Brothers-in-arms. They serve like soldiers and can do great things

Elephants were sometimes more effective than horses in battle. They feared neither infantry and their spears nor musket fire. The situation changed only with the spread of cannons, as the huge animals were easy targets for them. It is hard to believe that in the old days the best defence against them was ... pigs. Their grunting supposedly made elephants panic.

Elephants, carried with Hannibal's army across the Alps during the Second Punic War, and three modern dogs – Kuno, Leuka and Hertz – divide everything: species, time (over two thousand years), tasks. African elephants transported equipment and were also supposed to frighten Roman legionaries. Dogs accompanying soldiers fighting terrorists, especially in Afghanistan, assist soldiers by detecting electronic devices and, when necessary, attacking enemies. Yet something, over centuries, unites dogs and elephants. It is participation in war. br>
It is not known how the Carthaginian warriors rewarded elephants for their martial merits. Perhaps they must content themselves with the fact that they went down in history as perhaps the first animals whose participation in warfare is well known.
They were not the first, but knowledge of the use of cats by the Persian army in the war against Egypt or of the Capitoline geese is not common. So let us recall that in 525 BC. Persians easily won the battle of Pelusium thanks to the fact that they cleverly placed cats in the first line, assuming that the Egyptians would not dare to attack the sacred animals. Geese saved the Roman Capitol from the Celts in 390 BC, waking up its defenders with their clucking.

Today's times are kinder to animals and the dogs – two Belgian Shepherds and one German Pointer – have been duly recognised. They were awarded the Dickin Medal for their services in the War on Terror. This British military decoration, the equivalent of the Victoria Cross, has been awarded since 1943 to animals that have rendered outstanding service during wars. "For bravery. We also serve" – the inscription, surrounded by a laurel wreath, captures the essence: they serve like soldiers and like them are capable of great acts. br>
In war, however, as in war: animals share the fate of humans. They lose their homes and sense of security. They go on wandering. They suffer, get injured and die. They can be heroes, but much more often they are victims of warfare.

Kiev cat brigade

Cream-coloured Romeo is one of many dog victims of the war in Ukraine. He was found in the city of Dnipro. It is not known whether he had a home. He was wounded. Hit by shrapnel during a bombing, he lost his back paw. But in this misfortune he was very lucky. He was picked up from the street by volunteers and transported to Poland, where he ended up in Aleksandrów Łódzki, where he was given a position at the municipal office. He will accompany the female dog Julia, who was brought here earlier, hence his name.

It is difficult to think about the war in Ukraine without reflecting on the fate of animals. Dogs and cats, left to their fate, wandering between destroyed houses. Wild animals whose fate hangs in the balance in zoos, because even if by some miracle they survive the bombing, they will have to be put to sleep if there is a risk that they might escape into the wild – all it takes is for the fences and cages to be destroyed. Farm animals, killed, for fun I guess, by Russian uniformed troopers (hard to call them anything else). There is probably no one who would not be moved by the sight of cats and dogs, carried or led by refugees. An animal is a member of the family, how can it be abandoned to misery and an uncertain fate?
All are victims of war. But Ukrainian soldiers (presumably from Kiev, although Newsweek, in its US edition, which described it, does not give the location) have come up with an idea of how to use cats to cheer hearts. To this end they have created a website called Feline Defense Force, on which they post photos of themselves with cats, 'supporting human warriors in the fight against the enemy, in defence of democracy', as they write.

Cats have a voice too. "I just finished another Russian invader," reveals a licking tomcat. Others also share their impressions of consumption. "Most Russians taste like cheap vodka seasoned with sadness," reveals one.

These jokes are perhaps a little unappetising, but only a little, given the circumstances in which they are made. After all, they are meant to amuse the audience and, at the same time, emphasise that the Russians are on the losing end. The website of the cat brigade also sells various accessories bearing the logo with a cat's paw and the Ukrainian flag, and the proceeds go to organisations helping animals. The aim is therefore doubly noble.

It is also gratifying to hear of any animals being rescued. For example, a cat which, hungry and scared, was the only inhabitant of a bombed building in Kharkiv for a fortnight, because all the inhabitants had fled.

Or a large black dog (judging by the photo, it is a black Russian terrier), left by its owners in one of the villages near Kiev. A military patrol took care of the dog and took it on duty, but since they found its documents in the flat, the soldiers would like to find its owners.

Pigs against elephants

Will cats from defence units or a dog participating in a patrol go down in the history of the Ukrainian war? Who knows... Each of them can perform acts which, when translated into human terms, can confidently be considered heroic. Just as many of their predecessors did.

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London's Imperial War Museum is a goldmine of information on the involvement of animals in both world wars. To use the famous title of a famous film, "all creatures great and small" have their merit in this field. Animals do not shoot and do not command, but as auxiliary services they do an excellent job. Who knows in what direction the fate of great wars and smaller conflicts would have turned if people had not used the help of these creatures. Big ones – mainly horses, but also donkeys, mules, camels and elephants. Small – pigeons and mice. And medium ones – dogs, cats, but also pigs and even dolphins.

The two world wars are just a small part of history. Humans have used animals since the dawn of time and continue to do so. Only the fields in which animals are most useful have changed. In the old days, their domain was, for example, transport – of equipment to the battlefield, of the wounded after a battle. They were invaluable, even when mechanical means of transport appeared, because they could not get everywhere. Donkeys and mules were excellent in mountainous areas, camels in the desert, and elephants were used in battles in the Far East as late as the Second World War. Not to mention horses, of course, because for centuries the army did not exist without them.

