The Military Museums

Dogs of War

Since war began, dogs have accompanied their humans into battle.

Dogs of War

Since war began, dogs have accompanied their humans into battle.

Dogs of War

They've served as sentries and messengers, they've dug tunnels and attacked enemies and they've been used for transport and morale boosters. In the First World War, some estimates say as many as 30,000 dogs served the German military effort, with up to twelve dogs assigned to each infantry regiment as part of the Troop Signal Division support. Trained to guard, protect and attack, they are an invaluable partner to the soldier guarding a military base or front line.

Hundreds of dogs were trained for roles as Red Cross support and messengers, even before they were officially sanctioned. Among the many star pupils were two Airedales, Wolf and Prince. These two dogs had been placed with a forward artillery post at Vimy and they were the messengers which brought back news of the successful Canadian attack to British headquarters.

First World War

In the First World War, some estimates say as many as 30,000 dogs served the German military effort, with up to twelve dogs assigned to each infantry regiment as part of the Troop-Signal-Division support. The British forces were far behind in their use of dogs as the British War Dog School was not established officially until 1917. By the end of the war, at least 20,000 dogs served with Britain and its allies.

Dogs were used in the trenches to warn of coming raids. However, soldiers were also given orders to shoot dogs that approached from enemy lines, as the German army trained dogs to cross no-man's-land and bark when they found a trench, giving away its location.

Colonel Edwin Richardson had been a long-time advocate of the use of dogs by the military for many purposes and had trained hundreds of them for roles as Red Cross support and messengers, even before they were officially sanctioned. Among his many star pupils were two Airedales, Wolf and Prince. These two dogs had been placed with a forward artillery post at Vimy Ridge.

When the Canadian troops attacked Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917, it wasn’t long before all telephone communication with Headquarters was down. The smoke and fire of the guns made visual signals impossible. However, news of the successful Canadian attack reached headquarters quickly despite these obstacles through the heroic efforts of these two British messengers.

British dog handlers found that Airedales tended to be the most reliable breed of dog for use as messengers, but in general, any dog with the right temperament was used, preferably those with dark coats as they were better camouflaged.

On their way through the lines, Wolf and Prince may well have passed another dog carrying out his duties at Vimy. Paddy, also known as "Pat", was the official mascot of the 4th Canadian Field Ambulance, which was part of the 2nd Canadian Division at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. "C" Section of the 4th CFA was mobilized in Calgary November 20, 1914 and the beagle-cross joined the unit soon after.

In 1915, he sailed to England with the 4th and went on to serve at the front in France and Flanders. Paddy sat with 28 of the original soldiers from "C" Section for a group photograph taken in 1918. While Paddy did not survive to return to Calgary, reunions for many years after the war included him in attendance, compliments of a skilled taxidermist.

Another dog with Canadian connections was Bobbie Burns, the regimental mascot of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and said to be the inspiration for Lassie in the book "Lassie Come-Home". Bobbie, a collie, joined up in Ontario with his owner, Jack Munroe, and is credited with the first wartime victory for the Princess Pats. As the regiment stood in formation on the pier near Fort Levis, waiting to march to the training camp, Bobbie was the victim of an unprovoked attack.

He successfully pinned the much larger dog, to the great delight of the troops and the commendation of Colonel Farquhar. Bobbie was successfully smuggled to England with the regiment and spent his war years with Regimental Headquarters in Britain, returning to Canada when Munroe was invalided home. Bobbie was awarded a medal by the Royal Humane Society in Toronto.

Along with serving as sentries and messengers, dogs and cats also hunted mice and rats in the trenches and aided the Red Cross by seeking out wounded soldiers and either leading stretcher bearers or an ambulance to them or staying with them and barking until help arrived. The first aid dogs also carried panniers filled with medical supplies.

After the war, British soldiers, unlike the Canadians, could bring their pets home provided they paid a fee of £14 pounds and place the animal into quarantine for six months. To get around the regulations, many soldiers tried to smuggle their pet back to England, such as Pte. Albert Lowry of the Army Service Corps, who trained his dog to sit quietly in his bag. "We were warned against trying to take dogs with us, and the tents were watched by officers looking for dogs. She had to spend a lot of time in my bag, lying quite still, and no one suspected that an animal was hidden there," wrote Lowry.

