Elephant of the Home Front

A black and white photos of an elephant pulling a cart with wagon wheels.
Lizzie the elephant. Photo courtesy of Sheffield Local Studies Library

Story by Christine White

At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 the country was mobilised. Men were enlisted, rationing introduced, and horses from all over the country were requisitioned to be sent to the front.

 The British Army had about 25,000 horses. The War Office was given the task of enlisting another million more. They were needed to pull heavy guns, transport weapons and supplies, to carry the dying and wounded to hospitals and to mount cavalry charges. Horses were taken from the countryside and many families were heartbroken to lose their shire horses and ponies.

The Sheffield steel industry was vital to the war effort providing guns and other large items required by the army. Prior to the war, large horses were used to move heavy loads and, as these were no longer available, alternative methods had to be used. Thomas William Ward (Master Cutler 1913), an established scrap metal merchant, came up with the ingenious idea of using an elephant to move scrap metal around the city to various steel factories.

A black and white photos of an elephant pulling a cart with wagon wheels.
Lizzie the elephant.
Photo courtesy of Sheffield Local Studies Library

Thomas Ward Ltd were based at the Albion Works on Savile Street and an elephant owned by William Sedgwick was acquired on lease from his menagerie based at the Wicker Arches. The elephant was named Lizzie and to help her with her work two pairs of leather boots were made to protect her feet in the scrap yard. Lizzie was well known in the city and was one of the most important workers in the steel industry, transporting steel around the city. She had celebrity status and was quite a character. The children loved to run alongside her and one day she took a boy’s hat off his head and had a tasty lunch. On another occasion she put her trunk through a window and helped herself to a pie. Lizzie had help with her loads on certain occasions as can be seen in the picture where she is being assisted by two camels.

After the war there are conflicting stories about what happened to Lizzie. She may have been sent to a zoo, returned to the circus or stayed on at Thomas Ward’s, as she could do the work of three horses. This year we have seen many elephants around the city centre and it is a good reminder of what she did for the city during the 1914 – 1918 war years.

Sheffield now has a community bus named after Lizzie.