In recognition of Armistice Day, we salute the dogs who served in World War I.
By Mara Bovsun
1918. The 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month.
It was the moment millions of people had been praying for, for more than four horrifying years.
All along the front, the pounding, shelling, and shooting stopped. First came an odd silence, then, one man recalled “a curious rippling sound, which observers far behind the front likened to the noise of a light wind. It was the sound of men cheering from the Vosges to the sea.”
The Great War was over. There was also a lot of tail wagging. When the guns quit barking, at least 10,000 dogs were at the front. They were soldiers, too.
“They ranged from Alaskan malamute to Saint Bernard and from Scotch collie to fox terrier,” a newspaper reported. “Many of them were placed on the regimental rosters, like humans.”
As long as there have been humans, there have been wars and there have been dogs. And, as far back as anyone can remember, humans have enlisted dogs to help fight our battles.
But, as with many other aspects of life, the war that was supposed to end all wars forever changed the role of canine soldiers.
“You have to remember that the First World War was the first total war of the 20th century. It’s a war in which there was total mobilization of each of the major belligerents,” says ImperialWar Museum historian Terry Charman. “Everybody was brought in to conduct it, and dogs were part of that.”
Through January 6, the Imperial War Museum North is featuring an exhibition, “The Animal’s War,” recognizing the contributions of military beasts—from message-carrying pigeons to elephants who hauled heavy equipment.
Dogs, Charman says, were used extensively during World War I. They were on the front lines, dashing across No Man’s Land, carrying messages or searching for the wounded. They hauled machine guns, light artillery, and carts loaded with ammunition, food, medicine, and sometimes wounded soldiers. Small dogs trotted among the trenches, delivering cigarettes and comfort.
“We have lots of photographs in our collection of soldiers and sailors with their pets,” says Charman. “They obviously did a lot to keep up morale in pretty ghastly conditions.”
In the Alps, dogs were the only way to get supplies to the troops. “Where the motor lorry was helpless, where the horse stood powerless to aid, where man himself found conditions which even the iron muscle and the indomitable will that is born of the fine frenzy of patriotism could not conquer, here came the sled dog to the rescue,” a correspondent marveled.
What kind of records does the facility keep?
Hartsdale records are maintained on a network of eight computers. All burials and cremations are entered on a daily basis. All burial plots indicate the owner’s name and address, the pet’s name, type of care (perpetual or annual) type of flower care (perpetual or annual), plot size, monument information, etc. With respect to cremations all individual cremations include the cremation number, owner’s name and address, pet’s name, attending veterinarian or clinic, date of cremation, date pet’s remains returned, etc. In addition the cemetery maintains copies of burial right certificates, cremation certificates and pet records.
How can I be sure that I am getting my own pet's remains back?
As indicated above the pet holder can always make arrangements to be at Hartsdale for the cremation. However if the owner cannot be present they can be assured that the staff at Hartsdale takes great care in assuring that the pet owner gets the correct ashes back. They accomplish this by verifying/checking the paperwork that is generated from the specific description, case number if applicable, owners name and pets name. This is done at a minimum of three times and the cremation itself is then witnessed by two of our staff.
Can I witness the commencement of the cremation process?
Yes. Hartsdale has what is termed a witnessed cremation. What this entails is that the pet holder makes an appointment to be at Hartsdale at a specific time and date. Upon arriving, for their appointment the pet is placed into a temporary casket and the pet holder is able to spend time with the pet in our viewing room. When the pet owner is ready they may then follow the pet to the crematory and witness the pet going into the unit. Then when the cremation process is complete, normally between 1½ to 3 hours depending on the size of the pet, the pet holder leaves with the cremains.