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War is hell for animals too

By Lyn Bender - posted Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Anzac Day has in recent years become a politicized celebration of our patriotism; our coming of age and identity through the debacle of the battle in Gallipoli.

Increasingly, as the original old diggers have died out, Australia's new wars of Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, have been invoked to celebrate this day.

In my school years, Anzac Day on April 25th and Remembrance Day on November 11th were low key affairs compared to the fanfare ceremony and pilgrimages that now seem part of newly created 'traditions'. The most oft repeated story told was that of Simpson and his faithful donkey, who rescued and supported many injured soldiers at Gallipoli.


I do not recall that we considered the experience or fate of the donkey. However dogs cats camels horses and pigeons have been used in military campaigns before the two world wars and beyond.

The banality of evil and absurdity of war, reaches its zenith if we contemplate the fate of animals conscripted to serve us in war. Their fate mirrors the terrible suffering that war has brought to millions of men women and children. It is made more poignant however, by non human animals utter lack of any complicity or any assignment of their will. They are even less self directed actors than humans, in the theatre of war and rarely present in any victory parade.

This is documented by Barry Stone in 'he Diggers Menagerie:.Mates Mascots and Marvels -True Stories of Animals Who Went to War.

The death toll is unknown but it is believed that in excess of 7 million horses died in the so called Great War.

The 'survivors ' did not usually get a hero's welcome. One report suggests that Australia sent 121,000 horsesto contribute to the first world war World War and only one returned.

Carrier Pigeons ,were shot at by the enemy, to stop them delivering vital messages.


In what may seem an extraordinarily bizarre form of anthropomorphism, [the attribution of human 'sensibilities' to non human creatures], animals at war received awards for service and bravery. In death, as indeed in life ,they would be oblivious to this honour. Unlike the case of humans their descendants and loved ones would not be appreciative of these distinctions either.

In his book, Stone recounts the story of Cher Ami the carrierpigeon ,who injured and shot, continued on, [bravely]as homing pigeons will, to deliver his message. Having survived terrible injuries that included being shot in the eye, the chest and flight with one leg hanging, France awarded the pigeon, the Croix de Guerre with oak leaf clusters.

The stories of animals in war are touching, but they reflect the greatest delusion of war. That the narratives of honour endurance attachment and bonding, somehow balance the complete squalid reality of its carnage, stupidity and terror, for man woman child and animal.

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About the Author

Lyn Bender is a psychologist in private practice. She is a former manager of Lifeline Melbourne and is working on her first novel.

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