FROM CA­NARIES TO CAMELS

First News - - WW1 CENTENARY -

The small­est an­i­mals in­volved in World War One were ca­naries. Th­ese cute lit­tle birds were used to cheer sol­diers up in hos­pi­tals, but also to warn of gas at­tacks. That's be­cause they're more sen­si­tive to tox­ins in the air than hu­mans are. The rea­son is that air only flows in one di­rec­tion through birds' lungs, so even more fresh air is pass­ing through their lungs when they're breath­ing out (un­til as re­cently as 1986, ca­naries were used by min­ers in the UK to warn when con­di­tions were un­safe un­der­ground). Pi­geons were the most com­mon bird in the war, on both sides, as they could be used to carry mes­sages.

Other com­mon pets in WW1 in­cluded cats and dogs. Cats were kept as com­pan­ions, but they were also use­ful for keep­ing trenches free of rats and mice, which can spread dis­ease. For the same rea­son, lots of navy boats also had a ship's cat.

Dogs did a sur­pris­ing num­ber of jobs, in­clud­ing help­ing to set up com­mu­ni­ca­tion wires, car­ry­ing mes­sages or small items, and drag­ging sleds or gun car­riages (top left).

Car­ry­ing heavy equip­ment was a job for don­keys, as well as oxen and camels in some places. Camels were also used to carry in­jured sol­diers to hospi­tal, as well as to take men and equip­ment into bat­tle. One fa­mous group of sol­diers that used camels was the Im­pe­rial Camel Corps, which was made up of troops from Aus­tralia, New Zealand and Bri­tain, along with oth­ers from In­dia, Hong Kong and Sin­ga­pore. The unit was formed in 1916 to fight Arab and Ber­ber tribes on the LibyanE­gyp­tian bor­der, af­ter they had at­tacked Bri­tish and Egyp­tian out­posts.

The troops didn't fight while on the camels, like tra­di­tional cav­alry units, but used the camels as trans­port be­fore they dis­mounted and at­tacked on foot.

Sol­diers on camels use a break in the fight­ing to pose for a pic

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