BRITISH WAR DOGS
IN THE GREAT WAR
Contributed by Graham Evans in
'Trenches on the Web'
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A message dog with a canister
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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.
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:
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.
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
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
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
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