Contributed by Graham Evans in
'Trenches on the Web'

Right click on images and select from menu for larger images
A message dog with a canister
Return to Operation Order: Battle of Langemarck

Lt.-Col. E.H. Richardson who ran the War Dog Training School was mainly responsible for the appearance of messenger dogs in the British Army in WW1.

Originally the idea to use dogs came from the Red Cross who wanted to use ambulance dogs on the western front, but this idea was deemed unsuccessful as early as the battle of Antwerp, the French in fact banned the use of ambulance dogs within a few weeks of the war beginning. Lt-Col Richardson then started training sentry and patrol dogs around about autumn 1914 and found the Airedale to be well suited for this task, he also supplied the Belgian Army with some of these animals. In the winter of 1916 he trained and supplied two Airedales (Wolf and Prince) at the request of the Royal Artillery for use as message carriers, they both served with great success with the 56th Brigade RFA, 11th Div. at Wytschaete Ridge and prompted further investigation into the use of dogs as runners.

Dogs under training in Flanders
The Official sanction of the use of dogs in war was given with the opening of the War Dog Training School in Shoeburyness. After a trial and error period in France a Maj. Waley MC RE, was appointed supervisor of all dog operations in the field, once the dogs arrived in France. The main Kennels were at Etaples under the command of the RE Signal Corps. who took over the operations in early 1917, with sectional kennels belonging to Corps HQ Kennels not far behind the front line, each Sectional kennel had on Average:

16 Handlers
48 Dogs

The handlers and Sgt-in-C all came from RE Signals Corps. The dogs then went to the active sectors at the ratio of 3 dogs to 1 handler, who then handed them over to selected individuals from the infantry Btns in the designated Brigade. The original handler was then based at the Brig HQ to oversee the dogs operations.

As to the types of dogs, originally they came from the Battersea Dogs Home in London, then as demand grew from the Bristol, Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester Dogs home. As demand even outstripped these 'suppliers' an official order went out to all police forces in the UK to send all strays to the War Dog School, and even after this the general public were asked to send in any dogs they were unable to keep properly with the ration system in effect. This last idea was more successful than originally thought, and many of the general public sent in their dogs.

The WDTS at Shoeburyness was moved to Matley Ridge, Lyndhurst in 1918 until May 1919 when it was finally moved to Bulford on Salisbury Plains.

Breeds of Dogs Used
Border Collies
English Sheepdogs (must have been fun grooming them after a day in the trenches)
Summer Dogs. A term that includes the famous Heinz Terrier, i.e. 57 Varieties.; also called Summer Dogs because they are "Summer This" and "Summer That", in other words, mongrels.

The messages went in tins slung around the neck and the dogs were identified by a scarlet tally or collar. It was a grievous offence to stop a dog in the line of duty.

"British War Dogs; their training and psychology" by Lt.-Col. E.H. Richardson, Pub. Skeffington & Son, 34 Paternoster Row, EC4

Message dogs training to leap barbed wire

See also the Irish Wolfhound at War

Return to 16th Irish Division Website