Serving shoulder-to-paw


You and your pooch might be besties… but did you know humans have had pet pals for more than 30,000 years? From cave paintings to ancient manuscripts, it’s clear that animals and humans have a long-established bond, a bond so strong it will even brave warzones. 

Horses have been used in battle for millennia and good ones were prized.  Maybe you have even heard of Bucephalus, the battle horse of Alexander the Great? I’m betting you have heard of the production of War Horse… Horses have been long prized for their ability to be trained, their bond with humans and their surefootedness navigating difficult ground.  But it’s not just horses …

Amazingly, over 16 million animals served in the First World War.  From camels used by mounted troops in deserts to pigeons who carried vital messages, animals played a vital part in the war, on all sides.  The Red Cross called on dogs to carry medical supplies onto the battlefield to injured soldiers; cats were kept to catch rats in the trenches and mules and horses were used to carry equipment and supplies through the muddy and rough terrain.  There is even evidence of circus elephants being used to help clear bomb sites in World War Two.

Today marine animals such as sea lions and dolphins are used to help detect devices under water and the cutest chunky pouched rats have been trained to detect mines.  Dogs are still used extensively in device detection and for their keen noses.

Where would we be without them?

This November, as we wear our poppies and remember those lives lost and changed forever by conflict, take a moment to remember our serving animals as well.  We owe them so much: the trust, loyalty and commitment these animals give us is unending, and the companionship and stress-relief they provide can be a lifeline in unimaginable circumstances.  At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, will remember them too.


  • You can wear a purple poppy in support of service animals
  • A bronze sculpture near Ascot racecourse commemorates the horses lost in World War One
  • Visit the Animals in War memorial in Hyde Park
  • The British Household Cavalry gets through 200 tins of black polish a month and 12,000 horseshoes a year!


Feature photo by Melanie Fermor

Felt poppy by @kcraftedby

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