Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Dogs In The Trenches

This was originally published in  'From All the Fronts' by Donald Mackenzie (1917).

'Dogs in the Trenches'

The dog has long been called "the friend of man", and in this great war it has proved itself to be a friend indeed. Many stories are told of dogs leaving home and tracking their masters to the trenches, and of their wonderful courage under fire. But it is not as a pet alone that the dog has proved itself a "friend", but also as a worker, whether doing red-cross work, sentinel duty, or hauling sledges with supplies over snow - clad hills.

One of the famous French army dogs is "Marquis", which did splendid service carrying dispatches. This faithful animal showed great intelligence, and ran and crept through bullet-swept zones carrying important messages when no human being could venture to do so. More than once Marquis helped whole companies to get out of tight spots by bringing them warnings in time, and it also kept officers in touch with their superiors, when heavy bombardments cut telephone wires, by scampering from point to point with messages.

One morning Marquis was sent out on his last journey with a dispatch in his mouth. The Prussians were attacking heavily at the time. Shell-fire burst above and behind the French trenches, and it was impossible for a soldier to attempt to leave cover. Marquis ran off - going briskly so long as it was under cover. Then he had to cross an open track of country where the bullets pattered down like hailstones. He crept low, and made short rushes from bush to bush, while anxious eyes followed its movements. For a time all went well. Then, when it seemed as if the dog would succeed, it was struck by a bullet and fell on the ground. An officer, who had been watching through his field-glasses, uttered a cry of regret, and began to sorrow for poor Marquis. For a time the dog lay very still. Then he began to come back. Slowly he crept on, suffering pain and very weak from loss of blood. At length, after a great effort, Marquis returned to his master, and, dropping the blood-stained dispatch at his feet, fell over and died. That evening the French soldiers, with bared heads and heavy hearts, buried the faithful dispatch dog, and set up a little monument to mark his grave.

Another famous dog was named Lutz. It won its reputation near Verdun. One dark night a force of Germans were stealing towards a French position all unknown to the sentinels. Lutz, however, scented them and began to growl. "Hush! lie down!" a sentinel said in a low voice, but Lutz only grew more restless and excited. The attention of an officer was drawn to the dog's behaviour, and a warning was issued. The French soldiers were roused from sleep and stood ready to deal with any unexpected danger. Ere long they became aware of the near presence of Germans, and a withering fire broke out from the French trenches. The German surprise attack failed completely because of the warning given by Lutz. A large number of this raiding force were killed at point-blank range, and most of the survivors were taken prisoners.

Dogs like Lutz are trained to act as helpers of sentries. They do not all growl and bark when danger is near, however. Some simply "point" like "pointer dogs" used by sportsmen on the moors. When these wise animals scent the enemy, they thrust their noses forward, stiffen out their backs, and signal with their tails, keeping perfectly silent. One dark night a pointer, named Paul, stood beside a sentry. Suddenly the dog began to sniff and grow restless. Then he pointed stiffly towards a point where he had scented the enemy. An officer was informed that the dog was "pointing". He shrugged his shoulders and said, "The dog can't be trusted." Paul was taken down a trench and led to another sentry post. There he sniffed again and "pointed" in the same direction as formerly. "Now, Paul," the officer said, "we shall put you to the test." He ordered rockets to be sent up. Flares of vivid light cut through the darkness, and three Germans on "listening post" duty were seen crouching on the ground less than twenty yards distant.

Their duty was to spy on the French position and find out whether any preparations were being made for a night attack. This they could do by listening to hear words of command and the movements of soldiers getting ready to creep out in the darkness. If such preparations were being made, it was their duty to creep back and give the alarm. Having been pointed at by Paul, this particular "listening post" party was rounded up by the French, the three men being brought in as prisoners. The officer patted Paul, and calling him "a treasure", said: "I shall see, good dog, that you are mentioned in dispatches."

The dogs that do ambulance work have saved many lives by going out in the darkness over "No-Man's- Land", after an attack had taken place, finding wounded soldiers, and carrying food and stimulants to them. The intelligent way in which these animals behave is very wonderful. When a red-cross dog finds a stricken soldier, it runs back and leads a party towards him. On the outbreak of war the French had only a few dogs trained for ambulance work, but these proved to be so useful that their numbers were speedily added to. In less than two years' time there were nearly 3000 dogs at work, and it is estimated that owing to their help about 10,000 lives have been saved.

Among the Vosges mountains large numbers of dogs from Labrador and Alaska have been used to pull sleighs loaded with food or ammunition over trackless wastes, and also to drag small trucks on narrow lines of railway. When snow lies heavily on the ground, and a crust is formed on it by the hard frosts, the dogs can scamper up and down the mountain slopes at great speed. Long teams are yoked to the sledges, and the drivers have exciting enough spins. Sometimes it takes them all their time to keep the animals under control. Running in packs, they often become greatly excited, and scamper at such a rate that there is always the danger of an accident taking place. More than one sledge has been overturned during a wild rush down a steep snowy slope. The dogs follow a leader, who picks out a track by instinct, and occasionally swerves this way and that to avoid a danger spot, such. as a piece of jutting rock, or a deep hollow over which the snow lies thinly. But the bounding animals never swerve if there should happen to be men or mules in front of them. One day a company of French soldiers were crossing a little valley, when a team of carrier dogs swept down the long sloping hill-side and ran pell-mell towards them.

In another minute three or four soldiers found themselves struggling in the snow with foaming and excited dogs tumbling over them. The sledge was overturned, and the driver thrown a dozen yards into a heavy snow-wreath, from which he came out shouting protests, and shaking himself like his dogs to get rid of the sheets of snow that clung about his shoulders and neck. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt. When the sleigh was righted again, and the dogs were got in hand, the driver set his team scampering merrily down the valley. Much more trouble is caused if the dogs should happen to run into a group of pack mules. The mule is never, as a rule, too good-tempered, and if he is tripped up, he bites and kicks so much that it is dangerous to go near him. One evening, just as the sun was setting in a blaze of red over the snow-clad hills, a mule, which was thrown over by a scampering dog team, kicked out so fiercely as it sprawled in the snow that it killed three dogs and injured another half-dozen. The sleigh was loaded with ammunition, but by good luck ran down a sloping bank clear of the animal's hoofs. The dogs' traces had to be cut, and three of them escaped, and scampered away out of sight in a few minutes, but they were found next day to have returned to the camp from which they had set out.

As a rule, these sleigh dogs are somewhat wild. They are greatly given to fighting among them-selves, and if one of them should happen to escape from a kennel, they bark and howl at a great rate, and cannot be silenced until the comrade who has won freedom is caught and taken back again. It takes a skilled driver to deal with them when they grow fierce and excited.

They are, however, very obedient to, and even quite gentle with, those who feed them readily, and, being most intelligent, answer readily to their names. But for these dogs, the problem of sending supplies of food and ammunition through the passes of the Vosges during winter would have been a very difficult one. Often when the light railways were buried in snow and rendered quite useless, and teams of pack mules were hardly able to make their way through the wreaths, the northern dogs scampered along, hauling the sleighs and keeping the soldiers well supplied with all they required.

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