For as long as there’s been war, there have been animals helping each side. From horses and camels to dogs and pigs, there aren’t many species that haven’t been a part of a war effort.
Carrier pigeons make sense – trained birds who deliver messages from one handler to another is a great form of communication when you can’t count on technology. The crazy thing is, people figured out how to use goats, glowworms, and even slugs to help with the war.
Find out more about these heroic animals – click ‘Start Slideshow‘ to see how each one helped in their unique ways!
Stubby the Staffordshire
One of the most decorated soldiers in the first World War was Stubby, a Staffordshire terrier mix that Private J. Robert Conroy smuggled aboard the SS Minnesota just before the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division shipped off. Stubby served as a mascot initially, but he also learned drills, calls, and salutes. He went above and beyond his duty of morale boosting by warning the troops of gas attacks, and finding the wounded on the battlefield.
Stubby even caught a German spy and attacked until his fellow soldiers arrived. Just like your family dog that protects you at every turn, Stubby was there to protect his family – his military family – no matter the cost. And just as a soldier gets awarded medals of bravery and courage, and promotions to higher ranks, Stubby was also honored. He was promoted to sergeant.
Togo the Cat
This cute kitty was more of a morale booster than a deckhand. But Togo was still a cat, and as such, there were duties to be performed. Togo hunted and killed mice aboard the battleship HMS Dreadnought, which was used by the Royal Navy from 1906 to 1919. Still, Togo was a fluffy feline that also brought smiles to the men on board, which was also an important duty of any cat mascot during wars.
Although your pet cat may not be as vigilant with mice or bugs around the house, they occasionally may bring a dead bird or other critter to your feet. This is a good thing, so don’t admonish him or her! Cats were probably used on ships for millennia, thanks to their hunting prowess – and their ability to amuse everyone on board when they played with balls of yarn.
The Slug Brigade
That’s not made up, I promise. Common slugs came through to help protect soldiers at the tail end of World War I. They didn’t exactly do anything intentionally, but rather accidentally. Dr. Paul Bartsch had been studying slugs for nearly a decade when he discovered that garden slugs could be a huge help to the troops fighting the war. Whenever mustard gas was deployed, it would typically take hold of humans before they could slip on gas masks to protect themselves.
Slugs detected the deadly gas before humans and would indicate a gas attack by compressing their bodies to protect themselves. This gave soldiers enough time to get gas masks on and keep going. So, if you’re ever walking down the sidewalk and see one of these little guys inching by, try not to step on them, and maybe offer a word of thanks for their ancestors’ duty.
An Australian Friend
This just goes to prove that not everything in Australia is trying to kill all mankind. The RAAF Spitfire Squadron had a pygmy flying phalanger, which is a bit like a tiny possum, as their mascot during the 1940s. They’re ridiculously adorable, and they’re not venomous like seemingly everything else in Australia. The mascot was used to bring smiles to the faces of the forces.
Technically, the Ferdie belonged to Robert Addison of Victoria, who captured the animal on Bathurst Island. Addison said the phalanger was quite the drunk – he could drink down a full tablespoon of beer at once, but then he was a bit wobbly. One time, the little guy even fell into a full glass of beer. There’s no record of whether he had to drink himself out to save his life, but he did stop drinking after that incident.
Simon the Cat
Cats weren’t always the lazy domestic dwellers they are today. It used to be that cats had to earn their keep. Simon was one of those workhorse cats who was discovered on the docks in Hong Kong by a British Seaman. He brought Simon aboard the HMS Amethyst. At the time, Simon was just a kitten and didn’t have a job. He quickly started finding rats, though, and clearing the ship of them.
At one point, Simon was wounded during a battle, and even after medical attention, he wasn’t expected to live – but he did. And he kept on hunting rats – even though he was still seen as just a mascot for the ship. Simon’s biggest job was just on the horizon, though. He would be needed like never before by the men he shared the ship with – but could he do it?
