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Animals at War

One Voice for Animals UK Guest Blog by CAW


From mascots to beasts of burden, animals have been going to war with mankind throughout recorded history. Horses carried cavalrymen, pulled chariots, and their relatives the donkey, the mule, the camel, and the ox carried supplies through thick and thin. Even war elephants could be counted to put their foot down in the defence of their nation – they were taken to war as early as a thousand years BC.

Did you want a message sent via air mail? No need to wait for airplanes to be invented; a carrier pigeon could take your note hundreds of miles, faster than a horse could run! You didn’t need to be a fighter to make an impression on your bunkmates – cats, dogs, birds, and more served as pest control, search and rescue, mascots, or more! In fact, animals even have their own Victoria Cross! Maria Dickin, founder of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (Today’s PDSA) established the Dickin Medal, awarded to animals who”conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units”. Between 1943 and 1949 this award was bestowed 53 times, and since 2000, when the medal was re-established, it has been given out to 11 further deserving hairy heroes.

Dickin medal

Here are a few of our favourites – animals who were instrumental in saving lives during wartime.

  • White Vision, Winkie, and Tyke (pigeons) Pigeons were the quintessential express delivery service for the military until the end of the Second World War, and these three pigeons delivered messages from downed aircrew that led to their rescue. They were the very first recipients of the Dickin Medal, in December 1943


One of the pigeons with their medal
One of the pigeons with their medal

  • Jet, Rip, Irma, and Beauty (dogs) These four dogs were awarded the Dickin Medal for their work locating people buried under bombed-out buildings during air raids in the UK. Together, they rescued over 500 trapped victims of bombing raids; they received their medals in 1945.


  • Judy (dog) Judy had an adventurous war – after her ship, the HMS Grasshopper was sunk, she repaid being rescued by finding fresh water for the stranded sailors with her on a deserted island. She narrowly escaped being eaten by a crocodile, and then after her shipmates had been captured, was smuggled into one of the prison camps, where she became the only registered canine prisoner of war during WWII. Busy keeping morale up among the prisoners, She was moved from camp to camp, surviving a second sinking on board the SS Van Warwyck, before being smuggled onto an Allied troopship at the end of the war, bound for the UK. She received her Dickin medal in 1946.

only registered canine prisoner of war during WWII.
Judy

  • Simon (cat) Simon was the ship’s cat of HMS Amethyst. Born in Hong Kong sometime in 1947 or 1948, Simon was smuggled on board ship in Hong Kong where he established a reputation for being an outstanding ratcatcher, as well as an irrepressible cheekiness. Amethyst ran aground under fire during the 1949 Yangtse Incident during the Chinese Civil War, and Simon was badly wounded by Chinese Communist artillery fire. Recovering from his wounds, he found the ship overrun by rats, which was an enormous health risk to the ship under siege. The cat proceeded to clear the rats out during the 3 months the ship was trapped up the river, leaving dead rats as ‘presents’ to the crew. Simon (and the Amethyst) returned to a heroes’ welcome in 1949, with Simon receiving the Dickin Medal and promotion to ‘Able Seacat’. Sadly, Simon died shortly after arriving in the UK, from illness and his war wounds. Simon is still the only cat ever awarded the Dickin Medal.


photo from PDSA
Simon the cat

For more animals that served in war, see http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/15-animals-that-went-to-war. A full list of Dickin Medal winners is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dickin_Medal.

 

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