In a bid to help soldiers with the cost, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Blue Cross Society stepped forward to help pay the quarantine fees.

Second World War

While not used in as great of numbers in the Second World War, dogs still had a role to play in that global conflict, mostly as mascots and guard dogs.

Gander, a Newfoundland dog that served as the mascot of the Royal Rifles of Canada in Hong Kong during the Second World War (see below). When the RRC were training in Newfoundland, Gander, a Newfoundland dog, was presented to the regiment and sailed with them when the regiment was sent to garrison Hong Kong. In 2000, Gander was awarded the Dickin Medal, known as the animals' version of the Victoria Cross, awarded for acts of conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in wartime.

Beauty, a graduate of the British War Dogs Training School at Aldershot. On July 7, 1941, this female Alsation (German Shepherd was not used during the war) was assigned to the control of Lt. Douglas Whiteside, who was part of 2nd Canadian Division, Petrol Company, RCASC at Hurst Green in Sussex. For the next three years, Beauty and her handler patrolled the RCASC Petrol Supplies storage area. Lt. Whiteside was devastated when Beauty succumbed to the results of an injury.

Since the Second World War, dogs have continued to serve in the military in increasingly important roles. When Canadians were stationed at Lahr Air Force base in Germany, dog patrols were a regular sight.

Currently, dogs are playing an important part in the war against terrorism, especially in places like Afghanistan. Scent dogs are used to patrol NATO encampments, checking for hidden weapons caches, trip wires and explosives. Dogs trained to sniff out and signal the presence of mines have saved countless lives of both soldiers and civilians.

Despite their devotion to duty, when the dogs are off patrol, they're just as happy to relax as any soldier and are great morale boosters for the soldiers stationed at the Forward Operating Bases. As one PPCLI corporal said, while observing the dogs playing one evening, "It's just something to remind you of home and give you a boost".

Saving lives and helping morale: what more could anyone ask of a dog?

Gander, 1st Bn, Royal Rifles of Canada

Gander, a large black Newfoundland dog, started life as "Pal", the pet of a Gander, Nfld. Family. Like all Newfoundland dogs, Pal was a loyal and affectionate companion that loved to play. But in 1940, while playing with the kids, Pal accidentally scratched a young girl's face. So the family decided to give Pal to the 1st Battalion of the Royal Rifles of Canada, stationed at RCAF Gander.

The soldiers renamed him Gander and made him their regimental mascot, and when the Royal Rifles were sent to Hong Kong in the fall of 1941, Gander went with them. The men promoted him to "Sergeant".

The Japanese Imperial Army attacked the British colony of Hong Kong on Dec. 8, 1941, a day after the attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii. As Japanese soldiers swept south into Hong Kong from the Chinese mainland, a battalion from both the Royal Rifles and the Winnipeg Grenadiers along with British, Indian and local defence corps sought to repel the invaders.

The Japanese quickly captured the mainland portion of Hong Kong by Dec. 11 and on Dec. 18 moved to attack the Island of Hong Kong after the defenders refused to surrender.

It was during the night-time attack on Hong Kong Island that Gander took to the offensive. In one incident, as Japanese soldiers charged members of the Royal Rifles, Gander attacked. Growling and biting, Gander chased off the enemy soldiers. Unsure of what to make of this black-furred creature attacking in the darkness, they referred to Gander as the "Black Beast".

During the Battle of Lye Mun the next night, when a grenade landed near a group of seven wounded members of the Royal Rifles, Gander picked it up in his mouth and ran off towards the enemy lines. Gander died when the grenade exploded, saving the seven soldiers.

The defenders of Hong Kong finally surrendered on Christmas Day, 1941.

In 2000, Gander was awarded the Dickin Medal, which the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), began using in 1943 to honour the heroic actions of animals in war. Gander's medal is on display in the Hong Kong section of the Canadian War Museum.

The citation accompanying Gander's medal in part reads: "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."

Gander's name is also listed on the Hong Kong Veterans Memorial Wall in Ottawa and a statue of Gander and his handler, Fred Kelly, was erected at Gander Heritage Memorial Park in 2015. Another statue of Gander is also located in the Cobequid Veterans Memorial Park, Bass River, Nova Scotia.

