Discover The Dogs Of WWI At Bishopsgate Institute

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Discover The Dogs Of WWI At Bishopsgate Institute

This is a sponsored article on behalf of Bishopsgate Institute.

Staff Sergeant (Horse Farrier) of the Army Service Corps (ASC) with the Corp's pet dogs, Hissy and Jack. France, August 1916.
Staff Sergeant (Horse Farrier) of the Army Service Corps (ASC) with the Corp's pet dogs, Hissy and Jack. France, August 1916.
Note on reverse of card: "France, August 1916. Our Corps pet St Bernard named Hissy 8 months old & the Terrier named Jack. May - just after we came out here 16 months - & our Staff Sgt Farrier Len Nusse."
Note on reverse of card: "France, August 1916. Our Corps pet St Bernard named Hissy 8 months old & the Terrier named Jack. May - just after we came out here 16 months - & our Staff Sgt Farrier Len Nusse."
Four soldiers standing behind seated civilians and two dogs, 1st August 1915.
Four soldiers standing behind seated civilians and two dogs, 1st August 1915.
Two German Officers probably of General von Kluck’s, 1st German Army, resting behind the lines at Le Cateau, France, Christmas 1916, during the grinding battles of attrition at the Somme and Ver dun.
Two German Officers probably of General von Kluck’s, 1st German Army, resting behind the lines at Le Cateau, France, Christmas 1916, during the grinding battles of attrition at the Somme and Ver dun.
Officers, Warrant Officers, Staff Sergeants, of the Army Service Corps (ASC), circa 1917.
Officers, Warrant Officers, Staff Sergeants, of the Army Service Corps (ASC), circa 1917.
A member of 209th (Norfolk) Field Company, Royal Engineers, of the 34th Division, with his four-legged friend.
A member of 209th (Norfolk) Field Company, Royal Engineers, of the 34th Division, with his four-legged friend.
Corporal of the Worcestershire Regiment and canine companion, circa 1917.
Corporal of the Worcestershire Regiment and canine companion, circa 1917.
A British messenger dog in France during the First World War, 19 May 1918.
A British messenger dog in France during the First World War, 19 May 1918.
Reverse of the postcard showing a British messenger dog in France during the First World War, 19 May 1918.
Reverse of the postcard showing a British messenger dog in France during the First World War, 19 May 1918.

It is not just mankind that engages in war — dogs too have long had a role to play on the battlefield. The First World War was no exception. A fascinating new exhibition and series of events at Bishopsgate Institute explores the canine efforts of man's best friend during 1914-18.

Dogs of the First World War has been created from Libby Hall's vast collection of old photographs of dogs, housed in the Institute's library. These remarkable images show the companionship and loyalty between the soldiers and the dogs who served them.

The exhibition will run from 10 March to 26 June 2015. As well as demonstrating the essential role dogs played during this extraordinary time in history, the exhibition also arouses our curiosity as to what some of the stories behind the images might be.

A dog poses with a Corporal of the Worcestershire Regiment. Are they childhood companions now grown up and facing war or new friends thrown together in the military?

Another photo shows a messenger dog with his handler. What vital despatches has the dog carried? How many lives have these despatches saved?

The images are not all of Allied forces; in another photo, two German officers enjoy a Christmas break with cigarettes and a canine companion. Yet again, we're inspired to think: what became of the men and the dog following the Yuletide respite? Was this the last time they stood by a Christmas tree together?

Says Libby of her collection:

“I discovered that a local junk shop doing house clearances was simply throwing away old photographs. I persuaded them to let me have those photographs, really just in order to save them from the dustbin. Then, perhaps because I have lived with dogs all my life – and couldn’t imagine life without them – I began to be intrigued by the photographs that had dogs in them.

As the collection grew, it seemed to turn into a testimony to the extraordinary relationship that can exist between dogs and people: dogs that you knew were loved companions of people living on their own, dogs that were included in photographs as important members of the family or group."

On 19 March there's a hands-on workshop, allowing visitors to pore over Libby's collection, with the help of social historian Dr Michelle Johansen.

Other events include a talk from Juliet Gardiner on 28 April, about dogs who fought alongside their masters, their contribution to victory and the high price they often paid.  And on 11 April, a discussion poses the question: Could robots ever usurp the dog as man’s companion of choice?

A special badge to celebrate Dogs of the First World War has been created and you can get your hands on one of these when visiting the exhibition and any related events.

The Institute’s library contains a sizeable cache of archive material. Aside from Libby Hall’s photos, it specialises in London history, protest and campaigning, Labour and socialist history.

Dogs of the First World War is at Bishopsgate Institute from 10 March-26 June. For more information and to book events visit the website or drop into Bishopsgate Institute reception at 230 Bishopsgate, EC2M 4QH.

Last Updated 19 February 2015