Thursday 18 April 2024

April 2024 A to Z Challenge


Image source

 This year my blog posts for the April 2024 Ato Z Challenge will be about the recipients of the Dickin Medal, which you can read about hereThey are in alphabetical, not chronological order, within the different letters.



Paddy  1943-1954

Paddy was a most suitable name for this Irish pigeon. He was hatched and raised in Antrim in Ulster and was sent to RAF Hurn in Dorset (since 1969 known as Bournemouth Airport) for military training. He was seconded to the United States First Army and flew undercover operations during the 1944 Normandy landings. Paddy flew the 230 miles back to RAF Hurn in adverse weather conditions in 4 hours and 50 minutes, avoiding gun fire and evading German falcons sent to intercept him. His flight speed was 56 mph.

He was awarded the DM in 1944 and his citation ran, ‘For the best recorded time with a message from the Normandy Operations, while serving with the RAF in June, 1944.’

At the end of the war, Paddy returned to Ireland to live with his owner, Captain Andrew Hughes, dying in 1954 at the age of 11. There is a memorial in Carnlough Harbour commemorating this astonishing bird. He is the only Irish recipient of the Dickin Medal.


Peter   1941-1952

                                        Peter, after the war
                                                    Image source

Peter was a collie born in 1941. He impressed his owner by destroying her house and ignoring every command she gave him. Apparently, he started fights with other dogs, too. 

He started training as a Rescue Dog with Air Ministry dog-handler Archie Knight and worked as a search and rescue dog in London. Writing a report on him, Archie Knight said, ’I think one of his finest jobs was on Monday. We were called 20 hours after the incident and after several hours of heavy rain. Three bodies were missing and he very quickly indicated in a most unlikely spot, but he was right, and they uncovered a man and a woman. The next day we were called to another job. There were so many calls for Peter that I worked him 10 hours and he never once refused to give all he had. All his marks revealed casualties. I hated to work him like this – but I also hated to refuse the rescue parties who were asking for him.’

On one occasion Peter found six people in a single incident. On another day, he indicated a victim that turned out to be a grey parrot! 

                        Peter receiving his Dickin Medal, 1945
                                                      Image source  

Peter received his DM in November, 1945, his citation reading, ‘For locating victims trapped under blitzed buildings while serving with the MAP attached to Civil Defence of London’. (I cannot discover what ’MAP attached to Civil Defence of London’ means, even though I’ve looked at lists of acronyms).

 Later Peter helped in teaching mountain rescue procedures to other rescue dogs and their handlers in training.

He died in 1952 and was buried at the PDSA cemetery in Ilford.



Princess was bred by the Middle East Pigeon Service and received her DM posthumously in 1946, after contracting a disease shortly after the end of the war.

In 1943, she flew 500 miles, mostly over sea, from Crete to her loft at RAF Alexandria. Her message carried details of enemy activity on the island of Crete. Her citation reveals, ‘For carrying valuable information 500 miles from Crete to Alexandria in April 1943. One of the finest performances in pigeon war service records.’


Punch and Judy


Image source

Punch and Judy were Bullmastiff litter mates and had been bred as Palestinian police dogs. They lived with their owners, British officers, in Jerusalem. 

One August evening in 1946, the two men prepared to retire to their separate quarters, first checking security around the property. In the garden lurked a terrorist with a machine gun aimed at the front door. As the men approached it, Punch and Judy leapt to their feet, barking and running out into the garden. Before the two officers could arm themselves and follow their dogs, there was a burst of gun fire.

There was no sign of the gunman but they found that Punch had been hit by four bullets and had lost a lot of blood. His sister, Judy, lying next to him, was also covered in blood.

When veterinary help arrived from the Jerusalem PDSA, the attending vet thought there was little chance of saving Punch, but the big dog responded well to treatment and eventually recovered. Judy had one long graze along her back from a bullet, but was otherwise unscathed. The assumption was that she had lain across Punch to protect him after the first bullets had hit him.

For bravery in saving their owners from assassination the dogs were each awarded the Dickin Medal in November 1946. The commendation states that they ‘saved the lives of two British Officers . . . by warning them of and attacking an armed terrorist who was stealing upon them unawares.’

Wednesday 17 April 2024


Police horse Olga with P.C. Thwaites
Image source

This year my blog posts for the April 2024 A to Z Challenge will be about the recipients of the Dickin Medal, which you can read about here. They are in alphabetical, not chronological order, within the different letters.




Olga was a bay mare in the service of the police at a time when the Luftwaffe was engaged in endlessly launching doodlebugs on London. She was one of many horses working in difficult circumstances during the war.

She was working in London on 3rd July, 1944, when a flying bomb detonated, less than 300 feet ahead of her, near a railway line in Tooting. The blast killed four men and demolished four buildings. The explosion and the shattering of a plate glass window directly in front of her, startled her, causing her to bolt in panic. Her rider, P.C. Thwaites, soon brought her under control and they quickly returned to the scene of devastation to help survivors and deal with the traffic. From that point, Olga was calm and controlled, executing her duty with remarkable composure.

She received the Dickin Medal in April 1947. She was honoured for being, ’On duty when a flying bomb demolished four houses in Tooting and a plate-glass window crashed immediately in front of her. Olga, after bolting for 100 yards returned to the scene of the incident and remained on duty with her rider, controlling traffic and assisting rescue organisations.’

