Man's best friend during World War One.
The First World War ended 102 years ago on this day. Not all those who served walked on two legs, many dogs on both sides carried out crucial, vital and life saving roles. The main breeds that served were Border Collies, Boston Terrier, Dobermann Pinscher, German Shepherd and Mixed-Breed Terriers.
Guard Dogs: Also known as sentries, scouts and watchdogs, they would sit alongside a soldier who was on guard, and would alert him when trouble was near. With keen senses of sight, hearing and smell, they were trained to raise alerts quietly. Rather than bark loudly like a domestic dog would, they growled quietly or stood to attention. This gave soldiers the much needed time to get ready for their enemy. These dogs also guarded railways, munitions and supplies, barracks, trenches and prisoners of war. They often prevented the enemy from getting close enough to throw grenades. When the Germans introduced gas warfare, dogs were trained to detect it. When alerted to gas, the troops could put on their gas masks. Dogs were also issued with gas masks for protection.
Red Cross Dogs: Also known as "mercy dogs" wore Red Cross collars or coats. These dogs carried medical supplies to the men, so that they could treat themselves if they were able. These supplies were contained in saddle bags worn by the dogs. They had one of the most dangerous tasks of finding and assisting wounded men in "no-man's land". If a soldier was unconscious or unable to move, the dog would run back to it's handler carrying a cap, glove, or torn scrap of clothing as evidence that the soldier was in need of aid. The resourceful dog would then lead a stretcher party straight back to the injured party. These amazing dogs could also distinguish between the dead and unconscious. If someone was dead, they moved on to the next man in need of assistance. If a soldier was dying, the dog would stay with him, providing much needed comfort during their final moments on earth.
A Red Cross dog providing a soldier with medical supplies.
Rat Catchers: Rats were a big problem in the trenches of WW1. Not only were they annoying, but they appeared in vast quantities, carrying potentially harmful diseases. Dogs, in particular the terrier mixes, would rid the trenches of these harmful pests.
A terrier poses with some of his kill.
Messengers: Communication was important between the trenches in WW1. It was often dangerous for soldiers to pass messages along the battlefield due to their size and slow movement. Dogs were deployed for the task, due to the fact that they could cross many terrains not only with ease, but with a lot of speed. Messages were put in tins around the dogs' necks and they were identified by a scarlet collar or tally. Some dogs were trained to trail telephone wires between locations.
A soldier places a message in a messenger dog's tin.
As well, as carrying out their much needed duties, the dogs of WW1 also provided comfort, companionship and a positive effect on the morale of soldiers. They were a much needed psychological comfort to the men enduring the bleak horrors of trench warfare.
Probably the most famous dog of WW1, Sergeant Stubby was an American dog who served as the mascot of America's 102nd Infantry Regiment. Stubby was believed to be a Boston Terrier/Pit Bull Mix, with a short stature, barrel shape and friendly temperament. He was found wandering around across an army training session in Connecticut U.S.A. in 1917. He got his name from Corporal Robert Conroy, due to his short tail. When Conroy had to go and fight, he did not want to leave Stubby behind, so he smuggled him on to the ship to France with him. Conroy taught Stubby to salute, by putting his right paw on his right eyebrow, securing his place as the official mascot of the division.
Stubby was hit in the leg by a grenade in early 1918. He kept other injured soldiers company as he recovered. Not long after his leg healed he returned to the trenches, only to be sprayed with mustard gas. He never forgot the scent and barked to warn the soldiers of subsequent gas attacks. Stubby was also aware of the whine of the artillery shells before the soldiers could hear it, again his bark would alert them. His exceptional sense of smell and hearing saved many lives.
His short stature gave him the ability to scoot under barbed wire in "no man's land" and bring supplies to wounded soldiers. Once, he heard a German spy sneaking into the camp late at night and captured the man, by biting him firmly on the leg.
Stubby has been called the most decorated dog war dog of WW1. He is also the only dog to be nominated for rank and then promoted to sergeant through combat. At the end of the war, Conroy smuggled Stubby back to the United States, where he received a well deserved hero's welcome. He became something of a celebrity and he met two presidents (Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. He was a lifetime member of the Red Cross and the American Legion. The YMCA gave him a room and three bones a day for the rest of his life and he marched in military parades around the country.
Sergeant Stubby leading a military parade.
Sergeant Stubby died peacefully in 1926, he was around 10 years old. Since 1956. Stubby's stuffed remains have been on display at the Smithsonian museum in Washington DC.
Sergeant Stubby at the Smithsonian National Museum (Washington DC.)
Thousands of dogs sacrificed their lives in order to ensure the safety of countless numbers of soldiers. " A dog is the only thing on earth, that loves you more than he loves himself" (Josh Billings). These extraordinary canines are a testament to this quote. It is important that we take a moment to remember and honour these often forgotten and unsung heroes. During the First World War, they truly were man's best friend.