About the animals

Throughout history, in war and in peacetime, animals and mankind have worked alongside each other. As beasts of burden, messengers, protectors, mascots, and friends, these war animals have demonstrated true valour and an enduring partnership with humans. The bond is unbreakable, their sacrifice great – we should honour the animals of war.

It is estimated that approximately 400,00 horses have left Australian shores to war only one was ever returned. Even one of our most famous animal icons Simpsons Donkey was never brought home. Thousands of other donkeys and Mules have served the colours none ever came home. During more recent wars all 11 dogs in Vietnam were left on our enemies shores as we withdrew. The very first Australian war animals to be returned was as late as 1993 from Somalia, today Military dogs are serving in the front lines of Afghanistan saving diggers lives by detecting road side bombs whilst equines are carrying supplies in mountainous terrain for our troops.

Currently within the ADF the use of animals in fact is on the increase as opposed to decline. This is primarily due to Military Working Dogs (MWD) and Specialist Explosive search dogs being used to combat Terrorist activities in both Homeland Defence and offensive operations. These units include the Engineers, Military Police and RAAF MWD teams. There are also several official Regimental Mascots within the ADF.


General Bridges died in May 1915 from a wound sustained at Gallipoli his horse returned to Australia after a tour of duty which included the coast of Gallipoli, Egypt and France. Sandy’s claim to fame is not just as the favorite horse of General Bridges, but that, of 136,000 Australian horses sent away to the First World War, Sandy was the sole horse brought back.

Information from: Australian War Memorial

At the end of the First World War Australians had 13,000 surplus horses which could not be returned home for quarantine reasons. Of these, 11,000 were sold, the majority as remounts for the British Army in India (as was the case with this horse) and two thousand were cast for age or infirmity.

The origins of the Waler date back to 1840 and during the Boer War and World War I the Australian Horse received worldwide recognition through the success of the Australian Light Horse regiments, a quite significant achievement for horses in Australia’s history. The Waler was considered to be the finest cavalry horse in the world, winning International acclaim for its endurance, reliability and hardiness during the Indian Mutiny, the Boer War and the First World War. In the Boer War, the Waler served in such regiments as the Lancers, Commonwealth Horse, Mounted Rifles and Bushmen’s Troop.

Around 160,000 Australian horses served in World War I. During the Boer War 16,314 horses were dispatched overseas for use by the Australian Forces. In the First World War, 121,324 Walers were sent overseas to the allied armies in Africa, Europe, India and Palestine. Of these, 39,348 served with the , mainly in the Middle East , while 81,976 were sent to India. Such was the use of horses on the Western Front, that over 8 million died on all sides fighting in the war.

In World War II when Darwin was under the threat of invasion from the Japanese. One unit was tasked to watch the coast for invaders, and if they came, to stay behind enemy lines and report back. The unit was officially labelled the 2/1 North Australia Observer Unit, but to the soldiers they were simply the Nackeroos. They were mounted on Waler Horses over 270 were supplied to the unit. Of interest there predecessor NORFORCE still used horse up to 2008, the last Australian Army unit to be mounted.

In addition to the horses used directly by Australian forces a thriving breeding history developed in Australia, providing cavalry units throughout the world, with almost 350,000 horses sold overseas between the early 1800s and 1950. One example being during World War II 360 Australian Walers were assigned to the Texas National Guard 112th Cavalry in New Caledonia for pack work as well as transporting the injured they were eventually deemed unfit for jungle warfare. They then travelled to India where they served with the Chinese Army before being assigned to the unit known as Merril’s Mauraders.


The Corps was founded in January, 1916. It attained its full strength in December that year. Four battalions were eventually formed. The 1st and 3rd were entirely Australian, the 2nd was British, and the 4th was a mix of Australians and New Zealanders. In May, 1918 it was reduced in strength to a single battalion. The Corps was formally disbanded in May, 1919. 346 of its personnel were killed in action. In late 1917 Desert Mounted Corps had numbers totalling 6,000 camels.


The Australian Army Mule one can argue is perhaps the most under rated and underappreciated animal that has served the colours. Simple put without the mule no army in the world would have been able to launch any campaign including the ADF in the jungles of Asia to the Islands of the Pacific to the Mountains in Italy. Perhaps more mules have given the ultimate sacrifice to man than any other animal and a sad testimony is very few memorials honour them in the world and none in Australia. It is difficult to estimate exactly how many Mules have been in Australian service due to poor records. Often regarded as stores item unlike the horse they were frequently not branded or numbered. Coupled with the fact many were pressed into service from local sources. The army trained pack mules and donkeys in the Townsville area in preparation for service in the SW Pacific Campaign. The 2nd Independent Pack Company was located at Wongabel before deploying to Port Moresby for service on the Kokoda Track.

The donkey made famous by Simpson is the main public image of a beast of burden. The mules on the other hand were in constant demand to carry supplies to the frontline. They were particularly suited for this role because of their resistance to drought and temperature extremes. However, as the Australians found them stubborn, difficult to handle and irritable, they were left to the ministrations of their Indian and Jewish Mule Corp handlers. Even so these animals worked and died for the AIF. Many thousands died and none were ever brought back to Australia.

Dr Rodney Gouttman book, An Anzac Zionist Hero.

