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WWI in Photos: Animals That Went to War

Over 16 million animals served in World War One. Horses, donkeys, mules, elephants and camels were the primary beasts of burden carrying food, water, medical supplies and ammunition to men at the front.

Dogs and pigeons were the messengers, carrying messages and instructions. Dogs were also trained to detect poisonous gas and cats were used to hunt rats in the trenches.

And let’s not forget the animal mascots — dogs, cats, monkeys, and even bears and lions were used to help raise morale and provide comfort amidst the hardships of war.

The roles these animals played were vital to armies around the world during World War I. Here are some of these brave heroes photographed at the frontline.

A German messenger dog loosed by his handler, near St. Quentin 1918. Dogs were used throughout the war as sentries, scouts, rescuers, messengers, and more.
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German soldiers posing beside a horse mounted with a purpose-built frame, used to accommodate a captured Russian Maxim M1910 machine gun and ammunition box.
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Bandages retrieved from the kit of a British Dog, ca. 1915.
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A pigeon with a small camera attached. Trained pigeons were used experimentally by German citizen Julius Neubronner, before and during the war, to capture aerial images when a timer mechanism clicked the shutter.
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A mule being unloaded in Alexandria, Egypt, 1915. The escalating warfare drove Britain and France to import horses and mules from overseas by the hundreds of thousands.
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Sergeant Stubby, a Boston bull terrier, was the most decorated war dog of World War I and the only dog to be promoted to sergeant through combat. He started out as the mascot of the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division, and ended up becoming a full-fledged combat dog. He was injured in a gas attack early on, which gave him a sensitivity to gas that later allowed him to warn his soldiers of incoming gas attacks by running and barking. He helped find wounded soldiers, he even captured a German spy who was trying to map allied trenches.
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Members of the Royal Scots Greys cavalry and their horses taking a rest by the side of the road in France.
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Turkish cavalry exercises on the Saloniki front, Turkey, March of 1917.
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A messenger dog with a spool attached to a harness for laying out new electric line, September 1917.
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An Indian elephant used by Germans in Valenciennes, France to help move tree trunks in 1915. As the war dragged on, beasts of burden became scarce in Germany. Some circus and zoo animals were requisitioned for army use.
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"These homing pigeons are doing much to save the lives of our boys in France. They act as efficient messengers and dispatch bearers not only from division to division and from the trenches to the rear but also are used by our aviators to report back the results of their observation."
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Belgian Army pigeons. Homing pigeon stations were set up behind the front lines. The pigeons were sent forward, to return later with messages tied to their legs.
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A soldier putting a pigeon in a wicker basket of another soldier.
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A message is attached to a carrier pigeon by British troops on the Western Front, 1917.
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A draft horse hitched to a post, its partner was just killed by shrapnel, 1916.
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The feline mascot of the light cruiser HMAS Encounter, peering from the muzzle of a 6-inch gun.
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A dog pulling a wagon filled with belongings of Belgian refugees, 1914.
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Australian Camel Corps going into action at Sharia near Beersheba, in December of 1917.
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A dead German artilleryman and several draft horses lying dead on the Western Front, 1918. Exact figures are hard to come by, but an estimated 8 million horses died during the four years of war.
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A soldier and his horse in gas masks, ca. 1918.
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German Red Cross Dogs heading to the front.
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A common scene in Walachia, Romania during the war.
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The breakthrough west of St. Quentin, Aisne, France. Artillery drawn by horses advances through captured British positions, March 26, 1918.
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Shells carried on horseback in the Western Front, 1916.
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Camels taking a drink in a huge watering station, Asluj, Palestinian campaign, 1916.
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A British Mark V tank passes by a dead horse in the road in Peronne, France, 1918.
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A dog-handler reads a message brought by a messenger dog, who had just swum across a canal in France, during World War I.
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Horses requisitioned for the war effort in Paris, France, ca. 1915. Most of these horses were taken from farmers and families on the home front.
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A horse is used in the removal of dead horses killed during the Battle of Haelen in Belgium, 1914.
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A dog trained to search for wounded soldiers while under fire, 1915.
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A Russian cossack, in firing position, behind his horse, 1915.
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A horse with a gunshot wound to be operated by 1st LT Burgett. Le Valdahon, Doubs, France.
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6th Australian light-horse regiment on the way to Mount Scopus, Jerusalem, 1918.
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French cavalry horses swim across a river in northern France.
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Dead horses on Menin Road, Ypres sector, Belgium, 1917.
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A dispatch dog fitted with a pigeon basket for transporting carrier pigeons to the front line.
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French Red Cross dogs line up for inspection on the Western Front, 1914.
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The monkey mascot of the Third Army Trench Mortar School sits on a captured German trench mortar, 20 May 1917.
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A gunner of the York and Lancaster Regiment with their cat mascot in a trench near Cambrin, France, 6 February 1918.
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French soldiers with two carrier pigeons strapped in their travelling basket.
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British troops scraping mud from a mule near Bernafay Wood on the Western Front, 1916. British military authorities tried to ensure that animal handlers cared for their animals properly.
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A pack horse with a gas mask is loaded up with equipment during the Battle of Pilckem Ridge, Belgium, 31 July 1917.
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German transport soldier and horses wearing gas masks on the Western Front, 1917.
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