It's a dog's life

08 May 2013 by Kerry Neale

It was not just human soldiers on the Western Front during the First World War who needed protection from the new dangers of chemical warfare. Animals serving beside them were also vulnerable. Collected off the battlefield by a member of the 41st Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, this gas mask was made for a German messenger dog.

The allied naval blockade of Germany had forced the Germans to develop substitute materials, known as ersatz products. This mask is made from ersatz fabric of coarsely woven paper and fibres. Although the mask has no filter canister, it may have been soaked in a chemical disinfectant such as phenol to provide its wearer with some protection against poisonous gases. The fabric of the headpiece has been machine-quilted to give it additional stiffness, which was particularly needed to prevent the end of the snout from collapsing around the dog’s nose. The fur lining shows through the openings on either side of the neck that allow the mask to be fitted over the dog’s head.

 It is unclear exactly when the mask was collected, but its existence demonstrates the importance of dogs during the First World War. Making their way through the maze of trenches spread throughout the Western Front, dogs proved to be as reliable as soldiers in the dangerous job of running messages – and sometimes faster. Whether as messengers, guards or mascots, or simply by providing companionship to the men in the trenches, dogs served many vital roles. Come and experience other stories of animals in war in the Memorial’s galleries.