The British began the war with just one war dog. It took a dog breeder and civilian, Edwin Hautenville Richardson to convince the military establishment of the value of using dogs.
Richardson, who had wrote an article on the subject in 1911, had previously trained and supplied ambulance dogs for the Russian army during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904.
Apparently, he was very convincing, as the British War Dept. gave him the task of starting the British War Dog School, it also gave him the rank of colonel and made him the commander of the school.
British Messenger Farm Collie With His Keeper!
Lt. Colonel E.H. Richardson was mainly responsible for the appearance of messenger dogs in the British Army during the Great War.
Early British War Dog Leather Collar With Buckle Message Compartment
Lt. Colonel Richardson started training sentry and patrol dogs around about autumn 1914 and found the Airedale to be well suited for this task.
In the winter of 1916 he trained and supplied two Airedales (Wolf and Prince) at the request of the Royal Artillery for use as message carriers, they both served with great success with the 56th Brigade RFA, 11th Div. at Wytschaete Ridge and prompted further investigation into the use of dogs as runners.
The Official sanction of the use of dogs in war was given with the opening of the War Dog Training School in Shoeburyness. After a trial and error period in France a Major Waley, MC RE, was appointed supervisor of all the dog operations in the field, once they (dogs) arrived in France. The main kennels were at Etaples under the command of the RE Signal Corps. who took over the operations in early 1917.
Sectional kennels, belonging to the Signal Corps HQ, were established not far behind the front line, each kennel had on average:
The handlers and the Sergeant In Charge all came from RE Signals Corps. The dogs then went to the active sectors at the ratio of 3 dogs to 1 handler, who then handed them over to selected individuals from the infantry Btns in the designated Brigade. The original handler was then based at the Brigade Headquarters to oversee the dogs operations.
British Bloodhounds UsedFor Locating The Wounded.
As to the types of dogs, originally they came from dog shelters, the Battersea Dogs Home in London, then as demand grew, from the Bristol, Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester dogs home. As demand even outstripped these 'suppliers,' an official order went out to all police forces in the UK to send all strays to the War Dog School.
Even after this, the general public were asked to send in any dogs they were unable to keep properly with the ration system in effect. This last idea was more successful than originally thought and many of the general public sent in their dogs for the war effort.
In they (the dogs) came, and with them letters and notes, some on crested paper, some soiled and wellnigh illegible, but all showing that spirit of sacrifice which the English have always showed throughout the war. One lady wrote: "I have given my husband and my sons, and now that he too is required, I give my dog."
In 1918 the War Dog Training School at Shoeburyness was moved to Matley Ridge, Lyndhurst in the New Forest and stayed there until May 1919 when it was finally moved to Bulford on Salisbury Plains.
Breeds of dogs used: Border Collies, Airedales (named official dog), Lurchers, English Sheepdogs, Retrievers, Bloodhounds and Summer Dogs: A english term for Heinz's 57 Varieties; also called 'Summer Dogs' because they are "Some Of This" and "Some Of That", in other words, mongrels!
Jack ...One Brave Airedale!
During World War I, the Airedale Terrier was among the most common and popular breeds trained by the British for guard and messenger duty; eventually the Airedale was named the official breed of the British Army.
British Airedale Sentry Dog
One Airedale, named Jack, purportedly saved a battalion from destruction by carrying a message through one-half mile of swamp. The artillery barrage that surrounded him broke his jaw and shattered his foreleg. But he persevered, delivered his message to headquarters and then fell dead. The battalion was relieved, and Jack was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for "Gallantry in the Field."
Messanger & Handlers
Another British messager dog was Dick a black retriever cross, who was wounded in action, while serving in the Villers Bretonneux sector and was evacuated to a field hospital, where his wounds was dressed. After a bried convalescence he was returned to the line and resumed his duties carrying messages, but in a few days he grew weaker and began to limp. When further treatment failed to improve his condition, and he was seen to be suffering, Dick was put to sleep. A post mortem examination revealed a bullet lodged in his chest, and a shell splinter lying close to the spine. He had carried on to as near the end as he was able to go.