A purple poppy symbolises all animals who have died during conflict.

To mark the day, a New Zealand War Animal Memorial was unveiled at the museum.

The project is the result of work by the Australian War Animal Memorial Organisation, AWAMO which was set up to honour the animals that served alongside New Zealand and Australian troops abroad.

Since the New Zealand Wars, and through to WW1 and beyond, animals have played a major part helping service men and women.

These include horses, donkeys, camels, dogs, pigeons, the occasional cat and even glow-worms, which were used as a light-source in the tunnels of Arras in the WW1.

The head of AWAMO, New Zealander Nigel Allsopp, said while the focus was often on the cavalry horse, other animals have also played their part.

“The heavy horse like mules, donkeys and Clydesdales carried all the equipment up to the front-line and carried the wounded back”.

He said the pigeons carried messages to make the attacks possible.

Mr Allsopp said one pigeon in the First World War was shot and wounded and fell to the ground, where it was gassed and then wounded by shrapnel from a grenade, but that did not stop it.

“The pigeon was still able to walk the three kilometres back to headquarters to deliver its message and where it died in its handlers arms.”

Of all the animals that served, it is the dog that is still the most active in a modern military.

A New Zealand War Animal Memorial was unveiled at the National Army Museum in Waiouru. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

During the First World War canines were used as messengers and for taking medical supplies out to the wounded in no-mans land.

Nowadays, they are used for security and tracking, but also as explosive sniffing dogs, which New Zealand troops used in Afghanistan.

Alan Inkpen is the Working Dog Capability Manager (Land) for the New Zealand Defence Force.

He said it had been proven that the work dogs do, can not really be replicated by technology and explosive detection dogs were a prime example.

“To try and find the amount of target odours the dog can find you would need almost one piece of equipment each time to find that.”

Mr Inkpen said the most important thing about military working dogs was to reduce the risk to human-life.

It is estimated that in the First World War alone, about nine million animals serving in the military died.

Birds had an important role in war, carrying messages. Photo: Supplied – NZ National Army Museum

Nigel Allsopp said the time was right to mark their sacrifice.

“We obviously never forget the sacrifices of our two-legged heroes, our soldiers, however, it’s time to perhaps to just pause of thought that also four-legged soldiers served.”

He said the animals were not volunteers and were drafted.

“It’s just a way to acknowledge how they helped us.”

The National Animal Memorial at Waiouru is sculptured by American, Susan Bahary, who attended Saturday’s unveiling.

The National Army Museum plans to commemorate Purple Poppy Day each February 24th and it hopes the idea will catch on nation-wide.


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