Dogs in the First World War

The contributions of animals during war is often not acknowledged. Dogs as well as carrier pigeons, horses and mules all played their part during the First World War. Britain had an estimated 20,000 dogs by 1918.

Dogs played a variety of roles during the war depending on their breed, intelligence and the training they had received. This included as:

  • sentries - quietly letting their masters know if the enemy was approaching 
  • scouts - patrolling ahead and detecting the enemies' scent and alerting their masters by 'pointing' in the direction of the approaching enemy
  • casualty - finding the wounded or dying on battlefield and carrying medical supplies to the wounded who were able to tend to their own wounds
  • messengers - carrying messages, particularly in the trenches where communication was difficult
  • mascots - these were often the officer's dog in a military unit and were intended to boost morale amongst the soldiers.
German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers were some of the most common breeds used because of their agility, size, dark coats (which made them less detectable) and easily trainable nature.

Famous NZ mascots include: Caesar from the A Company, 4 Battalion, New Zealand Rifle Brigade; Floss the New Zealand Army rugby team mascot; Pelorus Jack of HMS New Zealand and Freda, 5 Battalion, New Zealand Rifle Brigade. You can find out more about the First World War mascots here.

Listed below are a selection of First World War animal related resources and  heritage photos of the brave mascots who did their bit for New Zealand:

Ref: Auckland Weekly News, volunteers in training including a dog mascot, at Awapuni military camp, Palmerston North, 1914, Sir George Grey Special Collections, AWNS-19140910-39-3
Ref: Auckland Weekly News, Jim the mascot of the 3rd Auckland Infantry, no location, 1914, Sir George Grey Special Collections, AWNS-19141001-48-6
Ref: Auckland Weekly News, Auckland Mounted Infantry members of the NZ Expeditionary Force with bulldog mascot, 1914, Sir George Grey Special Collections, AWNS-19141008-36-1
Ref: Herman Schmidt, Returned Soldiers group from the 15th North Auckland Regiment with bulldog, Auckland, c. 1910-1919, Sir George Grey Special Collections, 31-WP8123

Author: Natasha Barrett (NB)