Simon the Hero
The Amethyst was overrun with rats while anchored in the Yangtze River. Simon saved the crew and received a hero’s welcome when they returned home. The cat received three medals, including the Animal Victoria Cross and the Blue Cross medal. He also got the Amethyst campaign medal and was awarded a new rank: Able Seacat. Unfortunately, Simon had to go through quarantine when he returned to the United Kingdom and contracted a virus.
Hundreds of fans attended his funeral, including the entire crew of the Amethyst. He was remembered for being a friendly, heroic cat, and a friend to all those on the ship. He was honored in various ways, and no one had an ill word to say about the feline and Able Seacat. On his tombstone, his achievements are read, and at the end, it reads: “Throughout the Yangtze Incident his behavior was of the highest order.”
Horses aren’t the only beasts of burden that can help during a war. In India in 1917, camels carried wounded soldiers and men back to safety, in this photo. And camels have often been used during warfare throughout the centuries. Camels do much better in heat and with minimal water compared to horses. You know those humps on their backs? Full of water. They can traipse through the desert for quite a long time without a source of water.
According to some history experts, camels have been used in battle since 853 B.C. Often they were transporting goods, but they also carried riders wherever they needed to go, or even into battle. They also transported the wounded. Is it any wonder that camels have been an important member of many militaries in many countries throughout the years, decades, and centuries?
Need a Light?
When World War I soldiers needed to study intelligence reports, figure out where to go next on maps, or even just read letters sent from home, they usually relied on lighters or lamps. Those lights are extremely bright, though, and there were moments when they needed to remain unseen. So, instead, the troops gathered glowworms and kept them in jars. Probably only because they didn’t have access to fireflies.
Either way, the bioluminescent creatures helped troops avoid detection, but still navigate to positions they needed to be in. Later in 2004, the United Kingdom honored the animals who fought alongside men in wars, noting that the animals and bugs had no choice. It was humans who made that choice for them. By the way, did you know that only 10 glowworms can produce as much light as a streetlamp?
Not All Heroes Wear Capes
Some heroes, like this mix of mutts, wore vests with the painted red cross on them and helped on the Western Front in France. Red Cross war dogs were often used to help save lives during World War I. Lieutenant Colonel Edwin H. Richardson understood the value of war dogs. He was one of the few who would supply dogs for the military back in the day – even before the war.
Dogs were often used as messengers, guards, mine-sniffers, and for carrying food, ammunition, or medical supplies short distances. Canines can be incredibly loyal and nothing will keep them from reaching their handler, which made them ideal to use in those various jobs. Today, though, dogs are mostly used for specialized service, while electronics have taken over the jobs that dogs once had. Fine by me – I want my dog living a life of luxury at home.
One of the most celebrated soldiers to go to war was Lin Wang, an Asian elephant who had quite a life. He was born in 1917, and he became a big part of the Sino-Japanese War. He was once used by the Japanese Army the way horses usually were: to transport supplies. In 1943, the Chinese captured him and a dozen other elephants. So, in a way, Lin Wang was a double agent. Elephants weren’t common in wars, as they are huge.
An elephant tagging along with a troop of soldiers would be a dead giveaway. However, they could be quite helpful when needing to move lots of supplies and horses are scarce. Eventually, Lin Wang was sent to Taiwan to work, and finally in 1952, he retired at the Taipei Zoo. He lived to be 86 years old.
A Horse – Of Course
Horses are always a big part of wars and have been since forever, it seems. Some of them even got specially made gas masks to protect them as they helped this German transport driver in 1917 on the Western Front. It made sense to provide the horses gas masks to help protect them – after all, you needed them to survive throughout the duration of the war.
During World War I, more than 2,000 horses were hospitalized due to gas attacks because the gas didn’t stay in one spot – it drifted to those far away from the front lines. The saddest piece of history here is that about eight million horses, mules, and donkeys died during the First World War. And it wasn’t all because of gunfights. It was also due to poor conditions and harsh weather that they simply couldn’t withstand.
A well-trained monkey might be a great addition to a group of troops, but generally the tiny pets served as mascots. As you can see in this photo of a man from The Third Army Trench Mortar School, the monkey is just a silly distraction – which is necessary sometimes when you’re at war. He’s clearly making kissy face at the mascot sitting on a captured German trench mortar in 1917.