Australian Corps of Signals Pigeon Service

The homing ability and navigational skills of carrier pigeons made these birds heroes of both World War I and World War II. The Allies used as many as 200,000 pigeons during the first World War.

The little-known tale of Australia’s feathered heroes — a corps of pigeons that saved countless lives during World War 2, with some birds even being awarded medals for gallantry. The first of two Dickin Medals — the animals’ VC — was awarded to an Australian bird, Blue bar cock No. 139:D/D:43:T Detachment 10 Pigeon Section whose flight to Madang saved the crew and valuable cargo of a boat that was foundering during a tropical storm. In driving rain the bird had covered 64 kilometres in 50 minutes. By the war’s end it had been on 23 missions. Another bird Blue chequer cock No. 879:D/D: 43: Q Loft No. 5 of 1 Australian Pigeon Section, attached to the US forces, Manus Island, Admiralty Islands 5th April 1944. Awarded the Dickin Medal for gallantry carrying a message through heavy fire thereby bringing relief to a Patrol surrounded and attacked by the enemy without other means of communication. The 8th Australian Pigeon Section was sent to Port Moresby in December 1942 to support operations on the Kokoda Trail. The pigeons were trained to carry a message for up to 120 miles (193 km) at an average speed of 30 miles per hour (48km/hr). They were particularly useful in emergency situations when no other method of communication was available.

Only those who served alongside them would be aware of how many soldiers owe their lives to the birds these men bred, trained and nurtured in the tropics of wartime Papua and New Guinea. A call then went out to owners around Australia who responded by donating 13500 birds in 1942 alone.

More information at ANZAC Day Org


The image of Simpson is so entrench in our Nation’s history that we forget the ADF used thousands of donkeys during all our overseas conflicts. In one campaign in East Africa 34,000 donkeys were used to support Commonwealth Troops between 1916-17, due to the death caused by tsetse flies only 1,042 survived the conflict. In France, donkeys carried 200 pound loads up to the trenches and thousands were killed wounded and gassed alongside our soldiers. In recent deployments to Afghanistan ADF Special Forces used donkeys for carriage of equipment over difficult mountainous terrain. They were thus able to carry their laptops and communications gear into remote mountain areas on donkeys to call in coordinated precision air strikes on enemy targets riding locally purchased mounts.

The Military Working Dog

Australia due to its large unchartered and predominately uninhabited land mass has relied on animals for everything from outback settlement and exploration to basic local transportation of goods or humans. Prior to European settlement no horses ,Mules, donkeys or camels were native to these lands and the first peoples of the land were foot bound, however the Aboriginals used the semi domesticated Dingo dogs as a light pack haulage animal tens of thousands of years ago. During decades of global conflict, four-legged diggers have served alongside Australia’s troops. Among their many duties, our enlisted mates have helped carry messages through the trenches, laid telephone wire, and carried ammunition and medical equipment from place to place. A dog’s keen sense of smell aided our soldiers in searching for and aid the wounded and detecting mines, in a similar fashion to the bomb detector dogs of today. Australian Military forces enlisted the help of man’s best friend during World War II when German shepherds were given the task of watching over valuable military equipment. In Vietnam, the Australian Task Force included dogs in combat tracker teams. Their mission was to search the jungle for the enemy, and eleven four legged diggers were left behind . There are many types of working dogs across the globe – but few are more critical to human life than those that sniff out explosives today in Afghanistan. These dogs are saving the lives of Australian soldiers and civilians alike. Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are the biggest threats to Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

Working Dogs within The Royal Australian Engineers (RAE) was first fostered in 1918 when sappers handled British trained messenger dogs in the trenches of France. The use of search dogs within the corps dates back to1944 when the lst Australian Dog Platoon, RAE was raised . The RAE units used British trained mine dogs in Korea during 1951. In 1952 the Australian Army started training mine dogs and scout dogs at the School of Military Engineers (SME), using the methods developed by the British . Today Explosive Detection Dogs are used in a specialist search capacity to counter the threat of improvised explosive devices throughout Afghanistan. Some other recent operations using dog teams were OP ANODE to the Solomon Islands were 12 EDD teams rotated in country over a 12 month period in support of the Australian Federal Police (AFP). Deployment to Somalia as part of the UN, Bougainville and East Timor. Amongst the first troops to land were Military Working Dog teams of the RAAF to secure the Airfield. They remain there today as part of that security and stabilization force.

Australian War Dogs the History of four legged diggers- Nigel Allsopp New Holland Publications

The Mascot

Military mascots have been of great morale value to Australian soldiers from the trenches of WWI to dogs adopted by the ADF in Afghanistan today. There are two types of military mascots, one of which are those which appear particularly in Commonwealth Forces as part of the Regiments’ official history and are part of that Regiment’s order of battle, with service rank and number. In the ADF such animals are Stan the Ram of  8/9 RAR, Sgt Courage an eagle of 2 Cavalry Regiment and many more. The other type of mascot, and more usually a dog, is the unofficial mutt which many a soldier has adopted in situ as a companion. Some ADF troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have befriended local animals as a way to help cope with the emotional hardships they endure every day while deployed in a war zone.


There are many other creatures great and small that have served the Australian defence forces, even the humble glow worm have served in the military, Australian soldiers in Korea sometimes smashed them on their helmets to serve as a night time signal to friendly forces. Needless to say, the casualty rate was significant.

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