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Animals in the First World War

In 1914, the British Government and the Colonies appealed for volunteers to join the Armed Forces. Over 50,000 men and women stepped up to do their bit, yet it wasn’t only men and women who were to serve. According to the Imperial War Museum, 16 million animals served in the First World War in transportation, communication, military support and morale. 

1,300 officers and 27,000 men served in the Royal Veterinary Corps to support all the serving animals, including 106 British Jews. Units were often stationed close to the Front line, just like regular medical units, putting both animals and men at risk of their lives.


Visit the life story of Abraham Harry Albert Wenzerul (1897-1968), who served in the Woolwich Veterinary Hospital during the early stages of the war.


Horses were a traditional part of the army long before the First World War. Modern weaponry might replace cavalry charges but the regiments remained. Over one million horses were used by the British forces as their main source of transportation and to move large artillery guns. Horses and mules carrying men and supplies were regularly injured or became ill. Thousands died from the conditions they served in but rarely from poor treatment. Their value was fully understood by all. In the Middle East and North Africa camels also served to fulfil some of the roles usually carried out by horses.

Dogs were used by the Red Cross and in military medical units for assistance with finding mines and bodies. Elsewhere dogs were used for laying telephone wires and other important tasks. Cats were deployed to keep rats down in depots and the trenches. Canaries were used in the mines and carrier pigeons were essential for communications, even in the midst of battle.

In addition to their essential working roles, many animals were used as mascots and became important for morale. Anything from foxes and bears to domestic animals became companions, a support and a reminder of life away from fighting.

During the war the Zion Mule Corps was formed, which directly involved Jewish men with transportation logistics using Mules as their pack animals. The Corps included its own vet, farriers and saddlers. Click here to learn more about The Zion Muleteers

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London Jews in the First World War - We Were There Too

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