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Animals in Wartime

02 Jun 2015

Our Subjects / Ā Mātou Kaupapa:
Animals, History

Where can I find information about the roles animals have in war?  How were they used in World War One and Two?

LEVEL:  Intermediate / Secondary

Animals help humans every day in many ways - by protecting us, comforting us, and moving us and our stuff.  During times of war, this does not change, but some of the duties animals perform do.  Let's check out some links to find out more about the courageous animals that served alongside our soldiers in World War I and World War II.

I went to Te Ara:  The Encyclopedia of New Zealand and searched here for 'animals in war'.  The first result (a page from the horse story, called War) looked best - it talks about horses and how they served with our soldiers in various wars.  NZHistory also has a page about horses in the war, which you can find here.

But what about other animals?  To find out what other animals served in the world wars, I did a Google search and entered the phrase 'animals in world war'.  The first result was from a website that I recognised as being from a reliable source, so I clicked to explore.  The Imperial War Museum has some great resources about both the first and second world war, and their article 15 Animals that Went to War is one of these.  There are links at the bottom of the page to other pages about animals in the wars, like one about the Camel Corps and a great reproduction of a primary resource manual for caring for carrier pigeons.

HOT TIP: A website’s address (URL) can give you a hint about how reliable it is.  Look for addresses in the results that include .gov or .edu in the URL.  These are quality sites from overseas government or educational organisations.

Other sites I found included a fantastic resource at the BBC.  It has multiple tabs along the top, including transport and helpers and mascots, so make sure you check all of them out.  ABC Australia also has some great information on their site, including a great picture of a soldier with a rooster on his shoulder!

Wow!  Cats, dogs, camels, foxes, horses...  but what about slugs?  Down the list of Google results, I noticed a page that made me wonder what slugs could possibly do to help the war effort - and the url ends in .edu!  The Smithsonian Institution is another museum that can offer great information on a range of topics.  Their page about animals in war has some information I hadn't seen anywhere else, including the bit about slugs.

If you'd like to get some more primary resources for this topic, try this page of images (with descriptions) at the Atlantic journal.  You can also view footage of animals in the war on YouTube, this video has a lot of great information - but make sure to check it against other sources to ensure it's accurate.

HOT TIP:  When searching for information on YouTube, be cautious and ask a teacher or other adult for help.  Like Wikipedia, anyone can post to YouTube which means there may be videos that are upsetting or offensive.

But what happened at the end of the war?  The article at NZHistory that we went to earlier had a page about what happened to the horses from New Zealand when the war was over.  

While looking at these resources, I noticed that many of these animals have been given medals and awards in recognition of their contributions.  One of these medals is the Dickin Medal, and you can find out about both the medal and the recipients at the BBC website and at the official website of the PDSA, the organisation that awards the medal (scroll down the page to see more information).

Lastly, what about the animals that stayed home?  This British Library page includes information about some of the sad situations animals found themselves in, and a small paragraph about the "ingenious use" of unusual animals for traditional purposes.  To find out more, try a search for 'Lizzie the Elephant' in your favourite search engine.

For more information, check out our ManyAnswers posts on the First World War, the Second World War, and animals.

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