In Britain an award was created to honour those heroes of the animal kingdom who have carried out remarkable duties in the most desperate of times; the PDSA Dickin medal. Recognised as the animals’ Victoria Cross, 64 have been presented, 54 of those between 1943 and 1949. In total, 32 pigeons, 28 dogs, 3 horses and 1 cat have received a Dickin medal.
One of those recipients was Simon the Cat. Aboard the HMS Amethyst during the Yangtze Incident of 1949, when the British warship was held captive on the Yangtze River for over 100 days during the Chinese Civil War, Simon helped keep the dwindling food rations safe. Consistently catching rats and subsequently boosting the morale of the crew, Simon’s contribution was invaluable and although he died in quarantine three weeks later, he was posthumously awarded the medal and buried with full military honours.
Three Alsatians and a Collie were awarded the Dickin medal for their efforts during the blitz of WWII in helping to locate people trapped beneath destroyed or burning buildings. Rob the Collie made over 20 parachute jumps during WWII with the British Special Air Unit in Italy and even patrolled with the infantry in the North African Campaign. His presence alone was credited with keeping the men safe from discovery or capture when behind enemy lines and subsequently was awarded the PDSA Dickin medal in 1945.
Another Dickin medal recipient was Tich, a small black terrier cross who became the mascot of the 1st Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps during the Western Desert Campaign and on to Italy. Nicknamed “the Desert Rat”, Tich rode into battle on the hood of her master’s jeep. Serving for four years and seeing action in El Alamein in 1941 and Algiers in 1943, Tich unflinchingly went into battle by her master’s side, Rifleman and medic Thomas Walker. She never left her post and was a source of hope and joy to all those in the battalion.
The most recent recipient was Theo, a springer spaniel, who served with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps as an arms and explosives search dog. Theo was awarded this medal posthumously on 25 October 2012 with a PDSA citation honouring his “outstanding gallantry and devotion to duty while deployed with 104 Military Working Dog (MWD) Squadron during conflict in Afghanistan”. Theo’s handler, Lance Cpl Liam Tasker, was killed during a fire fight with insurgents in March 2011 and Theo suffered a fatal seizure just hours later. Lance Cpl Tasker’s mother has said she is sure that Theo died of a broken heart.
Did You Know?
In total, 32 pigeons, 28 dogs, 3 horses and 1 cat have received a Dickin medal.
Frequently oblivious to the dangers they’ve faced, unwavering in their courage and so often unheralded for their actions, the animals of war should never be forgotten. So this Remembrance Day, whilst we honour and remember the millions of brave souls who have given their lives for our freedom, please also spare a thought for the animals who’ve also made the ultimate sacrifice.
If you would like to pay your respects to the animals of war, a powerful and moving monument has been erected on the edge of Hyde Park, London, honouring all the creatures that served and died alongside the British, Commonwealth and Allied forces in the wars and conflicts of the 20th century. To find out more, click here.