The animals that helped win World War Two

Animals have always been used in war, but historians tend to dismiss them as living equipment and say little about their experiences. A new exhibition at The National World War II Museum in New Orleans seeks to right that imbalance by focusing on the war effort of animals on both sides of the conflict.

Loyal Forces: Animals in WWII features life-sized mannequins of horses and mules with original harnesses and equipment to show how they did their work at the front carrying supplies and hauling artillery to places where tanks and trucks couldn’t go. There are exhibits on carrier pigeons and dogs too.

Animals had a high death rate. They were often worked to death or killed in the crossfire, and at times were even eaten by hungry soldiers. On the other hand, some were treated as pets by men desperate for some reminder of home while trying to survive in the midst of hell.

Many became heroes, like Lady Astor, a pigeon that carried a vital message from North Africa despite being wounded in action, or Smoky, a dog that ran telegraph wire for American GIs during the Pacific campaign.

The exhibition is a fitting reminder of the sacrifices animals have made for human folly, but London does one better. At Brook Gate next to Hyde Park there’s a memorial to the animals who served. The inscription reads, “This monument is dedicated to all the animals that served and died alongside British and allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time. They had no choice.”

Loyal Forces: Animals in WWII starts this Thursday and runs until October 17.

Photo courtesy user Otasiro via Wikimedia Commons.