Imperial War Museum Duxford explores the role of animals in war

By Richard Moss | 29 July 2013

Event Preview: Animals in War, Imperial War Museum Duxford, Duxford, August 11 2013

a photo of a re-enactor dressed as WWII Chindit with a mule
The Burma Mule Living History Group tells the story of the mules that were an essential part of the Burma campaign of World War Two© Courtesy IWM
Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse may have reminded many about the role of animals in war but as this event at Imperial War Museum Duxford illustrates, it’s a centuries-old relationship that continues to this day.

The Cambridgeshire museum will be exploring the different ways animals have been involved in wars and conflict with the help of re-enactors, animals, personnel, veterans, talks and tours. Some fascinating stories of animal bravery, and man’s relationship with animals during wartime, will be told.

The story of the role of pigeons in wartime will be revealed by The Royal Pigeon Racing Association who will explain how, out of the 53 PDSA Dickin Medals awarded to animals for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during the Second World War, 32 were given to pigeons.

Nearly a quarter of a million pigeons were used by allied forces and home front organisations during the war and all RAF bomber and reconnaissance aircraft carried them to send co-ordinates back to the aircraft’s base if it crashed or ditched.  

a photo of a re-enactor dressed as a First World War soldier on horseback
The story of horses in wartime will also be explored.
Thousands of servicemen’s lives were saved by the birds, who often flew in extreme circumstances. One pigeon, named GI Joe, saved the lives of hundreds of soldiers by flying a mile a minute to call off an Allied bombing raid as British troops captured an Italian town during World War Two. 

The story of dogs in wartime, including the terriers who were used to carry messages and help find wounded soldiers amidst the carnage of the First World War, will be explained with the help of Michael the Airedale Terrier.

The role of horses and mules will be explored by talks from the Burma Mule Living History Group and displays by Mack the Tennessee walking horse.   

But perhaps the most immediately poignant story will be that of Peg the stray dog from Afghanistan.

Befriended by Private Conrad Lewis of the 4th Battalion the Parachute Regiment, who was killed during a firefight in 2011, Peg was brought back to England by Private Lewis’s family.   

Visitors will be able to meet Peg and her family, who will be talking about the important role she had to play not only as a friend and comrade to Conrad, but also as a comfort to them after their loss.

A painting of Private Conrad Lewis will be unveiled in the Airborne Assault museum in AirSpace at noon. Conrad's parents and Peg will be in attendance. 

  • Animals in War runs 10am-6pm on August 11 2013.

More pictures:

a black and white photo of an RAF pilot playing with his alsation dog
George 'Grumpy' Unwin and his dog Flash at RAF Duxford during the Second World War© IWM

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