Unsung heroes, animals played vital and varied roles in WWI
PARIS (AP) -- They were messengers, spies and sentinels. They led cavalry charges, carried supplies to the front, comforted wounded soldiers and died by the millions during World War I.
Horses, mules, dogs, pigeons and even a baboon all were a vital — and for decades overlooked — part of the Allied war machine.
An estimated 10 million horses and mules, 100,000 dogs and 200,000 pigeons were enrolled in the war effort, according to Eric Baratay, a French historian specializing in the response of animals to the chaos, fear and smells of death in the mission that man thrust upon them.
World War I marked the start of industrial warfare, with tanks, trucks, aircraft and machine guns in action. But the growing sophistication of the instruments of death couldn't match the dog tasked with finding the wounded, the horses and mules hauling munitions and food or the pigeons serving as telecommunications operators or even eyes, carrying "pigeongrams" or tiny cameras to record German positions.
Horses are ancient warriors, but most of those conscripted during World War I weren't war-ready. They died by the millions, from disease, exhaustion and enemy fire, forcing the French and British armies to turn to America to renew their supply. A veritable industry developed with more than half a million horses and mules shipped by boat to Europe by fall 1917, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission.
So important was the commerce that the Santa Fe Railroad named a station Drage, after British Lt. Col. F.B. Drage, the commander of the British Remount Commission in Lathrop, Missouri, a major stockyard for the future beasts of war.
"So the war business in horses and mules is good," read an article in the December 1915 issue of The Santa Fe Magazine, for employees of the railway system. Good for the farmer, contractor, supplier and railroads, it said, but "not good for the animals."
And surprisingly, there were upwards of a million horses used in WW2 as well. When you think of Hitler's war machine, you don't imagine that he was using thousands upon thousands of horses, even in the Russian campaign in the east. They simply did not have the material to build enough vehicles to transport their soldiers and supplies. They pulled artillery, supplies and even ambulance wagons.
The Australian 'Waler', a breed of work horse, was used in the Boer War and World War 1.
About 121,000 Walers were sent to WW1, only one was returned to Australia.
They were famously used by the Light Horse Brigades - mounted Infantry. And notably, did the last 'cavalry charge' in modern warfare at Beersheba (now part of Israel) against the Turks ... and won the battle!
My Uncle, being a country boy, was in the Light Horse before World War 2, it was disbanded as being obsolete because of machine gun technology. He was then sent to Singapore, fought the Japs, taken prisoner, put in Changi Prison, forced labour on the Thai-Burma Railway, survived and repatriated back home.
'Every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain.'
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