Dogs through History

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Airdale Private Winston, Courtesy Imperial War Museum
Airdale Private Winston, Courtesy Imperial War Museum

England declared war on Germany in September 1939. The military felt that this would be a war of machines and mechanisation. There would be no room for the animal contingent so prominent in the Great War. Because of this belief and food rationing, over 200,000 dogs were sent to their deaths in the first two months of the outbreak.

The reports slowly trickled through that Germany was using a huge number of trained dogs to assist the military in a variety of defensive areas. Germany boasted in its press that Airedales, Boxers, German Shepherds and Doberman Pincers had been enlisted to help its armies.

The people who controlled the English military machine still were not impressed until Colonel E.H. Richardson and Major James Baldwin took up the argument. A later demonstration with trained dogs convinced the government of the day and as a result English dogs started to march to and help the war effort instead of being marched to their deaths.

Initially dogs were used in an ad-hoc way, but in 1942 the army found itself a property near London and set up the first War Dog School. Later schools were started in Gloucester, Burma and Egypt. Because so many dogs had been destroyed so early in the war there was, in fact a shortage of healthy and suitable dogs that the army could find, of some 10,000 offered only about 3,500 were acceptable. The Royal Society for the Protection of Animals, the Animal Protection Societies of Scotland and Ireland and The Canine Defence League agreed to help the recruitment of suitable dogs.

Once at the dog school, members of the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Services looked after the dogs. Most had been kennel maids previously. The men did the actual training.

1942 saw many changes, one was the use of what was called 'para pups. These were the dogs that went with the airborne army and the SAS. Their job was to work with the soldiers and give warnings and sniff out a variety of dangers. Rob was such a dog in all he did twelve jumps behind enemy lines with his SAS handler.

By now the value of the four footed soldiers was evident. By May 1944, 7,000 dogs had passed through the training school. They were sent to all areas where soldiers dealt with conflict; their stories of bravery are legendary.

As in all such stories, the dogs with the soldiers, shared in the fatalities and injuries. The first dog to be killed was Bobbie. Bobbie was a white Alsatian; he ran messages while in France between military units. A vital job given to only the trusted dogs. He was killed by German machine gun fire. After darkness fell, a sergeant major and three men went out and carried Bobbie's body back to their lines. He was buried with full military honours. Such was the bond that developed between men and dog.

While dogs were serving their country abroad, many were showing their skill and courage by joining the search and rescue parties that desperately tried to find trapped casualties after a wave of vicious bombing.

Such a dog was Fluff whose home was destroyed but she managed to scratch her way out and summon help for her family.

Peggy, a Wire Fox Terrier rescued a woman and child.

Chum, an Airedale dug a passage to a woman so she could breath an prevent her being gassed by toxic fumes.


The PDSA'S (People's Dispensary For Sick Animals) founder Maria Dickin introduced the medal in 1943 in order to honour animals that served with the Armed Forces and the Civil Defence units during World War Two. To date, 32 pigeons, 3 horses, 1 cat and (before September 11th 2001) 19 dogs had received the award. The Dickin Medal is considered to be the animal's 'VC'. The award is given to an animal that displays conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty associated with or under control of any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence units. It will only be awarded on recommendation and is exclusive to the animal kingdom.

The medal is made of bronze. The top bears the letters PDSA, and in the middle is written 'FOR GALLANTRY'. Underneath is written, 'WE ALSO SERVE'.

The first dog to receive the Dickin Medal was Bob, a white mongrel. Attached to an infantry unit, he, like the soldiers were sent out on a mission. Suddenly Bob froze and he could not be moved. A sudden noise betrayed the enemy presence. Because of Bob the men were not killed or captured.

ANTIS Alsatian Dog, awarded the Dickin Medal on 28th January 1949. He served with his Czech owner in the French Air Force and RAF from 1940 to 1945 in both North Africa and England. He is the first foreign dog to receive the Dickin Medal.

SHEILA a sheep dog, awarded the Dickin Medal on 2nd July 1945. Scotland. 'for assisting the rescue of four American Airmen, lost in a blizzard after an air crash in December 1944'. Sheila was the first civilian dog to be awarded the Dickin Medal.

It seems appropriate at this junction of the storey to mention some of those dogs that have received the highest honour given to animals. We must remember, however for each one we know of and rejoice about, there are still many unsung heroes in the world that deserve our gratitude and respect and who will never get the recognition that they deserve.

