The Great War, 1914 - 1918

Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 4th, 1914. In the early part of the War nothing much seemed to change as far as the wolfhound breed was concerned. Apart from the bombing raids by Zeppelins - the first of which took place on the 19th January, 1915 - the war was too far away to make its mark on the wealthy owners of the Irish wolfhound and, for a time, food shortages were not a major problem. It was really not until 1917 that the effects of the war became marked.

However, quite early on the changes in the British way of life became apparent. The huge numbers of casualties meant that more and more men were needed in the forces and women were not only required as nurses on the battlefields but were also needed to take the place in the workforce of the men who had been called up. Industrialisation was well under way, so women were having to work in the factories as well as on the farms and in hospitals. This was the era in which the working class grew and the previous social structure was in upheaval.

Dogs were used in various ways throughout the war and actually into the war zone. They were present in the trenches as guards, used to carry messages, and as search and rescue to carry first aid to the wounded. They were also popular with troops, who needed something to love and care for. There were huge numbers of stray dogs that took up residence in the many army camps around the country, for example. And troops took their dogs with them to the battlefield.

 guard hound in British trenches
 Postcard - a Guard-dog on the English trenches

Red Cross dog 
 Postcard (German) with Red Cross dog
war dog 
 Postcard from Imperial War Museum

Bally Shannon was an Irish wolfhound taken to France by his master as an ambulance helper, dragging wounded men to safety. Both he and his master were wounded and sent home on a hospital ship, which was then torpedoed in mid-Channel by a German submarine and there were only four survivors - Bally Shannon, his master and two other men - who somehow managed to survive until the next morning when they were picked up. To read Bally Shannon's full story (or as much of it as can be found), click here.

Breeding of Irish Wolfhounds continued as normal throughout 1914, 1915 and 1916, although towards the end of 1916 the numbers of hounds being registered with the Kennel Club were reducing markedly. It is noticeable that early on in the war, many previously unregistered hounds were being registered, sometimes several years after their birth. Although this had always been done to some degree, it was particularly marked during this period.

Interestingly, Mrs. Nagle of the Sulhamstead Kennels had always said that breeding was forbidden during the GreatWar and that this was why Sulhamstead Pedlar was not registered until well after the war even though he was actually born during it. This was not, however, the case throughout the war, as the Kennel Club was registering litters until well into 1917. Up to 1916 the numbers were more or less in line with pre-war registrations but there was only one litter of wolfhounds registered for 1917, and the Government then wanted to introduce a tax on dogs because of their fears that puppies were being given food that was needed for humans. To see the Kennel Club registrations for the period of the War, click here

By this time the German submarine fleet's depredations on the Merchant Navy ships had resulted in huge losses and food shortages were marked, so it became extremely difficult, if not impossible, to feed dogs, especially giant breed dogs. The Kennel Club suggested that, instead of a tax on dogs, no litters should be registered from September 8th, 1917 until after the end of the war, except for those bred under special licence from the Kennel Club, and this was accepted by the Government. As the situation worsened, the Kennel Club stopped any licensed breeding from November, 1917. There was a lot of pressure on breeders and dog owners to destroy dogs and this was done both in breeding establishments and in hound packs, which were reduced by 40-50 per cent.

The cupboard was bare! 
 Tuck Postcard - The Cupboard was Bare!

The National Sheep Association had approached the Government to increase the dog tax from 7s 6d to 1 guinea, because of the number of attacks by dogs on sheep, but the Kennel Club had said that these attacks were mostly by the large numbers of stray dogs, many of which had moved into the military camps around the country, and that the regulations of the existing Dogs Act as it affected "stray and useless dogs" should be more stringently enforced. They felt that it was untaxed dogs that were causing the problem, so raising the tax was not going to have any beneficial effect but would lead to more dogs being dumped.

