Mercy Dogs: Bringers of Hope from the First World War


No Man’s Land was a place you wouldn’t want to find yourself as a soldier in World War I – a stretch of land in the middle of two opposing trenches where the worst of encounters happened and many lives were lost. lost. Safe to say it was the most dangerous place for soldiers during WW1. For those who found themselves helpless and injured in this region, help sometimes came in the form of wet noses and wagging tails: the good boys and girls of the First World War were there to help, called the Mercy Dogs.

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Humans and dogs had since walked side by side the very first time an ancient person decided to throw food at wild dogs instead of scaring them or maybe killing them. In ancient Egyptian murals, dogs were depicted in battle, while the ancient Greeks also mentioned dogs in their written accounts.

Injured dog reporting to his master. (United States Armypublic domain, via Wikimedia Commons/Wikipedia)

More than two decades into the First World War in 1890, an idea germinated in a painter and dog lover named Jean Bungartz. What if I trained dogs to help find wounded soldiers? And so he founded Deutschen Verein für Santiätshundeor German Association of Medical Dogs, which was a volunteer formation of war dogs.

Five years later, the idea reached Britain when Major Edwin Richardson noticed a man buying English dogs to ship to Germany. He discovered that the guy had been sent by his government to buy many collie dogs to accompany the German soldiers. “I was told that these dogs were excellent for the job required and that they had nothing in Germany that could compare to them,” he said.

As someone who also loved dogs, Richardson began experimenting to see if dogs could indeed be useful in times of war. He went to Barry Buddon’s army camp and started by tying up dogs with saddlebags and teaching them to bring spirits to volunteer soldiers. In his judgment, Terriers and Collies were good, but Airedales were “the ideal.” And so, in 1914, his wife officially opened the British War Dog School. Like a journalist who visited the canine school observed,

Shells from training batteries roared above our heads, and army motor trucks came and went. The dogs are trained to the constant sound of guns and very quickly learn not to care.

The dogs were also trained to find people by paying local unemployed workers to lie down in the woods so they could be taught to ignore corpses and German uniforms, as well as to wear gas masks. . When World War I broke out, the training these dogs underwent was put to the test.

World War I Mercy Dogs

With the brave soldiers who rushed into the trenches of the First World War, there were the legs that ran alongside them. More than 50,000 dogs accompanied these men. There were German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Richard’s Boxers and Airedales, as well as other breeds. They were also called Red Cross dogs, ambulance dogs or injured dogs. Yet no matter what they called them, the tasks of these brave boys and girls remained the same: to carry medical supplies on their backs so that any wounded soldiers they managed to find could heal themselves. At the same time, for those who were too weak and badly injured, the dogs would tear off a piece of their uniform and bring it back to camp to alert others. For these soldiers in need, the arrival of the Mercy Dogs meant that help was not far away and the dogs, with all their might, would call for the medics.

WWI ambulance dog.
WWI ambulance dog. (unspecified (except those with signature on the image)WE Mason – Dogs of All Nationspublic domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

When dogs found dying men, they became the angels who accompanied them in their last breaths to ensure that they did not die alone.

The Legacy of the Good Boys and Girls

The Mercy Dogs were unsung heroes of World War I. They helped many soldiers that others thought were already dead. There was also the famous Sergeant Stubby, who learned to alert troops to the arrival of mustard gas, hearing the roar of engines long before his human companions could hear them. When the war ended in 1918, approximately 7,000 Mercy Dogs failed to return home. The Red Cross also began using therapy dogs in the 1940s to help soldiers with conditions such as PTSD.

It’s wonderful to see how the hope these soldiers desperately needed came in wet noses and wagging tails. Time and time again, they have never failed to prove that they are indeed and still man’s best friend.

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