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Heart warming stories of an animal at war

I thought I was becoming immured to the bombardment of uncritical articles about the First World War but a recent one in the Guardian, written by Hannah Ellis-Peterson, entitled Medal for war horse “the Germans could not kill” sort of took my breath away. 

Yet again another heart-warming story of war has been unearthed but this one has the added benefit for the animal loving public of Britain that it is about a farm horse and even better a war horse similar to the fictional hero of Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel. The horse called Warrior has posthumously been awarded an honorary PDSA Dickin medal (the “animal Victoria cross”) in recognition of the role played by millions of animals during the war. 

The article, eschewing any superfluous references to the carnage, bloodshed and waste of war, tells us how “Warrior arrived on the western front on 11 August 1914 with General Jack Seely and stayed there throughout the war, surviving machine gun attacks and falling shells at the Battle of the Somme.  Despite several injuries Warrior lived to return home to the Isle of Wight in 1918 where he remained with the Seely family until his death aged 33”. 

Steven Spielberg, Director of the War-Horse Film had this to say:  “Warrior is an extraordinary example of the resilience, strength, and profound contribution that horses made to the great war.  Recognising him with an honorary PDSA Dicken medal is a fitting and poignant tribute not only to this remarkable animal, but to all animals that served” The article goes on to use other words such as bravery, remarkable and inspiration in relation to animals in the War.

 It is, however, to the concept of service that is referenced at least 3 times in this article that I wish to return.  There is I think a degree of free will implicit in the term service and it is good to know that these animals, like Warrior, fully aware of the dangers inherent in serving on the Western Front, gave their all for the struggle. Scott Brough, grandson of Seely was therefore able to accept the medal with great pride and gratitude on behalf of Warrior and all the remarkable animals involved in the war.

Let’s explore this idea of service a little further. I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a salutary message that, unlike humans, there is not one recorded incident of an animal trying to claim exemption of service on the grounds of conscientious objection.  There is also very little hard evidence of wholesale desertion by animals on the Western Front. That said one of my colleagues here at the Peace Pledge Union believes that there is enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that a number of homing pigeons on the British side were not averse to disappearing from the fray without fulfilling their sacred duty.  I hasten to add that this should in no way adversely reflect upon the majority of our plucky avian comrades who continued to pull out the stops even when the odds were against them.

Peter Glasgow