Animal Memorials

In the past few decades, the desire to honour and remember animals that served and died in war has grown, and as a result the list of memorials and monuments dedicated to animals has increased. Now, memorials to war animals can be found in many nations, including Australia, France, New Zealand, Canada, the U.K. and the U.S.

In Canada, the Animals in War Dedication, unveiled in 2012 and created by Canadian artist David Clendining, stands in Ottawa’s Confederation Park. The location next to the South African War Memorial was chosen as significant because Canada supplied 50,000 horses for that campaign.

The dedication consists of three bronze plaques that explain the role animals played in the First World War; the tracks of dogs, horses and mules pressed into the concrete; and the bronze statue of a First World War medical service dog wearing a first aid pack on its back.

At the nearby Parliament Buildings, another memorial to animals is located above the entrance to Memorial Chamber, a shrine to Canadians killed in the Great War, that features five animals. It is dedicated to "The Humble Beasts that Served and Died."

In London, England, The Animals in War memorial was unveiled in 2004. It features a curving wall with an open passageway in the centre with the bronze statues of two transport mules on one side and statues of a dog and a horse, without pack or saddle, on the other side.

In 2018, The War Horse Memorial, meanwhile, was unveiled in Ascot, England—home of the Ascot Raceway. It was dedicated to U.K. and Commonwealth horses, mules and donkeys killed during the First World War

Other memorials include The Tunnellers' Friends Memorial in Edinburgh, Scotland, which recognizes the role mice and canaries played in warning tunnellers of gas, and the Monument aux Pigeons Voyageurs in Lille, France, which honours the 20,000 messenger pigeons killed in the Great War.

The United States is home to numerous memorials to war dogs, including the United States War Dogs Memorial in the state of New Jersey. Australia, meanwhile, recognizes Feb. 24 as Animals in War Day, and its Animals in War Memorial, unveiled in 2009, features the bronze head of a horse that was the only remaining fragment of the Desert Mounted Corps memorial that had once stood in Port Said, Egypt but was destroyed in 1956 during Suez Crisis.

Along with the memorials, other initiatives to remember animals killed in war include wearing of the purple poppy in England and New Zealand at Remembrance Day. In Ontario, the SPCA began selling Animals of War commemorative pins in 2017 to raise money for the Royal Canadian Legion. The 2017 pin featured the head of a horse, while in 2018 it featured a dog.

PDSA Dickin Medal

Often referred to as the Victoria Cross for animals, the PDSA Dickin Medal is used to honour the role animals play in warfare.

Maria Dickin (1870–1951) founded the PDSA (People's Dispensary for Sick Animals) in England in 1917 to help ease the suffering of animals. The PDSA offered free veterinary care to residents of London's East End for their pets and animals.

Dickin, who also advocated for animal welfare, created the PDSA Dickin Medal in 1943 to recognize the courage and often the sacrifice of animals after recognizing that numerous animals, including pigeons and dogs, were active participants among the armies fighting in the Second World War.

The medal is a bronze medallion that features the words "For Gallantry" and "We Also Serve" surrounded by a laurel wreath. It is attached to a dark green, dark brown and sky-blue ribbon for water, earth and air, representing the navy, army and air force. The medal has been awarded 71 times between 1943 and 2018 to 34 dogs, 32 messenger pigeons, four horses and a cat.

The medal wasn't awarded between the years 1949 and 2000, but when it was reinstated in 2000, Gander, a Newfoundland dog and the mascot of the Royal Rifles of Canada, was the first animal to receive the distinction. Gander sacrificed his own life to save the lives of Canadian infantrymen during the 1941 Battle of Hong Kong by picking up and running off with a grenade thrown by Japanese soldiers.

In 2014, on the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, the one and only Honorary Dickin Medal, on behalf of all animals that served in the First World War, was awarded to Warrior, a British war horse that served as the mount of General Jack Seely, the commanding officer of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. Engraved upon that medal is "For Gallantry. Honouring all animals that served in the First World War, 1914-1918."

The most recent recipient of the PDSA Dickin Medal was a Belgian Malinois named Kuga, who served with Australia's Special Air Service Regiment in Afghanistan. While on patrol in 2011 during his second tour, Kuga attacked enemy insurgent fighters waiting to ambush his handler and the other soldiers in the patrol. Despite being badly wounded during the encounter, Kuga's actions ensured the Australian soldiers escaped unscathed. Kuga died of his wounds in 2012.

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