War Dogs in 1914-1918

Some brief notes.

War Dog School of Instruction

Established as a unit of the Corps of Royal Engineers at Shoeburyness in Essex. Relocated to Lyndhurst in Hampshire in late 1918 and was later at Bulford in Wiltshire.

Formed by Major (later Lieutenant-Colonel) Edwin Heautenville Richardson with assistance from Company Sergeant Major Batten, a former inspector of the RSPCA. The 1911 census gave Richardson as “Major (retired) trainer of war and police dogs”.

The dogs were trained for duties in message carrying, guarding and “acting as sentries”. This, to some extent, enabled men to be released from such work for other duties.

In the summer of 1918, Richardson was asked to double the number of dogs being supplied, for their work had been proving to be most valuable.

It is said that some 1400 dogs were trained.

From the “Illustrated London News” of Saturday 15 June 1918. British Newspaper Archive.

The dogs

Dogs were initially provided by the Homes for Lost Dogs at Battersea, Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool and then by the police from unclaimed strays.

The dogs supplied were Great Danes, Mastiffs, St Bernards, Newfoundlands, Dalmations, Collies, Lurchers, Airedales and crossbred sheepdogs. Nothing was to be smaller than an Airedale, no bitches were to be sent, and dogs must be aged between 18 months and five years.

Newspapers on 3 December 1918 reported that the police were to supply no more dogs to the school.

The men

It is reported that dog handlers were created from recruits who had been gamekeepers, hunt servants and shepherds.

Deployments overseas

It is reported that dogs from the War Dog School served in France and Salonika. The only definite details I have traced so far are that:

Le Havre Base reported the arrival of 5 men and 10 dogs on 13 July 1917. Two days later, 1 man and 2 dogs left to join XV Corps and the rest went to Fifth Army.

A further 9 men and 20 dogs landed there on 19 July 1917. On 27 July, 1 man and 4 dogs left to join Fourth Army and the rest went to Fifth Army.

The work of the war dogs

Extract from “Work of the Royal Engineers in the European war, 1914-19: Signal Service (France)” by R. E. Priestley (1921), pages 222-224

IWM photograph Q29549. “A group of dog handlers stand with their dogs at the British Army kennels near Etaples, 20 April 1918. The rows of kennels can be seen behind them.”
IWM Q7345. “Three dogs at the Central Kennel of the Messenger Dog Service, GHQ. Note the cylinder [hanging from the dog’s neck] in which the message was carried”. Judging from the dunes behind the hut this is probably also at Etaples. The man on the left has a wound stripe on his sleeve. Both men wear the blue and white sleeve brassard of the RE Signals Service.
IWM Q10965. “Dog handler of the Royal Engineers (Signals) with his messenger dogs at a Army Veterinary Corps HQ Kennel near Nieppe Wood, 19 May 1918. Note the dogs feet, bandaged as a result of injuries caused by mustard gas.”


War diary of Le Havre Base. National Archives WO95/4031.
British Newspaper Archive.
“Work of the Royal Engineers in the European war, 1914-19: Signal Service (France)” by R. E. Priestley (1921)


Corps of Royal Engineers