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Celebrating Famous Animals of World War I - Information for KS2 and KS3

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

The human casualties in World War I were horrific. Animal casualties in World War I were horrific too. The RSPCA states that an unimaginable "2.5 million injured animals were admitted to the Army Veterinary Corps during the First World War", and that a staggering "484,143 British horses, mules, camels and bullocks died between 1914 and 1918".

The reason that so many animals died is that they were directly involved in the war effort, often on the front line itself. Horses were part of cavalry charges early on in the war and then provided transportation in the later years. Pigeons were used to carry messages from one battlefield to another. Dogs sniffed out dangers and assisted in the laying of electrical wire. Even glow-worms played a role, they were popped in jars and used to light dark trenches.

Just as there were heroic humans who served in the war on all sides and continue to inspire us today, there were many heroic animals too. This list is a celebration of these wonderful creatures, both large and small.

Sgt. Bill

Courtesy Broadview Museum

Sgt. Bill was a goat. Yes, that's right, a goat. If you didn't know already: goats can be heroes too.

Bill was smuggled into France by a group of Canadian soldiers. Bill was as tough as old boots, he survived shrapnel wounds, shell shock and even a nasty bout of trench foot - or should that be 'trench hoof'? Bill stuck with his unit through thick and thin, despite being once arrested for eating military equipment!

Bill even saved three members of his unit; he head-butted them into a trench in order to avoid an incoming shell, mere seconds before it exploded. This gorgeous goat was awarded the 1914 Star, the General Service Medal, and the Victory Medal for his heroic deeds.

Cher Ami

Cher Ami was an incredibly brave homing pigeon and was responsible for saving the lives of over 500 men of the 77th Division of the American Army. How did this even happen?

On the 3rd of October, 1918, 550 soldiers were trapped deep behind enemy lines. They had no supplies, they had no ammunition and they were fast running out of hope. And then, to make matters even worse, they began to suffer friendly fire. They were getting bombed by other allied troops who didn't know they were there!

Major Charles White Whittlesey tried to send runners to get help but they were intercepted and killed by the surrounding German army, who had the allies vastly outnumbered. Whittlesay resorted to sending carrier pigeons in a desperate attempt to not only tell the allies where they were but to also demand they stopped dropping shells on them.

The first pigeon flew up into the air, carrying the message "Many wounded. We cannot evacuate." Suddenly, a sharp 'crack' rang out. The bird plummeted to the ground, killed mid-flight by a German sniper. Whittlesay, with fear in his heart, tried again with a second pigeon, this one carrying the message "Men are suffering. Can support be sent." The bird gingerly took to the sky, only for another heart breaking 'Crack' to ring out, sending the bird spiralling to the ground.

At this time, friendly artillery tried to support the embattled soldiers with covering fire. However, they had no idea where Whittlesay and his men were, resulting in the deadly shells falling on their comrades. Whittlesay had one more chance and one more pigeon, this final avian was Cher Ami.

Cher Ami took flight, carrying the message "We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heavens sake stop it." written on onion paper and attached to her leg. As she rose into the air, the German's opened fire. Whittlesay's heart sank as a bullet struck the daring pigeon and she began to fall.

Then a miracle happened. Against all odds, Cher Ami began to flap her wings again and rose into the sky, evading any further bullets. She then flew, whilst badly injured, 25 miles in 25 minutes to reach the division headquarters. With the message safely received the friendly fire stopped and the surviving soldiers were all rescued.

Cher Ami had been badly wounded, she had been shot through the chest, had a wounded eye and one of her legs was barely attached. Army Medics rushed to save her life and she made a full recovery. They even carved a wooden leg to replace the limb they couldn't save.

Cher Ami, a humble pigeon, had become a hero of the 77th Infantry.

Sgt. Stubby

Sgt. Bill wasn't actually a real sergeant. That was just a friendly name given to him by the Canadian soldiers that served with him. However, there is an animal that was actually promoted to the rank of sergeant. That animal was a Boston Terrier called 'Stubby'.

Stubby was adopted by the 102nd Infantry of Massachusetts after he wandered into their encampment one day. The soldiers then took Stubby with them all the way to distant France. And it's a good thing they did too, because little did they know at the time, Stubby would save all their lives.

Stubby took part in 17 battles and his canine abilities led to him playing an important role. Stubby with his amazing sense of smell would bark and warn soldiers of an incoming gas attack, providing them with vital extra seconds to safely put on their gas masks. Stubby would do the same with artillery attacks, his keen ears detecting the distant whine as the shells fell to their target. Stubby would bark a warning and his fellow soldiers would have extra time to take cover before they were struck.

He even single-handedly (or, single-pawedly I suppose) caught a German Spy! Stubby restrained the unwitting agent by keeping a firm bite on the spy's bottom until help arrived.

Stubby was injured many times, he was even once caught-up in the explosion of a German hand grenade. Nothing would stop this formidable dog though, and Stubby soon returned to service.

Stubby survived the war and became a celebrity back home in America, he even met the President!

Here's some amazing photos of animals serving in World War I, a big thank you to Rare Historical Photos for gathering these incredible images.


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