Soldiers often adopted animals that they found in their travels and kept them as pets, who would help alleviate boredom and help raise spirits. And it seems in this photo taken in 1917 France, that morale was boosted, at least momentarily. There were plenty of other interesting mascots used by militaries, including ferrets, goats, and a pig. Oh, and the Norwegian mascot is a penguin because of course it is.
Stunter the War Dog
There isn’t much known about Stunter the war dog. In this undated photo (probably circa 1918) taken in France during World War I, it’s clear that there’s a strong connection between the officer and Stunter. Typically, pets and mascots were stray animals that soldiers would “adopt” and take care of, only to be taken care of emotionally by the pets. Imagine being able to take your pet to work with you. You’d be a much happier, less stressed worker, right?
A Smaller Work Horse
You’d have to be an ass to go to war – I mean, if you wanted to join the British troops during World War II, you’d have a good chance if you were an ass, otherwise known as a mule or donkey. In this photo dated November 17, 1944, some troops take a breather with their mule companions and tiny workhorses after crossing the Chindwin River near in Burma. Although these smaller horse-like beasts of burden were slower than their bigger cousins (horses), they could carry huge loads.
That’s what made them such an asset in battle. Puns aside, they were quite helpful in many situations, and helped lighten the load of the soldiers who had to cover quite a bit of rough terrain. They’re also known for being stubborn, though, so I wonder how they got the mules to get going when they wanted to just sit?
A Furry Friend
The York and Lancaster Regiment had its own cat with them. In this photo, a gunner is shown in a trench with the kitty near Cambrin, France in 1918. Of course, having a cat in the trench with you during war was important. Cats could easily hunt and kill rats or mice that wandered over, which was vital because those little rat and mice teeth found their way into food and through wires.
Plus, cats provided some much-needed comfort and stress relief for the men who were far from home and loved ones. The soldiers likely gladly shared their rations with the fluffy cat who helped keep them safe from rats and mice, and provided them a little bit of love during a trying time. Not to mention that cats can be good guards in their own right – some cats have some loud meows to warn you of anyone approaching who shouldn’t be there.
One of the most well-known animals to serve in wars is the carrier pigeon. The birds would ride along with troops in travelling baskets, and then they were used to send messages to other camps. These war pigeons did more than deliver mail, though. Some were outfitted with cameras so they could snap photos from the air of the battlefields below. It was a dangerous job, though, as homing pigeons were often shot down by the enemy. Before radio, having war pigeons was a necessity, although like other animals who served during wars, the pigeons had no say in the matter.
Eventually, war pigeons were retired completely for several reasons, including improving technology. Although, some countries still use homing pigeons to send messages, such as in Pakistan. And there are many soldiers out there who had a pigeon to thank for his life.
Lizzie the Riveter?
Traditionally, it’s men who go to war, and during World Wars, women often had to pick up the slack back at home. Like the shortage of men at home, there was also a shortage of horses at home during World War I. Other beasts of burden had to be used to till dirt for crops, and move supplies. Circus performer Lizzie, an Indian elephant, took on a new job pulling scrap metal and munitions around town in England.
There’s no way of knowing whether she preferred her job in the circus performing tricks, or one where she was working hard for more than peanuts. With that said, she was a big ally during a time when horses were nowhere to be found. She was so used to people, one story goes, that she once stopped to stick her trunk through a window and steal someone’s dinner.
Another Dog Trick
Your dog may sit, stay, and roll over, but this German war pup was trained to do the work of men. A spool of telephone wire would be strapped onto a dog’s back and then sent across a field to lay the wire. Clever girl. It was a quick way to get field communications set up. They weren’t one-trick dogs, either. Many were tasked with carrying rations, ammunition, and medical supplies to those who were beyond reach.
And, of course, there were those dogs who were trained to locate wounded soldiers on the battlefield. It made sense, as dogs were smaller, more mobile, and they could outrun many soldiers. They could get to where they needed to be and out before being caught. Dogs: Friends, hard workers, and loyal to a fault. What would we do without them, I ask you?
