Remembering the hidden victims of war

  • 0

Remembering the hidden victims of war

On Remembrance Day, we honour the brave women and men who have served our country, many of them willingly giving up their lives to do so.

What some people don’t know is that human beings aren’t the only animals on the front lines.   Dogs, pigeons, dolphins, canaries, pigs, horses, camels, elephants, mules, and many, many others have all been unwilling  participants in human conflicts, and it is only fair that we remember them as well.  As Animal Aid has so aptly stated, “Animals used in wars are not heroes; they are victims. They do not give their lives; their lives are taken.”

WWII soldier holding messenger pigeon

A soldier with a messenger pigeon during WWII.


Hundreds of thousands of homing pigeons were used as messengers during the first and second World Wars, and most were shot and killed.   In 1914, the Belgian Pigeon Service burned 2,500 pigeons alive rather than risk their falling into enemy hands. During WWI, one pigeon known as Mon Ami flew 25 miles in as many minutes even after having been shot multiple times by the German military as he struggled to reach his destination.  A message tied to his leg delivered important information to the American military, saving 200 lives.

Of course, it’s unlikely that Mon Ami had any idea that he was serving in a war–rather, like all homing pigeons, he was just trying to get home.  On his last mission, Mon Ami was badly injured, returning to the coop covered in blood, partially-blinded, shot in the chest, and with one leg dangling by a tendon.  Poor Mon Ami died as a result of his injuries in 1919. He was awarded a medal of honour and was considered a celebrated hero of the war effort.  To American children of the 1920s and 30s, he was as well known as any human soldier. (more)

rags the dog with a soldier

Rags, a mixed-breed terrier, was wounded and gassed during WWI; after the war, he was adopted by a military family.


…have been forced into service as well, used as messengers and scouts and to search out booby traps.  During WWI, more than 7,000 people offered their dogs to the military in service of the war effort; many others were taken from shelters.  Those who did not make the grade were euthanised or shot as “useless.”  In WWII, dogs were kept in Allied trenches as sentinels; others were sent out as bait in order to draw enemy fire.  In Vietnam, 5,000 dogs served with the American military; only 150 returned home.  The rest were abandoned to the enemy.


…are still used in war, having been trained to search for mines on the seabed.  These social, playful, and intelligent animals spend their lives in captivity only to be shipped around the world to be trapped in tanks aboard warships.  California sea lions suffer a similar fate.  Canada does not use bomb-seeking dolphins, though they were part of a military training exercise off the coast of British Columbia as recently as September.


…who were not trained for battle were used by the military as late as WWII.  Able to travel in places inaccessible to vehicles, these animals were used to build bridges, ships, and as beasts of burden, utilized to pull aircrafts and more.  Many were killed.


During WWII, the British military killed rats and stuffed their bodies with explosives.  They planned to drop them into German boiler rooms where, they hoped, the rats would be thrown into a furnace, only to explode.  The first shipment of rats was discovered by the Germans and thus the plan was never executed.

Dorothy Brooke with rescued horses

Dorothy Brooke with rescued ex-cavalry horses.


It should go without saying that hundreds of thousands of horses were killed in armed conflicts.  Used when vehicles were unavailable or impractical, horses rode to the front lines, transported equipment and weapons, and were even used as live shields, forced to lie down while soldiers hunched behind them to shoot at the enemy.  After WWI ended, thousands of them were simply abandoned or sold into hard labour.  Dorothy Brooke, wife of a British army general, was horrified to find these sickly, emaciated horses and founded the Brooke Hospital for Animals in order to care for them.

And many more…

Pigs, goats, sheep, mice, rats, monkeys, guinea pigs, dogs, and others have all been used–and continue to be so–to test the efficicacy of poisonous chemical and biological weapons and their antidotes.  Pigs are also drugged and operated on while alive so that doctors can practice battlefield surgery.

Much of this information was taken from Animal Aid.  There are so many stories of animals used in the military that I couldn’t possibly fit even a quarter of them in this blog entry, so I urge you to look at Animal Aid’s “Hidden Victims of War” leaflet to learn more.   You can also check out the Canadian Animals in War Dedication project here.

Leave a Reply