As Jared Eglan, the author of Beasts of War: The Militarization of Animals, published a few years ago, writes, elephants could be more effective than horses in battle, as they were not afraid of infantry and their spears, nor of musket fire. The assault of elephants was therefore more effective. Only the spread of cannons changed the situation, as the huge animals were easy targets for them. It is hard to believe that in the old days elephants were opposed by ... pigs. Their grunting supposedly made elephants panic.

Smaller animals have no less merit. The service of communication and liaison was taken over for years by pigeons, and partly by dogs. "We are about 20 miles from the coast. The first troops landed at 7.50 a.m." was the beginning of the message carried from Normandy to Portsmouth in the United Kingdom by Gustav the pigeon, employed by the RAF, the British Air Force, on June 6, 1944. In doing so, he made history. In five hours, the indefatigable Gustav covered a distance of 241 km, and his effort was honoured with the Dickin Medal.

And the mice? It is hard to believe, but they also had their field of work in the war, albeit very specific. There was a time when, in cages of course, they were kept in trenches as gas detectors. The task turned out to be limited in time, because war gases did not enter the arsenal of compulsory warfare measures. So mice were left not to be saviours but, as nature dictates, pests, against which another war animal – the cat – was sent.

32 pigeons, 18 horses, three dogs and one cat

"Nelson contributed more to victory in the war than I did because he served as a thermophore to warm the Prime Minister" – Winston Churchill was fond of emphasising the wartime merits of his grey tomcat. Rightly so, because they were considerable. Had it not been for the cuddly, warm and fluffy cat, Churchill would certainly have been freezing during the proceedings of the War Cabinet, because heating was scarce in the British Isles during the war and this affected not only millions of ordinary citizens. A frozen man is bad for thinking and working, and in this sense the achievements of Nelson – who was named after a distinguished admiral – are just as significant as those of his namesake.

The Dickin Medal was awarded to 54 animals – 32 pigeons, 18 horses, three dogs and one cat – for bravery displayed during and immediately after the Second World War. This was not the Prime Minister's Nelson, but Simon, a ship's cat from the frigate 'Amethyst', one of a large group of cats serving on warships where they had the obvious and very important task of protecting food stores.
Simon, a ship's cat from the frigate 'Amethyst'. Photo by PA Images via Getty Images
Simon did an excellent job of this, but he proved to be much more than that in a situation of constant danger – the ship was in the waters of China, then in the throes of civil war. His presence reassured the sailors. " He was invaluable because he lifted the morale of the young men and gave them spirit," Commander Stuart Hett, the frigate's last commanding officer, said years later as he laid a wreath on Simon's grave. The cat, wounded by shrapnel, died as a result of an infection which developed after the ship's return to England. He was greeted like a hero in all ports of call on his way home.

Simon is buried in the animal cemetery in Ilford, on the outskirts of London, where thirteen recipients of the Dickin Medal have found their eternal resting place among several thousand animals. The initiator of the creation of this award, Maria Dickin managed the local animal centre before the Second World War. The first of the awardees to be laid to rest here was Rip, the famous mongrel taken in from the streets, who successfully and devotedly searched for people trapped under the rubble of London houses during the war. He stood by one buried woman for twelve hours without moving an inch.

Bear took part in battle

Why is there no Wojtek Bear in Ilford? Wojtek does not need any recommendation, because after years of oblivion – or perhaps rather ignorance – he is now well known in Poland. Everyone knows his wartime beginnings, when, as a young bear, he was taken in by Polish soldiers in Iran, and also his further life: participation in military life and military entertainment, including beer and cigarettes, promotion to regular soldier and the battle of Monte Cassino, where he served his colleagues with boxes of ammunition.

Wojtek is the undisputed number one hero of forums where Internet users discuss animals and their wartime achievements. Also abroad. He lived his life not knowing at all that he was different from his comrades," noted one of the discussants, who were discussing a short film about the most important animal heroes prepared by the Imperial War Museum.
Wojtek the bear gets acquainted with the dog of one of the officers of the 2nd Corps in Iran. Photo: Imperial War Museum/Wikimedia
The impression Wojtek makes is obvious. Firstly: he is a bear, and it is more difficult to get a bear to cooperate than a dog or a horse. Secondly: he was a soldier with all the duties and privileges, including pay. Thirdly: he took part in battle.

It is therefore difficult to understand why Wojtek Bear is not among the recipients of the Dickin Medal, which he deserves no less than others. Neither the passage of time nor nationality matters. For among those honoured are animals from American troops – during the Second War and more recently, in Iraq and Afghanistan – and a couple of dogs, including the aforementioned Leuk, who was honoured just a year ago, serve in the French army.

And time? The Dickin Medal was reactivated in 2000 and since then both current (for example, for their work following the attack on the World Trade Center) and, more often, past contributions of twenty animals have been recognised. This includes 18 dogs and two horses: Warrior, which symbolises the thousands of horses in service during the First World War, and the mare Reckless, who made dozens of runs with transports during the Korean War. Just four years ago, Chips, a husky dog who showed bravery during the Allied invasion of Sicily, was decorated. In 1943 – a year before Monte Cassino.

The British can appreciate and reward the wartime achievements of more than just humans, and Wojtek the bear was a full-fledged soldier of the allied forces. It is a wonder that so far the Polish authorities have not raised the issue of properly honouring his contribution to the victory. Surely it is not too late for this.

– Teresa Stylińska
– Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski
Main photo: A Ukrainian soldier feeds an abandoned cat on the banks of the Dnieper River near Kiev. Photo: Volodymyr Solohub / CATERS NEWS / Caters News / Forum
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