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Anzac Mascots

All Creatures Great and Small of World War I


Nigel Allsopp

Newport, NSW: Big Sky Publishing, 2023

Paperback   264pp  RRP: $29.99


Reviewer: Neville Taylor, March 2023


Animal mascots were both physically and psychologically entrenched in both the Australian and New Zealand armed forces before 1914. This trend grew tremendously during the subsequent conflict as servicemen sought not only companionship, but reminders of the homelands they had just departed. Frequently often ingenious ‘smuggling’ was used to get two- and four-legged creatures embarked on troopships. Koalas often had to survive on the fodder provided for horses during transit.

One advantage of cavalry and horse-drawn weapons and transport being used during the conflict, was that professional veterinarians were part of the military contingents. Often injured and deserted animals were adopted as mascots. Dogs were used in locating wounded servicemen and were often equipped with basic first aid materials and trained to stay with the soldier. One Australian ambulance driver even made a passport for his mascot dog, Zip. Australian nurses kept canaries on trains to cheer the wounded (and give warning of imminent gas attacks). Cats and dogs were not only mascots, but also used as ‘ratters’ in the trenches at Gallipoli. The cats quickly learnt to stay below the parapets by day, but after dark became fearless in moving above them.

Dogs, in particular, became part of the rehabilitation process after wounded servicemen had been evacuated to England – they are still used today for ex-service veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. In 1919 a NZ paper stated that, in their Navy during the War, cockatoos, storks, curlews, emus, (the shaggy) otterhounds, wallabies, monkeys, kangaroos, and other animals had become ship-borne mascots, and the NZ Navy had a special cemetery for departed pets.

Two important literary creations were the result of war-time situations involving animal mascots:

Hugh Lofting served with the Irish Guards, and not wishing to write to his children about the brutal war, he wrote imaginative letters about his and other pets/mascots. These letters later became the foundation of 14 successful Doctor Dolittle novels for children written between 1920 and 1952.

A Canadian veterinary officer purchased a female black bear cub in Ontario from a fur trapper – naming the bear Winnie after his hometown of Winnipeg. After his training finished in England, he donated Winnie to the London Zoo prior to being posted to the Western Front. A young Zoo visitor – Christopher Robin Milne – after seeing Winnie, went home and named his (male) toy teddy bear Winnie the Pooh. The rest is literary history!

Considerable effort was made to bring many mascots back with the repatriated troops. All troops from the Western Front were repatriated through Britain where quarantine services were available, but often this was too expensive, and servicemen preferred to run the gauntlet of Australian and New Zealand regulations in order to get their mascots safely home and not have them suffer by being left behind.

Miliary mascots have grown in popularity since World War I. They now have official recognition as part of units, both at home and on overseas deployments with their welfare becoming a principal consideration during their service and in their ‘retirement’.

The Australian War Animal Memorial Association, one of the world’s largest war animals charities, was founded by the author Nigel Allsopp. The Association also provides veterans with therapy animals such as PTSD equine and dog programmes. Nigel served for 15 years in the Royal New Zealand Air Force Police as an operational dog handler and 18 years as an explosive detection dog handler in the Queensland Police Service before becoming a senior lecturer at the Queensland Police Academy.

This is an important, pleasant  and little-known aspect of of World War I that provides the reader with many interesting anecdotes. It has been well-punctuated by a generous number of photographs of ‘non-human combatants’. A great read.



The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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