An Exotic Companion
You might expect a corporal, like this man, of the staff of the 2nd Australian general hospital, would bring a kangaroo, or perhaps a wallaby with him to war. But no, this guy, took a koala with him. Whether the koala was a pet or mascot, no one knows. The photo was taken in Cairo, in 1915. Which would’ve made this around the time that Australian troops traveled to Egypt to guard the Suez Canal.
This was around the time of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, around the beginning of World War I. A koala wouldn’t have been much use during a war, as they wouldn’t be able to quickly deliver messages or send help for a wounded soldier. In fact, all they really do is chomp on eucalyptus leaves – and a lot of them. The koala was likely just a companion.
Handle with Care
Animal handlers were instructed to take good care of the animals serving in the war, whether the animals were working or simply acting as mascots. It wasn’t a great expectation, as having an animal to care for often gave the soldiers a distraction, and something to live for, in a way. Dogs are still used today by military, and their handlers tend to every need they have. From nail clippings and grooming to knowing how to perform CPR on dogs.
Handlers today even know how to spot canine PTSD, which hits about 5 percent of dogs working in the military. It’s safe to say dogs working jobs in the military have it better today than ever before. And when they retire, they do so with all sorts of honors. Upon retirement, they’re typically placed with a family that ensures they’ll live a life of a regular dog afterward.
Not Collateral Damage
Animals weren’t seen as disposable by any means. During anti-gas drills, soldiers would put on their masks, and then secure the war animals, such as the carrier pigeons. They had a special gas-proof chamber for the birds that would protect them in case of any gas attacks. However, many animals were killed during war, and the numbers are staggering. About 100,000 pigeons were used during World War I, and the Germans began shooting them down.
The birds they missed with bullets were sometimes taken down by hawks that were stationed on the frontline. Many of those pigeons, though, were responsible for saving the lives of many soldiers. Cher Ami, for example, was able to help save about 200 men, even when she was injured by German soldiers during her work delivering a message of warning of an incoming attack.
Express Mail by Pup
It wasn’t just carrier pigeons who would get important messages from one group to another. Dogs were also used to deliver those messages. Like this good boy who brought a message to one of his handlers with the Royal Engineers during the war in France in 1918, in this photo. About 20,000 pups were used in the war for various tasks, including getting important messages to troops before an attack. It was vital to have a means of communication when there were no radios and no other way to communicate during a battle.
Dogs were quick, small, and could typically outrun other soldiers. They used brush and tall grass to camouflage themselves as they ran from point to point. While birds took to the skies, dogs were trusted to the terrain down below, and both were quite helpful in wars.
Load ‘Em Up
Horses didn’t just ride into battle with soldiers on their backs. They also served as pack horses, carrying equipment during World War I. Michael Morpurgo wrote the book War Horse. His inspiration came from the research he did on animals in the war – about 8 million horses died in the First World War alone. So, he wrote his book about WWI, but not from the perspective of a foot soldier, a sergeant, or a general.
Rather, he wrote it with the perspective of a horse that worked for both sides to show that there will always be suffering when there is war – regardless of which side you fight on. To think of a horse having an opinion on war and their role in it kind of makes you wonder if they really did want to help or were just doing so because, well, that’s what animals do for humans.
Did you know elephants get seasick? Green Beret John Scott Gantt found out when he was trying to figure out how to transport two pachyderms to a small Vietnam village where he had set up a sawmill back in 1968. The sawmill was necessary so they could have lumber to build training camps to teach the locals how to fight. But they were being charged $4 per 2×4, which was far too much – they were definitely being overcharged.
So, he arranged to have the two elephants flown in by helicopter, that were then used to help transport the fallen logs to the saw mill. And then Disney turned the story into the 1990s film Operation Dumbo Drop. Of course, the movie has very little to do with the real story. The real name of the project was “Operation Barroom” because of the sound of an elephant’s fart.
Cutest. Mascot. Ever.