On August 12th, 1918 a deputation from the Committee attended at the Ministry of Food, by appointment, as that department had expressed its willingness to supply information to the Club on the question of the then position regarding dog foods. The facts disclosed were that the Government were releasing fairly considerable quantities of better wheaten flour than had been previously employed for the manufacture of dog biscuits, and that the flour was being allocated to recognised manufacturers in the country, on condition that the firms recognised turned the flour received into biscuits within a given time. The General Committee, at their meeting on November 20th, having previously communicated their intention to the Ministry of Food, decided that breeding might be resumed after November 22nd, and that any puppies born on and after January 24th, 1919, will be eligible for registration.

The Kennel Club had said that puppies bred in defiance of the ban on breeding (between September 8th, 1917 and January 24th, 1919) would not be registered after the war, but they did, in fact, rescind this as there were worries that pedigrees might not be properly maintained. At a meeting on February 9th, 1920 the General Committee decided that, for the purpose of preserving the continuity of pedigrees, the registration of dogs born between September 7th, 1917 and January 24th, 1919 should immediately be permitted. However, it was also decided that such dogs would not be permitted to be shown and could only be exhibited "not for competition".

Sulhamstead Pedlar was not registered until 1924, the year he died from Distemper, and he was registered as having been born on Armistice Day - November 11th, 1918.

Who was there breeding during this period? Isaac Everett's Felixstowe kennels kept going, as did Dr. & Mrs. Fisher's Lindley kennels, and Major & Mrs. Shewell's Cotswold (which had only started again in 1914 having been disbanded a couple of years previously), although Major Shewell died in 1915. Mrs. Shewell did continue for a few years but the kennel was much reduced. There was J. McKelvie's Fodhla, Mrs. Heywood's (or Mrs. Trethewy's) Wyke Mark and Mr. & Mrs. Crisp's Hindhead. There was also Mr. H. Pemberton's Bolebrook, but the main kennel at this time was Felixstowe. James & Florence Nagle's Sheppey, as it was then known, had not really got going - in fact, Florence Nagle's first hound, Manin Michael, was not registered until March, 1917 although he was born March 31, 1913. His name was then changed to Sir Michael of Sheppey.

 Mrs. Crisp with three of the Hindhead hounds  Mrs. Crisp

Mrs. Heywood and Mrs. Trethewy appear interchangeable, as both are at times given in registrations as owner in the same period of time of Conn and of Felixstowe Kilronan and as registering hounds with the kennel name Wyck or Wyke Mark. Wyke Mark Dan O'Hagarty, one of the major sires of this period, was registered by Mrs. Heywood with his pedigree as by the owner's Felixstowe Kilronan ex Miss Windley's Good Hope and born February 19th, 1914.

In 1915 Miss Violet Grant of Lichborough Hall, Weedon, Northants. offered a hound, Lichborough Garryowen, as mascot to the Leinster Regiment but the offer was declined as the Regiment was being sent into battle and, although the Commanding Officer was willing to take the hound and have him looked after by their transport while the Regiment was in the trenches, he felt that Miss Grant would prefer the dog to stay in the U.K. He was then offered to the 3rd Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers, in Aghada, Co. Cork and the offer was accepted. One of the Battalion's officers, Captain Humphreys, was in London on a course at Chelsea Barracks and he called in at Lichborough on his way back to Aghada to collect Garry. Garry was then five years old.

Lichborough Garryowen at Aghada   Garry on arrival at Aghada

For full details on Garry with the Royal Munster Fusiliers, 3rd Battalion, click here.

Leitrim Boy was the mascot (or regimental pet as they were then known) of the Irish Guards during most of the Great War. He was presented to the Irish Guards by Lord Powerscourt in 1910, following his gaining of a second place in the Graduate Class and a third in the Limit Class at the Dublin Show in May that year. He was whelped on November 12th, 1907, bred by Mr. O'Malley, by Galtee Boy out of Carlow Norah. He was registered with the Kennel Club by his owner, Mr. T.J. Kilbride, with the incorrect information that his sire was Galtee and unregistered. He was the second of the Irish Guards' mascots, following on from Rajah of Kidnal, and was retired in 1917 when his place was taken by Doran.

