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Animals in the First World War

Horses were used a lot in the First World War to pull wagons, machinery and guns

An often forgotten consequence of the First World War concerns the millions of animals who suffered and died during those tragic four years.

I am indebted to my fellow blogger The Bruges Vegan for this topic. She wrote this highly interesting and relevant post on the use of animals during the First World War.

The statistics are horrendous. Over 8 million horses and donkeys, and over 1 million dogs, died on the front line. The article I refer to above also brings our attention to the animals used for experimental reasons during warfare, and the destruction of the local fauna on the Western Front.

Of course, animals have always been used in warfare, from the massed ranks of the war elephants in various Indian wars, the machine-gun carrying camels of Persia, to the pigeons fitted with cameras during the Second World War. There was nothing innovative about the use of horses and dogs to carry weapons, ammunition, men etc.

But it’s hard to come to terms with the horrendous conditions that these animals worked in. (Not that the humans involved were in humane conditions either!). Although, having said that, there are examples of high-quality care being lavished on these animals while on the front line, or afterwards when recovering from their injuries. But it seems that these are exceptions rather than the rule.

Another aspect is the huge scale of the deaths. The statistics are simply mind-boggling. 8 million horses died. Let’s try and put that into context. Imagine collecting all the horses within the European Union today and transporting them to Belgium and northern France. You would still only have delivered 5 million animals. So you add all the horses in Russia, but that’s only another 1.3 million.

Actually, between 1914 and 1918, the US sent almost 1 million horses overseas. Only 200 returned to the US.

It’s just another sad page in the horrific story of World War One.

6 thoughts on “Animals in the First World War”

  1. Wow… 8 million. I didn’t know the numbers involved were so high. Considering that horses and donkeys are such sensitive beings, the scale of the suffering is unimaginable. In World War I, more horses and donkeys died than civilians (7 million)! Therefore, on this day, we also think about the animal casualties. Thanks a lot for the post.

    1. Thanks for your comment Dirk. Yes the numbers are staggering. Looking back, it seems that governments and world leaders were totally unaware of what was happening and incapable of bringing hostilities to a halt.

  2. Sad, but fascinating topic I knew nothing about. It reminds me that we demand so much of animals, who have no choice in the matter. I understand their use in time of war, but the numbers here are heartbreaking.

    Still, thanks for bringing this to our attention, Denzil. We should know this!

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