For the most part, kittens that joined the ranks of Naval officers had the sole duty of being cute and sleeping while on board a ship. In the case of this kitten mascot of the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle, she just had to look adorable in her very own hammock made by the ship’s sailmaker. As she grew, though, she would become a deadly hunter on the boat, tracking, hunting, and killing any mice or rats that tried to stow away.
It’s an old tradition that likely dates back to ancient time – the cat hunting mice, not the kitten hammock. It’s an incredibly helpful companion to have on board, and even in your house. Seriously, if you have a cat at home, tell me, when’s the last time you saw a mouse or rat? Alive, that is. See what I mean?
Leave it to Canada
Of all the mascots to take with you, you guys grab a goat? Sergeant Bill was simply a mascot during the First World War, and Canadian soldiers decided to take him along as a good luck charm. Technically, the troops weren’t supposed to bring the old billy goat with them to the front lines, but he seemed to really help with the soldiers’ morale. I mean, I’m not sure whether a goat is all that cuddly, but they’ll at least eat all the scraps you don’t want from your MRE.
So, they smuggled Bill to France. It turned out to be a good decision for the Canadian troops, as they were about to stumble into some seriously bad luck. Bill actually butted three soldiers into a trench just before an explosion went off where they were standing seconds ago.
During World War II, there was one U.S. Marine who made quite the name for himself. He wasn’t particularly quick – in fact, he was always the last into the foxhole, and the last one out of it, according some of his mates. He wasn’t exactly lazy, rather, it was just the nature of things. Anyway, he did earn a Purple Heart for his bravery during a battle in Japan – with a rooster. You see, Siwash was no ordinary U.S. Marine.
Siwash was a duck. And he, who was actually a “she,” made quite an impression on her fellow soldiers. She was purportedly won in a poker game, and then she took to drinking a lot while with the Marines. The last time one of Siwash’s fellow Marines saw him – er, her – the duck was in a boxing ring in Hawaii. She had apparently been drinking quite a bit.
A “Teddy” Bear
Given the year – 1908 – it made sense that a bear cub would be the mascot for many ships in the U.S. Navy. This bear cub here was given to the USS Missouri crew when it visited Seattle, Washington. Why does it make sense? The President of the United States at that time was Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. Of course, the connection came about when Roosevelt went on a bear hunt, and his fellow hunters had tied an injured bear up for him to shoot.
He refused, saying it was unsportsmanlike, and a political cartoonist drew the scene. The bear was redrawn over and over until it was a caricature of a bear, and then someone got the bright idea of calling President “Teddy’s” bear a “Teddy bear,” and made into a stuffed animal. Eventually, “Teddy’s bears” were created and sold – and now we have teddy bears!
Even during the Spanish-American war back in 1899, soldiers brought mascots with them aboard ships, to trenches, and along the front line. And then there are those honorary soldiers who served in the war, but in a different way, like King Neptune. He was a U.S. Navy mascot pig who helped raise $19 million in war bonds during World War II. Is that more than what other tours pull in?
It’s impressive, anyway. His appearances were a big deal and he was willing to auction off a squeal to the highest bidder. The pig didn’t do any skits, stand-up comedy, or dance numbers, but he was still quite popular among those who wanted to help out the war effort. King Neptune retired in 1946 and spent the remaining four years of his life on a farm – happy as a pig in, well, you know.
Caring for the Helpless
There are times when a soldier faces more death and more war, than he can handle, and needs to reconnect with his sense of humanity. It’s at these times that mascots and pets on the front lines can come in handy. In the case of this U.S. Marine, Sergeant Frank Praytor, who was fighting in the Korean war, it was happenstance. He discovered a two-week-old kitten who had been orphaned when its mother was shot to death by another soldier. The Marine held the kitten securely in his hand to feed it. And the kitten’s name? Miss Hap.
In fact, it was that kitten and that photo that led to Praytor winning an award for one of the most moving images to come out of the war. And Miss Hap may have been the one to save Praytor from being court martialed. See? Animals have helped in all sorts of ways when we’re at war!