How a Sheffield Circus Elephant was drafted in to help during WW1

Lizzie the elephant
Lizzie the elephant
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This year will see the country celebrate the centenary of the end of WWI, and the men and women who valiantly contributed to the war effort.

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Lizzie with camels

Lizzie with camels

However, many animals also made a significant contribution during the great war, ranging from horses used on the front line to the dogs who were trained to seek out dying or wounded soldiers.

Surprisingly, this also includes circus animals, one of which made her name known during WWI and whose efforts helped to keep Sheffield's steel industry in action.

Animals were used throughout the country for transportation, communication, logistical and cavalry purposes, and unconventional methods were used to replace the animals who had gone away to war.

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It was vitally important that Sheffield's steel industry continued to function and although many women replaced the men who had gone away to fight, these women now being known as the 'Women of Steel', there was certain work which required the assistance of large mammals.

This is where Lizzie the Elephant and her Circus friends came in. When the horses of Sheffield were sent overseas to aid the soldiers with transportation, Lizzie was acquired from a menagerie based at the Wicker Arches, owned by William Sedgwick.

Leased to scrap metal merchant Thomas Ward, Lizzie was put to work carting machinery, scrap metal and munitions around the city, a role which would have previously required at least three horses.

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A far cry from her trick-performing role in the travelling menagerie, a role which meant she was comfortable around a variety of people and easily trainable, Lizzie now played a vital role in the war effort.

Steel was an integral material used during WWI, being a natural choice for aircraft components due to its ability to withstand extremely high temperatures, alongside its use in shoes, ammunition, ships, tanks and the renowned steel helmets.

Armed with a pair of special leather boots to protect her feet from metal lying around on the floor of the scrap yard, Lizzie worked tirelessly to make sure much needed material was transported around the city.

Expectedly, this was an unusual sight for those living in the area, but Lizzie became a well-known and much loved figure in the area, as the people of Sheffield saw for their own eyes the significant contribution she was making to the steel industry and therefore Britain's war effort.

Lizzie was not the only exotic animal used in Sheffield during this time, as a herd of Camels, probably from the same circus group as Lizzie, were also used to pull heavy loads and transport materials around the city.

Elephants were also used in the Horley area of Surrey to plough fields and farmland and transport agricultural materials around farms, showing the versatile nature of the work they were required to carry out.

Although it isn't quite known what happened to Lizzie after the war ended, with rumours ranging from her continuing to work for Thomas Ward to her return to the travelling circus, Lizzie became permanently etched in the people of Sheffield's hearts.

In 2016, a herd of colourful elephant sculptures were placed around the city as part of the 'Herd of Sheffield' project, in order to raise funds for Sheffield's Children's Hospital. This project was inspired by Lizzie and shows that her memory continues to be kept alive.

Lizzie continues to help with transport in the city, as a Sheffield Community Transport bus was recently named after her, so instead of transporting steel around the city, her memory lives on through the 'Lizzie Ward' bus which transports Sheffield's citizens from place to place.

If you do ever happen to hear the phrase 'Done up like Tommy Ward's elephant', which refers to somebody who is carrying something heavy, this of course relates back to the heroic Lizzie and is an idiom still used by the people of Sheffield today.

Lizzie truly made her mark on the city and people of Sheffield, and although it was an unconventional means of getting things done during WWI, this heroic elephant helped the nation in its time of need and her legacy continues to remain alive.