Throughout human history, ‘man’s best friend’ has offered loyalty and companionship. But during the First World War dogs played an especially important role, carrying aid to the wounded, pulling equipment, and taking messages between the lines
In 2015, an exhibition at the Bishopsgate Institute explored the unique bond between man and dog in the years 1914–18. Featuring private photographs and commercial postcards acquired by Libby Hall between 1966 and 2006 – possibly the largest number of canine pictures ever gathered by one person – the exhibition explored the role of dogs as both companions and workers during the conflict.
Hall said: “The collecting of photographs and postcards began by chance in the early 1960s. I had always been interested in photography and was working as a press photographer when 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. I went on searching for images of dogs, becoming more and more fascinated and touched by the photographs I found. When had they been taken and where? What exactly was happening? What happened next? In some cases there were dates and names, but mostly not. But in the end the dates didn’t matter to me – the dogs were the same dogs whether in 1850 or 1920.”
Here, we bring you some of the exhibition highlights…
209th (Norfolk) Field Company, Royal Engineers, of the 34th Division. © The Libby Hall Collection, Bishopsgate Institute Archive
Staff Sergeant (Horse Farrier) of the Army Service Corps (ASC) with the Corps pet dogs, Hissy and Jack. France, August 1916. The note on the reverse of the card reads 'France, August 1916. Our Corps pet named Hissy 8 months old & the Terrier named Jack. May - just after we came out here 16 months - & our Staff Sgt Farrier Len Nusse'. © The Libby Hall Collection, Bishopsgate Institute Archive
A British messenger dog in France during the First World War, 19 May 1918. © The Libby Hall Collection, Bishopsgate Institute Archive
Four soldiers standing behind seated civilians and two dogs, 1 August 1915. From the left: soldier (1) Regt unidentified; soldier (2) Regt Wiltshire Regiment; soldier (3) Regt Wiltshire Regiment; soldier (4) Regt Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). © The Libby Hall Collection, Bishopsgate Institute Archive
Officers, Warrant Officers, Staff Sergeants, of the Army Service Corps (ASC) c1917. © The Libby Hall Collection, Bishopsgate Institute Archive
Dogs of the First World War ran at the Bishopsgate Institute in 2015.