The Second World War allowed for the utilisation of an unprecedented number of dogs for military duties both internationally and among the British Armed Forces. On the British Home Front, civilians responded to calls from the British Army’s War Dogs Training School and the Ministry of Aircraft Production Guard Dog Training School by donating their canine pets for military training and employment “for the duration.” As dogs were instructed in roles with the British Army, the Royal Air Force and the London Civil Defence Region, the distinction between pet and trained working animal became increasingly unclear. While civilians and servicemen alike continued to view military dogs as pets, many also saw trained canines as human-like soldiers “doing their bit,” a depiction promulgated by both the military and the wartime press.
Despite the contributions of military and Civil Defence dogs, historians have paid little attention to their employment by the British Armed Forces and on the British Home Front in the First and Second World Wars. In the first comprehensive scholarly account of the employment of British military and Civil Defence dogs in the Second World War, Kimberly Brice O’Donnell traces the development of the British military dog scheme from the British Army’s belated establishment of the short-lived War Dog School and the Messenger Dog Service of the First World War to the more recent employment of canines during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early twenty-first century. With a focus on the Second World War, Doing their Bit examines why and how dogs were trained and employed by the British Armed Forces and the London Civil Defence Region and how humans shaped and perceived their use.