If you read my previous posts you surely discovered the incredible variety of tasks dogs performed, willingly, during the Great War. No matter their size or breed, dogs found a place in the hearts of the troops, saving a great deal of lives in between.
Dogs have been man’s best friend for over 150 000 years, they offered comfort during peaceful times and support during battles. We saw how indispensable dogs proved to be in wars and why, how they helped soldiers in the trenches, how they wagged their tails as scouts and ambulance dogs and how saved lives as brave sled dogs during the Great War.
Some dogs were just mascots, others acted as real soldiers.
WW1 True Story: Steif, a mixed-breed German dog, saves the life of his master, Lieutenant von Wieland
During the German campaign on the Eastern front, a lieutenant leading an attack fell under the heavy Russian fire. Heavily wounded and unable to move, he sent back his men. At the same time back in the trenches, the lieutenant’s own dog, a Great Dane – Mastiff – hound mix, had gnawed his leash to set himself free. Steif, the dog, dashed o his master’s side through the rain of bullets and, with love and determination, he pulled the severely wounded man to safety. The dog only lost his grip once, when a bullet “creased” him from shoulder to flank. Right at the end, when his master was safe, another bullet penetrated the dog’s front legs, braking them.
Man and dog were rushed to the hospital and were both operated on. Wilhelm II, the German Kaiser (emperor) and king of Prussia came to their hospital bed and awarded each, man and dog, an Iron Cross ( military decoration instituted in 1813 by Frederick William III).
This is their true story, as told to Kaiser Willem II:
“Lieutenant von Wieland led a party of men in an attack on the Russian trenches. Seeing the task hopeless on account of the Russian fire, he, wounded, sent back the men who had set out with him and lay there in the blood and muck and filth of the battlefield: The Russian fire was so murderous that no one dared bring him in. Presently a dark form bounded from the German trenches, rushed to Lieutenant von Wieland’s side, grasped his coat between his teeth and, foot by foot, dragged him to safety. Once, but only for a moment, did he loosen his hold, and that was when a bullet creased him from shoulder to flank. The blood gushed from the wound, but the dog took a fresh hold and finished his job at the edge of the trench where willing hands lifted the lieutenant down to safety. They had to lift the dog down, too, because just then a bullet broke both his forelegs.”
WW1 True Story: Messenger dog Satan helped the Allied forces
Battle of Verdun took place between German and French soldiers on the Western Front between February and December in 1916, and more than 300,000 men lost their lives.
A section of French soldiers, outgunned and outnumbered, were ordered to hold out their area until reinforcements arrived. Yet days passed.
Their eyes cats on no man’s land, expecting death to rush towards them at any moment, the soldiers were stunned to see a blackish dog wearing a gas mask heading their way. Dog handler Duvalle recognized his boy, Satan, arriving with a vital message.
That’s when the German’s spotted Satan and opened all available fire on him in a desperate attempt to stop the messenger.
Duvalle called and encouraged his dog, urging him to push forward and directing him over the open death trap that was the battlefield, reminding him what they both learned during their training. The dog began running in a zigzag pattern to avoid the impact of the bullets.
Just meters before the French trenches two bullets found Satan causing the brave canine to crash in the dirt. His master could not take it and sprang from the trench, calling and encouraging his brave companion. ‘Satan – have courage my friend. For France!’ – were his last words yet they echoed into the dog’s heart who miraculously crawled to the French trenches, delivering his message of hope:
‘For God’s sake hold on. We will relieve you tomorrow.’
The astounded French soldiers noticed that Satan had been fitted with two wire cages to his harness, each containing a messenger pigeon. Quickly, an officer penned the co-ordinates of the German artillery onto two pieces of paper. Luckily, one pigeon made it through the German fire and back to the French HQ.
Only one hour later the German battery fell silent, minced by the French guns a short distance away.
‘The garrison was able to hold out until reinforcements came all because one hairy mongrel refused to die while his errand was still uncompleted and because he was too loyal to quit.’ (Albert Peyson Terhune, American War Reporter)
WW1 True Story: Taki, first war dog to carry messages for the Allies in World War 1
Taki was a Belgian Sheepdog (Belgian Malinois).
It was 1914 and the German troops, on their way to occupy UK, were rolling through Belgium. A unit of French Army found itself stranded between a river and the Germans. They were desperate to send message and call for reinforcements. Who will dare brave the bullets?
Taki, the youngest of the trained dogs volunteered. Or was chosen.
A message was written in code and placed into a waterproof capsule that Taki had been trained to carry in her mouth. She left and everyone prayed.
Taki successfully went through the shell-worn fields, under a rain of Nazi bullets and poisonous gas and, soon enough, help arrived.
I hope you enjoyed the blog posts about dogs and the incredible help they gave during WW1.
Come back for new stories about the role of dogs during WW2 and so forth.
Do check out my book Joyful Trouble, A humorous read about an incredible dog and how he had found his true, yet unexpected calling. It is a book for all ages.
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