Dogs, horses, ponies and pigeons were amongst the crowd on Friday 21 July 2017 at the unveiling of a new war animal memorial at the remembrance park at Pozières’ Windmill.
Upon this sacred ground just behind the site of the Windmill, the mayor of Pozières, Bernard Delattre, and chairman of the Australian War Animal Memorial Organization (AWAMO), Nigel Allsopp, paid tribute to the thousands of animals that never returned home. Over nine million animals from all sides died during this war, not one was a volunteer and in Australia’s case nil where allowed to return home.
A quotation by Charles Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1917
"The animals came to know when a shell was coming close; and if, when halted, the horses heard the whine of an approaching salvo, they would tremble and sidle closer to their drivers, burying their muzzles in the men’s chests."
War heroes and devoted comrades-in-arms
Millions of horses, dogs and pigeons served during the war. European Cavalry units were initially considered essential offensive elements of a military force, but over the course of the war, the vulnerability of horses to modern machine gun and artillery fire reduced their utility on the battlefield. Thereafter the military mainly used horses for logistical support during the war; they were better than mechanized vehicles at travelling through deep mud and over rough terrain.
Dogs and carrier pigeons were used to deliver messages, saving thousands of lives by transporting crucial information when the communication lines were down.
Animals often also served as mascots, raisng the moral of the troops through their natural affection and innocence. One of the most famous mascots was a black bear named Winnipeg, from Canada who remained with his unit for several months. Later placed at London Zoo, he made a great impression on A.A. Milne and his son, inspiring him to write Winnie the Poo. Another example is Jimmy, a monkey who became the mascot of Squadron 93. He would always fly next to Eugène Bullard a legendary aviator nicknamed the Black Swallow of Death. In a general manner, cats were greatly appreciated and could traverse No Man’s Land without coming to any deliberate harm.
The First World War caused the death of 10 million soldiers and also the death of several million animals, of which eight million were horses. Elephants, camels, bulls, kangaroos,
cats and canaries - little or large, all of these creatures contributed to the war effort. This was the case of Stubby who found and attacked a German spy until help arrived. He was given the rank of sergeant after this action making him the most highly decorated dog of the First World War.
The contribution of these war heroes is still often overlooked. The new memorial at Pozières will help fill this void.