Leitrim Boy  Leitrim Boy 

During the year 1916, 429 Shows were held in the United Kingdom under Kennel Club Rules. In a number of instances, owing to the patriotic efforts of the promoters and exhibitors, the whole or a part of the proceeds at these shows was devoted to war funds or other charitable efforts of a like description. The Kennel Club set up its own "Ambulance Car Fund", asking the dog owning and exhibiting public for donations. The total subscriptions received amounted to £2,911. 7s. 9d., more than sufficient to provide seven motor ambulances. During the year the whole of the remaining members of the staff of the Kennel Club within the age limit were called up for military service.

 Felixstowe Regan Llantarnan Tara 
 Felixstowe Regan, winner of the Dog CC at Crufts, 1916  Llantarnan Tarna, winner at Richmond, 1916

During the year 1917 only 135 Shows were held in the United Kingdom under the Rules of the Kennel Club. Of these, six were Championship Shows, thirty-eight under Rules other than Championship, seventy-eight under Sanction, and thirteen granted on behalf of the Executive Committee of the Scottish Kennel Club. At their meeting on January 24th the General Committee had under consideration correspondence which had taken place with the Board of Trade (Railway Department) with reference to the notification from the Board, that after February the railway companies proposed to withhold any facilities in connection with Dog Shows. To meet this notification the Committee decided that in future it would only grant licences to Shows not requiring railway facilities. At the same meeting it was decided, on the recommendation of the Field Trials Committee, that it was undesirable to hold Field Trials during the continuance of the War. Dog Shows were banned by the Government on July 19th,1917.

No Championship shows were held during 1918. Owing to the continued stress of the war, which had lasted for nearly four-and-a-half years, the year 1918 must, in its effects, be reckoned as the most disastrous that has ever afflicted dogdom, according to a Kennel Club report. Resulting from the pressure of the Government, the restrictions on breeding which had been imposed in 1917 were continued until the end of November, 1918. In addition to these restrictions the limitations in regard to the holding of even Radius Shows still further hampered the efforts of those who were interested in the preservation of the various breeds of pedigree dogs. With the signing of the Armistice on November 11th, these harassing restrictions were in some measure removed, and it was hoped that the year 1919 would see a return of prosperity to the sorely tried breeders, owners, and exhibitors of pedigree stock. On February 8th the Government announced their decision that Radius Shows might be held, limited to a distance of ten miles, at which dogs might be shown which had been kept within that radius for three months preceding the date of the Show. Following this new order, the Shows Regulation Committee, at their meeting on February 15th, drafted Regulations under which Shows might be held.

The Kennel Club's Calendar & Stud Book for 1920, which listed the winning dogs at shows during 1919, gave only two Irish wolfhounds, one dog and one bitch - Fland and Ferb owned by Ralph Montagu Scott whose Ifold kennel started just after the war.

Although Sulhamstead Pedlar was said to have been almost a saviour of the breed following the war, he was actually used very little at stud and the dog mainly used following the war was Felixstowe Kilgerran, with other dogs such as Felixstowe Regan, one or two of the Lindley hounds, and MacLeod's Sheelin of Caldy (sire of Fland and Ferb mentioned above) being used to a much lesser extent.

 Felixstowe Kilgerran  Felixstowe Kilgerran

Brian Mil-Chu was born on July 27th, 1910 and registered by Miss E.M. Galloway. He was by Mr. Thos. Hamilton-Adams' Ivo O'Neill out of Mr. W. Golding's Wicklow Lass and ended up in the British Museum of Natural History. His height to the shoulder was said to be 34 inches. The photograph comes from a postcard produced by the Museum and printed by Waterlow & Sons Limited.

Brian Mil-Chu

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Updated June 29th, 2008