RSPCWA: Remembering our Anzac animals and their brave sacrifices

Georgina BrownAlbany Advertiser
Members of the 248th Battalion, 9th Australian Division, with a dog.
Camera IconMembers of the 248th Battalion, 9th Australian Division, with a dog. Credit: Australian War Memorial

As we pause to acknowledge those who served this Anzac Day, it’s also an opportunity to remember the animals who stood alongside our service men and women during times of conflict.

In wartime, horses and donkeys helped to transport equipment, people and supplies over challenging terrain, while dogs worked as guards, saved lives and were also companion animals.

But more surprising animals, such as cats, camels, and pigeons, also feature in stories of heroism and friendship from times of conflict.

It’s a sad fact that many animals never made it home from war, but by learning more about their contribution, we can acknowledge their sacrifice and celebrate the enduring bond that exists between humans and animals.

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On avy ships, cats were creatures of many talents, they would protect food supplies and equipment from vermin and help stop rats and mice from spreading disease, all while providing much-needed comfort for the crew.

Many cats gained special status as mascots on ships — their job was to provide stress relief and a bit of fun in tense situations.

Some superstitious sailors believed cats would bring them protection at sea. With their excellent eyesight, cats were also rumoured to be able to spot even the faintest of lights at night.

Tiddles, a large black cat, travelled more than 48,000km with the British Royal Navy during World War II.

Before motorised transport was available, camels were useful for exploration and work in dry regions.

Some breeds of camel can carry up to 145kg, survive up to six days without water, and travel more than 40km a day.

During World War I, camels were used to carry equipment and people, even acting as ambulances, with stretcher-like contraptions attached to their saddles.

The Imperial Camel Corps Brigade was formed in 1916 from British and Commonwealth troops and was attached to the Anzac Mounted Division, at full strength the brigade contained almost 4000 camels.

Representing our feathered friends, the pigeon was a hard-working military bird.

With an average speed of about 90km per hour over moderate distances, they are faster than a runner, a cyclist or a person on horseback, and they have very strong ‘homing’ instincts to help them find their way home.

During wartimes, pigeons were kept in stationary or mobile lofts, to which they would return with their messages.

Pigeons were not released less than half an hour before sunset, before sunrise or in fog, as this would reduce their ability to navigate.

If a pigeon’s message was extremely secret, it would be written in code in case they were captured by the enemy.

RSPCA WA Great Southern Inspector Georgina Brown commemorated the brave actions of Anzac animals: “It is heartbreaking to think so many animals gave their lives for our soldiers, and that so many who survived were left behind.”

“Of 136,000 Australian horses sent away to the First World War, only one was brought back.

“The bond we share with all sorts of animals should be celebrated and remembered, especially this Anzac Day, when we honour the sacrifices made for this country.

“Let us commemorate those animals lost and currently serving by wearing a purple poppy alongside the traditional red poppy.

“Lest we forget.”

Georgina Brown is the RSPCWA WA Great Southern Inspector.

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