Horses Beach Sea Colour Photo Defence Imagery Black & White Photo © IWM Q 53766

Think You Have Nothing In Common With WWI & WII Veterans? Think Again...

Today's armed forces might think their lives are different from First & Second World War veterans but a closer look tells a different story

Horses Beach Sea Colour Photo Defence Imagery Black & White Photo © IWM Q 53766

You might be forgiven for thinking that today's Armed Forces are nothing like the men who signed up generations ago.

However, there are similarities between serving personnel old and new that can't be denied.

For example, the Imperial War Museum images from the Second World War below show a moment in time when soldiers needed a break from combat to boost morale.


During the Second World War, the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) arranged for British actor and comedian George Formby to perform his ukulele for troops in places like France, Germany and even onboard minesweeper depot ships like HMS Ambitious.

Performances like this gave serving personnel a moment of respite, time to break away from the violence and trauma of war.

George Formby Entertains The Troops Near The Front Line Second World War WW2 © IWM (B 8257) and © IWM (B 8259)
© IWM (B 8257) and © IWM (B 8259)

Forces Live Events (CSE) has been delivering exceptional entertainment to troops worldwide since 1946, providing high-quality services no matter what the venue, location or budget.

Their bespoke approach means they can pull a private party, intimate mess function, family day, festival, or even an operational morale boost out of the bag, no matter what gets thrown at them.

The not-for-profit team have a combined 50 years of professional live event experience between them and have been responsible for delivering morale-boosting performances and visits by a host of celebrities including David Beckham, Peter Andre, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Al Murray and Ray Winstone.

Comedian and radio presenter Jason Manford performed to thousands of troops in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan in August 2013. He said:

"It's been an honour and a privilege to perform for people a lot braver than me."

Jason Manford CSE Tour Afghanistan August 2013 Comedy CREDIT CSE
Credit: CSE


In the image below troops of C Battery of the 107th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery have fun riding their horses in the sea in June 1915.

There is however a serious side to the frolics shown because military horses need to be familiar with a variety of environments.

This might have been the first time the horses had encountered soft sand and deep water.

It also allows the troops to practice riding bareback - a skill that once mastered gives the rider far more control of their horse.

C Battery 107th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery Horses Sea Beach June 1915 © IWM (Q 53766)
© IWM (Q 53766)

In the photo below soldiers and their horses from King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery are taking a break from ceremonial duties in London for a trip to Watergate Bay Beach in Cornwall.

The visit to the seaside gives the horses and soldiers time to further develop the bond between them. The uncertain surroundings can help the horses build trust in their rider and overcome their fears.

Credit: Sergeant Rupert Frere RLC / September 2015


Man's best friend turns life-saver in the armed forces when placed in challenging and hostile environments. Dogs like Rip, pictured below, tirelessly spent their days searching for bodies trapped after air raids during the Second World War.

Rip was discovered by an Air Raid Warden, hungry and homeless. Because of his natural talent for finding survivors trapped under collapsed buildings, he became the Air Raid Patrols first ‘official’ Search and Rescue dog.

Veterinary charity The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) was established in 1917 to help look after ill pets whose owners might not be able to afford treatment. The PDSA Dickin Medal is awarded to animals for gallantry and is considered to be the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.

Rip was awarded a Dickin Medal in 1945 for saving the lives of around 100 people over a period of 12 months. His citation reads:

“For locating many air-raid victims during the blitz of 1940.”

Were it not for the bravery of the crossbreed terrier, search and rescue might look very different today. The PDSA said:

"His abilities and exploits were held in such regard that he is the inspiration behind the highly-trained Search and Rescue dogs we’re all familiar with today."

Air Raid Precautions Dog Rip Poplar London 5 August 1941 IWM D 5937 Public Domain
Air Raid Precautions dog 'Rip' sits on top a pile of rubble, following an air raid in London - August 5, 1941

Today nothing has changed. Military working dogs still play a crucial role and have service numbers just like their handlers. The last four digits of their microchip number is after their name.

Training for these brave dogs begins when they are puppies and eventually their work takes them to challenging and hostile environments. Their role includes IED detection, vehicle searches, and patrolling.

In 2017 an eight-year-old Belgian Malinois became the 69th recipient of the Dickin Medal for saving the lives of Special Forces troops in Afghanistan five years earlier.

Mali was helping SBS and Afghan troops clear a building in the capital Kabul following a high-profile Taliban attack, when he was seriously injured during the operation. However, he didn't let that get in the way of completing his mission.

He was awarded the Centenary PDSA Dickin Medal for:

“... tireless bravery and devotion to duty during an operation in Afghanistan with the British Military in 2012.”


Sailors can spend months at sea and during the Second World War, a game like Ludo on deck would provide a welcome change of pace.

In what is considered to be a pivotal moment of the Second World War, Operation Dynamo saw hundreds of little ships rescue soldiers stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk, France.

The crew of HMS Verity assisted Operation Dynamo from May 26 until June 2, 1940. In the image below sailors onboard HMS Verity take a much-needed break.

HMS Verity Game Uckers Royal Navy Second World War WW2 © IWM (A 24717)
© IWM (A 24717)

These days serving personnel can entertain themselves in a virtual sphere wherever they are in the world.

E-sports also referred to as competitive video gaming, is a growing trend that has found its way into the armed forces.

RAF Odiham opened its first station gaming room in September 2019 to help improve social cohesion within the Royal Air Force gaming community.

Gaming is becoming so popular in the military that the RAF Video Gaming and E-sports Association (RAF VGEA) was formed at the start of 2019.

Cover Image: © British Army & © IWM (Q 53766)

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