Animals At War

A couple of years ago the Animals At War display was given a make over to help show the true contribution made by so many different types of animals from World War I to the current time.

Even with our modern technology animals still play their part from the dogs that make parachute jumps in tandem with their handler, to the dolphins and seals trained to make sure that boats are secure beneath the waterline.

The animal that probably saved the most lives during both of the World Wars is the pigeon. In WWI they were a vital way to communicate and in France fields were covered with mobile pigeon coops.

In WWII the pigeon was just as vital for communications from occupied territories and also from heavy bomber planes when they crashed on land or ditched into the ocean.

Every heavy bomber would carry one or two yellow boxes which each contained a pigeon that had it's home coop on the airfield from which the plane came from. In the case of a plane ditching in the ocean the radio operator would grab the yellow box, in the survival dinghy he would put a capsule on the pigeon's leg with the co-ordinates of the crash and release the pigeon. The yellow box then played it's part by being towed through the ocean as the currents and breeze propelled it on. The yellow paint then left a trail for the rescue aircraft to find the dinghy.

There are so many tales to tell of brave animals and hopefully we can put them in a post from time to time. The other way for you to find out is to visit the museum and read all about them in the display building.

The reading desk and mock up of a pigeon loft.

Some of the displays and the booklets at the reading desk.

Looking down the display.

The brown pigeon box is from WWI and the yellow one is a replica from WWII. In the foreground is a small red capsule which would contain messages and be fitted to the pigeons leg.


  1. Animals at the war - this is an important theme and your exhibition must be very interesting - how many horses died during the Great War! They are also heros, but who commemorates them on the Remembrance Day? I recomment a fascinating book written by U. Raulff:

    1. Thank you for your much appreciated comment, Philine.
      There has been until fairly recently a purple poppy issued by the organisation Animal Aid. However, they have now decided against issuing the poppy for the reasons shown in their statement below.


      Animal Aid Director, Andrew Tyler, explains a change of emphasis for our animal victims of war initiative.

      When we at Animal Aid launched our purple poppy initiative – to commemorate the animal victims of war – no other organisation seemed to be addressing the issue. Our aim was to make it clear that animals used in warfare are indeed victims, not heroes. They do not give their lives; their lives are taken from them.

      But too often the narrative promoted by the media has been one of animals as the valiant servants of people in violent conflict. This is precisely the opposite message to that which we intended. An equivalent situation would be if animal victims of laboratory research were to be presented as brave heroes in the service of human beings – with Animal Aid’s name attached to that idea. Having said that, many of our poppy sellers have worked extraordinarily hard and with great passion on this campaign. Certainly, our message, via their work, has to a degree got through. But the dominant narrative (animal victims of war are heroes who died for us) is so deeply embedded that only a huge effort (costly in every way) can uproot it and lay down something that will benefit the animals. We considered the massive-effort option but decided that Animal Aid’s finite resources are best used on other urgent, more productive campaigns.

      We are, therefore, replacing the purple poppy with a purple paw badge that will commemorate all animal victims of human exploitation. It can be worn all year round – at special events or day to day. Rest assured that we will continue to promote our victims-not-heroes message every year in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday (but without the purple poppy), and we will continue to produce our Animals: the hidden victims of war booklet and other resources."

      Agreed, the animals didn't have a choice, but neither did 99% of the humans involved in war. There was, and still is in some countries, conscription. To be a conscientious objector could have got you shot or put in prison if you didn't agree to being an ambulance driver or something similar at the front line. Civilians didn't have a choice either.

      The purple poppy was something that showed that you recognised the bravery and often the sacrifice the animals made in war.

      In WWI there was not the technology available and dogs and pigeons played hugely important roles. The humble pigeon saved so many lives in both World Wars as a means of communication.

      Horses, mules and ponies were the only means of transport that could get supplies, and armaments where they were needed due to the muddy conditions of the fields. They were given the love and care that were available. Always groomed after a journey, even if it took 12 hours to do so, and there was veterinary care available.

      The reason why there are museums like ours is to try and show the horrors and the sacrifices of both animals and humans, and to show future generations why this must never happen again.

      The animals and the men and women who fought in all the wars are heroes, be it of their own willingness or the need to prevent the work of dictators. Dogs are still used today for the search of mines, roadside bombs, whilst seals and dolphins are used for underwater detection of mines etc. The love and care afforded to them is as passionate as the love we show our own pets. In many cases, probably more so.

      Without the bravery of the animals of both World Wars our lives would be considerably different. We wouldn't have overcome the dictators, heavens knows what our lives would be like.

      I defy anyone to read the poem The Soldier's Kiss by Henry Chappell without a lump in their throat, or a tear in their eye. It shows the love and compassion beyond words.


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