On this poignant and moving of all weekends we remember with pride our fallen servicemen who made the ultimate sacrifice for our future freedom.
We should also commemorate the lives of the animals, who include dogs, horses, mules, carrier pigeons, elephants, even glow-worms, who also contributed to our victory.
Military dogs still to this day play a major part in our county’s defence and this article is about them and their extremely important role in warfare.
Did you know that in the First World War cross-breeds recruited to the British Army were actually referred to as ‘summer dogs’ because they were made up of summer this and summer that? There were also purebreds including mostly border collies, Airedales, lurchers, Old English Sheepdogs, retrievers and briards.
Dogs have always played an important role in war, and usually where the danger was greatest – right on the front line.
Most of the major countries have in fact used dogs for a variety of purposes, often relying on them for tasks that were beyond human endeavour as they had so much to offer the military, namely speed, strength, stamina, intelligence and obedience.
During Wartime dogs have used these skills to perform the following essential roles:
Guarding military bases
Laying communication cable
Pulling heavy machine guns
Carrying first aid equipment, mail and ammunition
Seeking out casualties
Rat catchers in the trenches
Even propaganda illustrations e.g. British Bulldog, German Shepherd
Sadly dogs suffered high casualty rates as their sensitivity to smell meant that they were used to search for mines and trip-wires, resulting in injury or death from explosions.
Some would even rip their paws to shreds scrabbling through the rubble of bombed-out buildings looking for survivors or bodies.
At the end of WW1 dog casualties from all countries were very heavy. One of their most important roles was as messenger dogs, first used by the British after much campaigning by Lieutenant Colonel Richardson.
Their advantage was messages were able to get to the recipient three times faster than a man ever could. Also, being much lower to the ground, a dog was less of a target to the enemy. If conditions were particularly bad, for example telephone wires were down or it was too foggy or dark for pigeons, dogs were the only way messages got through.
In order to carry the messages the dogs wore collars specially made for this purpose. Some had small metal canisters attached and others had space for messages behind flaps in the collar.
These dogs carried out their duty nobly, passing rapidly through danger areas, saving countless lives of not only the runners, but also of individual units whose urgent messages they carried.
Overall the Colonel found Airedales and Collies to be the best messenger dogs.
Soviet Army Dogs were even used as anti-tank weapons. Totally starved they were actually trained to find their food under a tank. The dogs quickly learned that being released from their pens meant to run out to where a tank was parked so they could eat.
Once trained, the dogs would be fitted with an explosive charge and set loose into a field of oncoming German tanks. When the dog went underneath the tank (where there was less armour) the small wooden lever would be tripped, detonating the explosives and gutting the enemy vehicle.
Incredibly – the dogs were usually too intelligent and could identify whether a tank was German or Soviet – preferring to run back under the tank it was trained to!
The Dickin Medal
The PDSA Dickin Medal is recognised worldwide as “the animals’ Victoria Cross” and is therefore the animal equivalent of the highest decoration for gallantry and bravery that can be bestowed on any member of the British and the Commonwealth forces.
The medal was introduced by Maria Dickin, who was also the founder of the PDSA. She felt that there should be an award to recognise the gallantry and devotion of animals serving with the Armed Forces or Civil Defence units during the Second World War.
In total the Dickin Medal has been awarded to the wartime exploits of only 27dogs – and 32 pigeons, three horses and a cat!
Past winners include:
Beauty – a wire-haired terrier who would accompany owner Bill on his searches of bombed houses and it was one night in 1940 that Beauty joined in with the digging in the debris.
The squad noticed Beauty’s determination to dig and decided to help her. On digging some more they discovered a cat trapped under the rubble. This was the beginning of Beauty’s work.
Beauty went on to become the first ever search and rescue dog and in total rescued over 60 animals trapped in debris from destroyed buildings.
She was presented with leather boots to protect her paws, which had become sore from her efforts to reach victims of the air raids.
Beauty became a pioneer for rescue work and was awarded her Dickin Medal on 12th January 1945. It is engraved with the following:
“For being the pioneer dog in locating buried air raid victims while serving with a PDSA Rescue Squad.”
Judy – a pointer and Royal Navy mascot – whose ship was bombed by Japanese aircraft and became beached on an uninhabited island.
The crew – including Judy – were captured and imprisoned at a Japanese prison camp where Judy met Leading Aircraftman Frank Williams who then became her master. Williams believed that many of the prisoners owed their lives to Judy.
On being released from the camp Williams was determined that Judy should return to England with him and she was smuggled on board a ship.
After Judy’s 6 months in quarantine she was registered as the only member of the Returned British Prisoners of War Association and was also awarded the Dickin Medal.
September 11th 2001
Since the Second World War thankfully very few opportunities have arisen to award the Dickin Medal.
However, the harrowing events that took place at the World Trade Centre on 11th September 2001 changed this and three dogs were awarded the medal.
One was given to Apollo a search and rescue dog that was chosen from a ballot of the 400 dogs that searched for victims in ground zero.
The second two medals were awarded to two guide dogs, Salty and Roselle. Both of these dogs guided their owners down over 70 flights of stairs.
This took one hour in total and with the dogs’ help both of their owners escaped unhurt. In an account by Roselle’s owner Michael Hingson he describes how they went down the stairs flight by flight and met the firemen that were going up on the 30th floor. Roselle stopped to say hello and Michael strongly believes that this was the last conditional love those men ever received.
Treo – the bomb sniffing military black Labrador with a nose for explosives has this year become the most recent recipient to be awarded the Dickin Medal for his role saving troops in Afghanistan by acting as a “four-legged metal detector”.
Treo is credited with saving the lives of his human comrades on at least two occasions, when he identified improvised explosive devices laid by Taliban forces to kill or maim NATO troops.
On August 15, 2008, he found a “daisy chain” consisting of several bombs tied together, that had been concealed by the side of a path. A month later he saved a platoon from guaranteed casualties by finding a similar device.
As you may well recall this year Lieutenant Corporal Tasker was the 358th serviceman killed in the conflict while his dog Theo was the sixth British military hound to die in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In life, they were united in their tireless work saving countless British soldiers in Afghanistan. In death, they were united in tragedy as shortly after Lance Corporal Liam Tasker was killed in a firefight with the Taliban, his devoted Army search dog Theo suffered a seizure and passed away too – possibly from a broken heart.
Finally just a few months ago Cairo, the only canine member of the elite team six that raided Osama Bin Ladin’s compound. The amount and quality of training these dogs go through deserves commendation.
Cairo is a Belgian Malinois, and was the only four legged member of the 80 souls who conducted the raid and he accompanied the 24 men from SEAL Team 6 who entered the compound.
Animals in War Memorial
Around the corner from the Kennel Club on Park Lane, is the Animals in War memorial.
As inscribed on the memorial which depicts all the animals that have been used by troops in wartime, as sadly it wasn’t just the humans and dogs that were devastated in the Great War – millions of animals, notably horses and donkeys, as well as homing pigeons, camels and glow-worms, were drafted into service and forfeited their lives for us.
“The memorial is dedicated to all the animals that served and died alongside British and allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time. They had no choice.”
Those of us who welcome dogs into our lives know how quickly they can become part of our family. For the dogs serving alongside servicemen and women fighting overseas, the bond of affection and respect is mutual and unique. They are working dogs, trained to search for explosives, and in doing that job they are lifesavers and protectors.
In conflict, the handler looks to the dog to do its duty. Time and time again the dog remains steadfast: a loyal companion, a friend for life.
These are just some of the remarkable stories reminding us all how animals also serve: as they did yesterday, they do today, and will again tomorrow.