Bill Edwards-Bodmer considers ship mascots and fascinating photos of animals at war in this image-packed article.
Capturing a moment of extraordinary compassion and tenderness during the violence and bloodshed of the Korean War, the above well-known image demonstrates the remarkable relationship that often existed between animals, and the soldiers and sailors who wage war. Besides the millions of horses who served in cavalry units throughout history, military units and navy ships often adopted animals as mascots. Sailors and marines in particular have a long history of sharing their cramped lives aboard ships with animals.
Cats were one common animal. Mariners in ancient Egypt were known to keep cats aboard their vessels for the vital service the felines provided: ridding the ships of rats and mice that would otherwise eat and destroy provisions, cargo and other supplies and spread disease. Sailors throughout history also believed cats brought good luck, as well as amusement during long voyages. They also adopted cats from the foreign ports they visited.
Dogs also have a long history of serving at sea. On ships, especially naval vessels, dogs were kept to provide much needed companionship and to boost moral during long, monotonous journeys. Naval crews adopted these dogs as the ship’s mascot. Countless images exist of sailors proudly posing with their ship’s mascot, so showing the positive effect that dogs had.
Besides dogs and cats, more unusual and exotic animals were often adopted as mascots. These animals were usually given as gifts to visiting ships at ports by local officials. This was notably seen on the ships of the famous Great White Fleet of the United States Navy during its world cruise of 1907-1909. The mighty battleships of the US fleet received everything from kangaroos to eagles to bears. Some animals didn’t work out so well: monkeys given to sailors on one of the ships escaped their enclosures and made a home among the smokestacks, biting anyone who tried to catch them (source: steelnavy.org).
These images provide a light-hearted view of past life in the United States Navy and Marine Corps, and show the special bond that could exist between animals and the sailors and marines who cared for them.
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