• Becci Pigeon

Remembering the hidden victims of war

Many people don’t know that when it comes to war, 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. Here in the UK, a small number of wartime animals have received the 'Dickin Medal', a special recognition which is nice in principle but in reality means nothing to the animals themselves. In the meantime, horrific wartime experiments continue at Porton Down, with animals being shot, poisoned and more. (Learn more about the campaign to stop this cruelty and how you can help.)

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.'


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)


…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.


…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.


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.


It should go without saying that millions of horses have been 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. During WWI, the British army used 1.2 million horses, as well as mules. After the war ended, thousands of survivors 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.


…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. Because so many horses and mules were being used in battle during WWI, elephants--and other circus animals, like camels--were used for many tasks that formerly fell to the horses, like pulling plows and carts. During WWI, the British army used Lizzie, a travelling circus elephant, to haul iron for munitions. (From one type of abuse to another for Lizzie, it seems, and nobody knows what happened to her after the war.)

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.

4 views0 comments