war horses

Blue Cross film honours animal war heroes

The crucial role that animals played on the First World War battlefields – and other conflicts since – is celebrated in a poignant film created by Blue Cross to mark the centenary of the Armistice.

Narrated by actress Felicity Kendal CBE, the film documents the sacrifices that horses and dogs made, as well as the role our charity played in helping them as it was too faced with the true horrors of war.

Blue Cross delved into the archives to unearth touching stories, photos and footage – some of which hasn’t been seen for more than a century – to honour the very special animal heroes that supported their human comrades.

Just as injured soldiers were helped by The Red Cross, the Blue Cross – then known as Our Dumb Friends League – was there to give animals on the frontline, as well as those stricken back at home, the care they needed during both the First World War and the Second World War.

One of the poster appeals used to raise funds for stricken horses during the First World War
One of the poster appeals used to raise funds for stricken horses during the First World War

Horses were a familiar sight on the battlefields of both conflicts and during the First World War alone, more than six million served to transport heavy artillery, keep supply lines open and act as an important source of companionship, all the while in constant danger.

Disease and injuries were rife among these animal heroes, as they battled biting cold and starvation.

Blue Cross was there to save thousands of them from a long and painful death, thanks to generous donations from the British public, which amounted to £170,000 - equating to £6.5million in today's money.

We sutured wounds, treated illness and sent veterinary supplies to soldiers to treat their faithful friends.

Dogs were also vital on the battlefields as they were used to run messages, detect mines and act as patrol dogs, among many other tasks. Many were injured in the process, and we were on hand to help them too.

In total, Blue Cross treated more than 50,000 sick and injured horses and 18,000 dogs during the conflict which spanned four years from 1914 to 1918.

Our work didn't stop after the Armistice, either; we rescued more than 4,000 war horses that were sold abroad as working animals and often mistreated.

We also opened quarantine kennels in Shooter’s Hill, London, and funded the costs so soldiers could bring back the dogs that had so loyally served them on the battlefields and give them the retirement they deserved in a peaceful Britain.

The scene outside one of the Blue Cross hospitals

During the Second World War, we cared for pets injured in the Blitz and helped those belonging to servicemen who were conscripted into the British Army.

Today, as we were then, we’re devoted to helping sick, injured and abandoned animals, thanks to our generous supporters.

We believe that the sacrifice of the men, women and animals of the First World War should never be forgotten, and we will remember them.

— Page last updated 31/10/2018