The Real John Wayne

It’s often said that if you want to know what a soldier may have gone through without asking, you just need to look deep into his eyes. It’s evident in this photo that this rooster has been through hell and back, risking his feathers for the safe return of the comrades with him on the front.

man and a chicken on his head
Source: vsetky.com

Also, as another side note, it’s safe to say that no one asked that guy if they can touch the chicken! For all of you who made it this far, we saved the most offensive mascot for last, and it’s sure to blow your mind!

Meet Voytek the Bear

Voytek, the bear, was found in World War II and lived a great life from 1942 to 1963. The Syrian brown bear was discovered when he was just a small cub in Hamadan, Iran, by Polish II Corps soldiers during their evacuation from the Soviet Union.

man and a bear
Source: Imgur.com

They saw the little guy roaming around an abandoned railway station, seeing that he seemed to be abandoned, the 22nd Artillery Supply Company decided it would be a good idea to enlist him as a mascot!