Dogs and horses have both play significant roles in aiding soldiers during World Wars 1 and 2. More than 2.5 million horses were injured during World War 1 and another 8 million killed transporting soldiers, arms and supplies into battle. Dogs have also played a significant role in wartimes in past wars and in our modern day. Dogs have assisted humans with bomb, landmine and gas detection, soldier and civilian rescue, and message delivery. Dog were trained to jump from airplanes and parachute behind enemy lines and to jump from buildings. Other species recognised include carrier pigeons trained to deliver messages over 1000’s of miles in difficult weather conditions, rats sent into tunnels to detect poisonous gases, and even donkeys, reindeer and elephants who carried heavy loads. Cats also carried message around their necks into war zones and kept rats from infesting war ships.
The Animal’s Victoria Cross or PDSA Dickin Medal was created in 1943 in the United Kingdom to honor animal war heroes who saved human lives. Many dogs and horses received honors but carrier pigeons were the most frequent recipients of this award, saving many human lives.
There are three Canadian recipients of the Dickin Medal:
Gander: In 2000, the Newfoundland dog was honored for his bravery, saving many Canadian soldiers during the Battle of Lye Mun in December 1941. He was originally a family pet who accidentally scratched a child’s face and gave the dog to the Royal Rifles in Newfoundland ( a regiment of the Canadian Army) to avoid him being put to sleep. The unit was shipped to Hong Kong in 1941 and Gander went too. On December 8, 1941, the Battle of Hong Kong began one day after the attack on Pearl Harbour. His honorary citation reads:
“For saving the lives of Canadian infantrymen during the Battle of Lye Mun on Hong Kong Island in December 1941. On three documented occasions, Gander, the Newfoundland mascot of the Royal Rifles of Canada, engaged the enemy as his regiment joined the Winnipeg Grenadiers, members of Battalion Headquarters "C" Force and other Commonwealth troops in their courageous defence of the island. Twice Gander's attacks halted the enemy's advance and protected groups of wounded soldiers. In a final act of bravery, the war dog was killed in action gathering a grenade. Without Gander's intervention, many more lives would have been lost in the assault.”
Sam: A German Shepherd served with the Dog Unit of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps. Sam and his handler Sergent Iain Carnegie were part of the peacekeeping force in Bosnia and Herzegovina in April 1998. His honorary citation reads:
“For outstanding gallantry in April 1998 while assigned to the Royal Canadian Regiment in Drvar during the conflict in Bosnia-Hertzegovina. On two documented occasions Sam displayed great courage and devotion to duty. On 18 April Sam successfully brought down an armed man threatening the lives of civilians and Service personnel. On 24 April, while guarding a compound harbouring Serbian refugees, Sam’s determined approach held off rioters until reinforcements arrived. This dog’s true valour saved the lives of many servicemen and civilians during this time of human conflict.”
Beach Comber: On August 19, 1942, Beach Comber arrived in Britain, despite hazardous conditions, from Dieppe, France carrying a message from the Canadian Army alerting commanders of their landing there, marking the start of the Dieppe raid. Beach Comber is the only Canadian pigeon to receive this award.
On Nov. 3, 2012, in Ottawa, Ontario, the Canadian Animals in War dedication was unveiled in Confederation Park. For more details, visit the official Canadian Animals in War website: http://aiwdedication.ca/
A full list of PDSA Dickin Medal recipients can be viewed at: http://www.pdsa.org.uk/about-us/animal-bravery-awards/pdsa-dickin-medal
This Remembrance Day, let’s remember all the soldiers of war, human and animal.