Over 16 million animals went to war, writes Paula Redmond
Amidst the remembrances of the events of World War 1, the role that animals had to play in that war is often forgotten. Domesticated animals fulfilled a variety of roles during the war effort on all sides. They include: horses; dogs; cats; pigeons; camels; mules; donkeys; oxen and even elephants.
One job that they assisted with was communication. This was one of the most problematic areas for commanding officers who faced difficulty sending orders and receiving reports once battles had begun. In previous wars, a general could roam the smaller sized battlefields to see what was happening and issue and revise orders as necessary.
During 1914-1918 this was impossible as the battlegrounds stretched over many miles and the shear number of soldiers in combat made it impossible. Morse code was used, but could be intercepted, and even if it was encrypted the enemy could often decipher it. In addition, the telephone cables were regularly damaged with artillery despite being buried many feet below ground.
The alternative was a live messenger. A ‘runner’ was a soldier who was sent across the battlefield with either a written or verbal message. Interestingly, this was the duty that a young Adolf Hitler performed during WW1 after he volunteered to join a Bavarian regiment.
Apart from being a very dangerous job, it was also an unreliable communication method as the runner could be killed or injured and never make it to their destination.