JUDY, an English Pointer born in Shanghai in 1936 and adopted as a mascot by the Royal Navy. Judy served on the gunboats and even had her puppies on one of them. Torpedoed and captured by the Japanese, she spent two years as a prisoner of war in terrible conditions. She attached herself to Leading Aircraftsman Frank Williams and distinguished herself on many occasions by diverting the guards when they tried to beat the prisoners. She was liberated with her fellow prisoners on February 17th, 1950. The book about Judy, Written by E Varley is well worth a read, it is called, 'Judy VC'.

BEAUTY a Wire Haired Terrier who belonged to a PDSA officer and who led the Animal Rescue Squads during the bombing of London in World War Two. Beauty received the Pioneer Medal from the PDSA, for all the lives she saved; a medal usually reserved for humans. She also received a silver mounted collar with the inscription, 'For Services Rendered'.
She was awarded the Dickin Medal in January 1945.


JET who served with the Civil Defence. Awarded the Dickin Medal on January 12th 1945 'for being responsible for the rescue of persons trapped under blitzed buildings while serving with the Civil Defence Service in London.

IRMA who served with the Civil Defence. Awarded the Dickin Medal on January 12th 1945 'for being responsible for the rescue of trapped persons under blitzed buildings while serving with the Civil Defence Service in London'.

ROB (War Dog) No. 471/322. Special Air Service.
Awarded the Dickin Medal on January 22nd 1945. 'for taking part in landings during the North African campaign with Infantry and later with the Special Air Unit in Italy'.

THORN who served with the Civil Defence. Awarded the Dickin Medal on March 2nd 1945, 'for locating air raid casualties, in spite of thick smoke in burning buildings'.

TICH mongrel bitch, awarded the Dickin Medal on July 1st 1949 'for loyalty, courage and devotion to duty under hazardous conditions of war from 1941 to 1945, while serving in North Africa and Italy'.

GANDER a Newfoundland, awarded the Dickin Medal on 15th August 2000. Gander is the first dog for fifty-five years to be awarded the Dickin Medal and the only dog from Canada. The citation reads, 'for saving lives of Canadian infantrymen during the battle of Lye Mun on Hong Kong Island in December 1941'.

RIFLEMAN KHAN dog, 147, 6th Battalion Cameronians. Awarded the Dickin Medal on27th March 1945, 'for rescuing L/Cpl Muldoon from drowning while under heavy shell fire at the battle of Walcheren, November 1944'.

REX rescue dog of the Civil Defence. Awarded the Dickin Medal in April 1945, 'for outstanding good work in the location of casualties in burning buildings. Undaunted by smouldering debris, thick smoke, intense heat and jets of water from fire hoses. This dog displayed uncanny intelligence and outstanding determination in his efforts to follow up a scent that led him to a casualty'.

RIP a mongrel dog that was picked up by the Civil Defence Squad in London E14. He received the Dickin Medal , 'for locating many air raid victims buried by rubble during the blitz of 1940'.

PETER a collie dog, awarded the Dickin Medal in November 1946, 'for locating victims trapped under blitzed buildings while serving with the Civil Defence Units'.

PUNCH and JUDY a Boxer dog and bitch who were both awarded the Dickin Medal in November 1946, 'these dogs saved the lives of two British Officers in Israel by attacking an armed terrorist who was stealing upon them unawares and thus warning them of the danger; Punch sustained bullet wounds and Judy received a graze down her back'.

RICKY a Welsh sheepdog was awarded the Dickin Medal on 29th March 1947, 'this dog was engaged in clearing the verges of a canal bank in Holland. He found all mines but during the operation one of them exploded. Ricky was wounded but remained calm and kept on working. Had he become excited he would have endangered the rest of the section working nearby'.

BRIAN an Alsatian dog was awarded the Dickin Medal on 29th March 1947, 'this patrol dog was attached to a Parachute Battalion. He landed in Normandy and after doing the required number of jumps, became a fully qualified Paratrooper'.


On September 11th 2001, the world at large saw a tragedy unfold. Many of us watched on the TV as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre collapsed after a terrorist attack.

Over 300 dogs were brought in to the site we now know as Ground Zero. The NYPD dogs were the first there.

Appollo, part of the New York police Department K9 Search and Rescue team was on the scene just fifteen minutes of the disaster.

Two guide dogs who saved their owner's lives just before the World Trade Centre collapsed have been honoured for their bravery. Riva and Salty made their way down from the 71st floor. They guided their blind owners through crowded, smoke filled stairs. Mr. Hingson and Mr Roselle their owners, also managed to lead another woman to safety.

On 5th March 2002 the Chairman of the PDSA has presented Appollo, Riva and Salty with the Dickin Medal, ' FOR THEIR SERVICE TO HUMANITY'.

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