This major new exhibition at Imperial War Museum London will explore the remarkable role of animals in conflict from the First World War to the present day.
It is estimated that 16 million animals served during the First World War - by 1916 alone the warring nations had raised 103 cavalry divisions with over a million horses. Despite increasing mechanisation and advances in technology, animals have continued to play their part in the front line. Mules, elephants, camels, horses and other beasts have transported men and materiel in difficult terrain. In the Second World War o ver 200,000 carrier pigeons were used by Britain’s armed forces and secret service organisations . Dogs have guarded military personnel and property, located injured soldiers, tracked down enemy insurgents and sniffed out explosives. More recently rats and pigs have also been trained to clear minefields and the dolphin’s sensitive sonar has been exploited to identify mines in the Persian Gulf.
The Animals’ War will use photographs, film, sculptures, memorabilia and interactive features to explore the intriguing and often surprising stories of animals in war. Among the working animals whose stories are included in the exhibition are Rob, the SAS dog who made over twenty parachute drops during the Second World War; Winkie, the pigeon who saved the lives of a ditched aircrew by carrying a vital message revealing their location; Sefton, the cavalry horse who survived the Hyde Park terrorist bombing by the IRA; Endal, the assistance dog who helped to rehabilitate a badly-injured Gulf War veteran; and Roselle, the labrador who led her blind owner to safety from the 78 th floor of the World Trade Center after it was attacked on 11 September 2001.
Animals of many kinds from dogs and cats, to lions and eagles have also been adopted officially and unofficially as pets and mascots by the armed forces. A number of these will be featured in the exhibition including Rin Tin Tin, who was found as a puppy on the Western Front and went on to become a Hollywood legend; Judy, t he pointer, the only animal to have been officially registered as a Japanese prisoner of war; Voytek, the bear mascot of the 22nd Transport Company of the Polish Army Service Corps who saw action at Monte Cassino in 1944; and Simon of HMS Amethyst, the only cat to have been awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal known as the ‘animals’ Victoria Cross.’ Dickin Medals on display will include those awarded to three police horses during the V1 Flying Bomb Offensive of 1944 and to Buster, the spaniel, who located a cache of arms in Iraq in 2003.
The accompanying exhibition book, The Animals’ War, written by the historian Juliet Gardiner, with a foreword by Jilly Cooper, will be published by Portrait, priced at £20.00. A children’s book, Animals at War by Isabel George and Rob Lloyd Jones will also be published by Usborne to coincide with the exhibition, priced at £4.99.
The Animals’ War will transfer to IWM North in Manchester for 26 May 2007 and will run until January 2008.
Image left: Imperial War Museum Collection