Photos courtesy of the PDSA
As we celebrated the 75th anniversary of VE Day last Thursday, it’s good to remember the many animal heroes also on the front line. Ann Evans reports.
To mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day, leading vet charity PDSA is paying tribute to the brave hero animals ‘who also served’ and helped save countless lives during World War II.
The charity is commemorating the milestone by sharing exclusive e-books which tell the remarkable stories of animal heroes honoured with the PDSA Dickin Medal.
The prestigious Dickin Medal – known as the animals’ Victoria Cross – recognises outstanding acts of gallantry and devotion to duty displayed by animals serving with the Armed Forces or Civil Defence units in theatres of war.
The Medal was instituted by the charity’s Founder, Maria Dickin, with the approval of the War Office and Imperial War Museum, to raise the status of animals and acknowledge the remarkable roles they play in society. It was first awarded to a messenger pigeon named Winkie on 3 December 1943. Altogether the Dickin Medal has been awarded 71 times. The recipients being 34 dogs, 32 pigeons, 4 horses and 1 cat.
The PDSA runs the world’s most distinguished and respected Animal Awards Programme, awarding three medals for extraordinary animal bravery and a commendation for devotion.
The PDSA Gold Medal is the civilian equivalent of the PDSA Dicken Medal and is often known as the Animals’ George Cross. This was instituted in 2002 and recognises remarkable bravery and dedication to duty.
The PDSA Order of Merit was added to the charity’s award programme in 2014. This recognises animals that have shown outstanding acts of devotion and that symbolise the special relationship between animals and humans.
The fourth award is the PDSA Commendation which was instituted in 2001 to recognise acts of animal devotion or bravery. Recipients have included pets that have provided great help and companionship, supported their owners through difficult periods, raised the alarm in times of need, or simply made life better through their love and loyalty.
Mary Bawn, Head of Press, Voice and Brand at PDSA, said: “Throughout history, animals serving in the Armed Forces have made an extraordinary difference to the lives of so many, not only the men and women who serve, but also civilians who our military are protecting. Sharing some of these stories on VE day is a great way to celebrate the incredible, life-saving role animals have played throughout history, and continue to play today.”
Read the stories
Rip, a crossbreed terrier, was discovered alone and hungry amidst the chaos following a heavy air raid on Poplar, London by a local Air Raid Warden in 1940. The Warden, Mr. E. King, took pity on him, fed him some scraps, and the pair became inseparable.
Adopted as a mascot by Mr. King’s Civil Defence Squad colleagues, Rip showed a talent for sniffing out survivors trapped in bombed buildings and soon became an unofficial Search and Rescue dog. Throughout the London Blitz, Rip and his ARP colleagues worked tirelessly to locate and rescue people and animals trapped in the wreckage of bombed out buildings. In just twelve months, Rip is believed to have helped save the lives of more than 100 people.
Another canine hero was Rob the Collie crossbreed who served with the 2nd Special Air Service Regiment. During World War II who became known as the ‘Para dog’, after completing over 20 parachute drops – many of which landed in enemy territory
A pigeon named Duke of Normandy battled through bullets and bombs on his 27-hour journey to deliver critical intelligence to the Allied Command. Around seven million pounds of high explosives were used that day. Added to that, driving rain and a northerly gale blew as the pigeon made his way back across the channel. His heroics delivered critical intelligence to the Allied Command – and saved many lives.
The Dickin Medal is named after Maria Dickin CBE, who founded the PDSA in 1917. As a social reformer, whilst visiting the poor areas of London she became more and more aware of the plight of the sick and injured animals that she saw – pets and working animals. She decided to do something about it. With one volunteer vet she started her dispensary in a cellar in Whitechapel, telling people to bring their sick and injured animals, and not let them suffer – and that all treatment was free. The charity grew into what is now the UK’s leading veterinary charity with a UK-wide network of 48 Pet Hospitals, providing low cost and free veterinary care to the sick and injured pets of people in need, as well as promoting responsible pet ownership.
Discover more about the PDSA and download the ebooks: www. https://www.pdsa.org.uk/