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Belgian Tervuren service in WWI

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Tags: Belgian Tervuren, Working Dog

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Ethnic and political rivalries, tensions between the various powers and the arms race led to the start of The First World War in 1914, when a Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. The assassination set into motion a chain of events leading up to the initial battles between Serbia and Austro-Hungaria. Soon enough, this conflict would spread to involve much of the world, costing more than nine million lives and affecting international politics throughout the rest of the century. The use of dogs in the first World War became a necessity when the use of trenches became widespread across the Western Front.

Trench warfare had been a complex, difficult, painful and entirely necessary strategy. Communications had been challenging, or sometimes even impossible. Existing solutions to the communication problems that plagued the French and American forces had been crude and, more often than not, ineffective. Human message runners had been slow, obvious targets for snipers. Weighed down by their gear, weapons and uniform and traversing extremely difficult terrain, a lot of these soldiers never reached their destination. They were injured or killed and their messages were regularly intercepted by the enemy. Vehicles often were trapped in the mud or broke down under the rough conditions of the frontlines or simply weren't able to go through without drawing attention to themselves.

The war dog provided an answer. Capable of running for long periods of time without getting tired and free to run without equipment or weaponry, they had been unmatched as messengers. Thanks to their speed and smaller stature, they also made harder and less obvious targets for snipers. When this solution had been discovered, a school was immediately founded in Scotland to train dogs for service in the armed forces. One dog from this school managed to run 4,000 meters across incredibly difficult terrain, delivering an important message to a brigade's headquarters in less than an hour from start to finish.

The Belgian Tervuren gained prominence in the public eye thanks to the breed's efforts in this task. Their speed, cunning and endurance made them perfect candidates for the job and they performed their duty as competently and bravely as the soldiers that served alongside them on the frontlines. These dogs were also said to provide psychological comfort to the soldiers. In the eerie, frightening, unwelcoming and deadly atmosphere of war, the dogs served as a reminder of home. Messenger dog or not, their companionship must have saved more than a few soldiers from overwhelming despair and the breed is certainly to be thanked alongside their human counterparts for helping to defend the world from tyranny in that unstable period of in world history.

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Belgian Tervuren service in WWI
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