Olga lies buried at the Metropolitan Police Mounted Training Establishment at Thames Ditton in Surrey.

Image source

Tuesday 16 April 2024

A to Z blogging challenge April 2024


Navy Blue wearing the Dickin Medal, March 1945
Image source

          This year my blog posts for the April 2024 Challenge will be about the recipients of the Dickin Medal, which you can read about here. They are in alphabetical, not chronological order, within the different letters.

All the recipients in the ‘N’ category are pigeons, so a little more general information about pigeons might be useful.

All homing pigeons are descended from Columba livia, the Rock Dove, and were selectively bred to produce the most efficient homing pigeons. In ancient times, the birds could only fly about 100 miles a day, but modern birds can accomplish 600 to 700 miles daily, without needing to stop for rest. They have a top speed of 60 mph, though exceptionally, some can fly faster and further, particularly with a following wind.

In Ancient Persia and Syria, in the 5th century BC (BCE) messenger pigeons were used in a sophisticated network for communication.

Around 3000 BCE, in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq and Iran) and Egypt, pigeons were being domesticated and trained to ‘home’. In 2900 BCE, in Ancient Egypt, ships used pigeons to announce their imminent arrival. In 2350 BCE, in what is now Iraq, the King ordained that each messenger should carry a homing pigeon. In the event of capture, the messenger would release the bird, which would fly back to the palace, thus indicating that another messenger should be dispatched. In ancient Egypt, doves were released as a way of announcing the reign of a new Pharaoh.

In Ancient Greece, pigeons carried the names of victorious Olympians back to their cities, in addition to relaying messages of battle victories.

 Doves were released at the Olympics, from 1920 as part of the opening ceremony. Prior to that, they had been used in the closing ceremony. However, in 1988, at the Seoul Games, many of the doves died in the cauldron flames and the practice was discontinued. The Tokyo Games in 2021 released 1,000 paper doves.

 Composed around 538 BCE, the Book of Genesis (8:vv 6-12) related how Noah dispatched a dove from the Ark to discover if the flood had abated. The dove came back and was sent out again. Eventually, it returned, carrying a twig from an olive tree, which proved to Noah that the waters had begun to subside.

Rome had dovecotes that housed more than 5000 pigeons and the Romans used messenger pigeons to support their troops. Julius Caesar dispatched pigeons to convey messages in his conquest of Gaul in 58 to 51 BCE.

During the 5th to 10th centuries of the Dark Ages, the Arabs established regular pigeon services. One caliph used pigeons to deliver cherries from Lebanon, each individual carrying one cherry in a silken bag. The price for a prize pair of messenger pigeons could reach one thousand gold pieces. Pigeon post was the most efficient and effective means of communication throughout the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages.

During the Crusades, Richard the Lionheart’s men intercepted a pigeon carrying a message that a Muslim relief army was advancing to support the battle against the Christians at Ptolemais. The pigeon was sent on its way with a false message that no help was forthcoming, so the town surrendered and the Christians were firmly embedded by the time the relief army arrived.

In the middle of the 19th century, pigeons were used by the Reuters news agency in the transmission of stock prices and news between Germany and Belgium. They were considered faster than rail and more reliable than telegraph. In succeeding years, pigeon post was developed by France, Prussia, Germany, Russia and Italy.

By the end of the 19th century, Canada and USA were using pigeons for civilian and military purposes, so that, when the First World War commenced, it was customary to rely on birds for communication.



Navy Blue

In March 1945, Navy Blue was awarded the DM. This bird was bred by the RAF and the citation read, ‘For delivering an important message from a Raiding Party on the West Coast of France, although injured, while serving with the RAF in June, 1944’.



This recipient was bred in Hereford by B. Powell, served with the National Pigeon Service (Special Section) and received the DM in October 1945, ‘For bringing important messages three times from enemy occupied country, viz: July 1942, August 1942 and April 1942, while serving with the Special Service from the Continent.’



                    NPS.42.NS.7524 with the Dickin Medal, October 1945

Image source

Bred in Barnsley by C. Dyson, and serving with the Special Section of the NPS, the citation for this pigeon read, ‘For bringing important messages three times from enemy-occupied country, viz: July 1942, May 1943 and July 1943, while serving with the Special Service from the continent.’ The award was made in October 1945.




Image source

Bred in Somerset by S.J. Bryant, this pigeon was honoured in August 1946, ‘For three outstanding flights from France while serving with the Special Section, Army Pigeon Service, 11th July 1941, 9th September 1941, and 29th November 1941.’ 



Awarded the DM in January, 1947, this bird was bred by T. Markham in Kendal. It made the flight from Normandy in under 24 hours in very poor weather conditions, after having been confined in a carrier for five days. The citation was, ‘For the fastest flight with message from 6th Airborne Div. Normandy, 7th June, 1944, while serving with the APS.’                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Pigeon Post

White wing, white wing,

Lily of the air,

What word dost bring,

On whose errand fare?


Red word, red word,

Snowy plumes abhor.

I, Christ’s own bird,

Do the work of war.

By Katherine Lee Bates, 1859-1929.

(She wrote the words for ‘America the Beautiful’.)      

  My thanks to ‘No Roots Sussex’, who gave me the link to 'The Warrior Birds Memorial in Beach House Park in Worthing' at https://www.southcoastview,

At the beginning of the 1940s, Great Britain set up ‘Operation Columba’ in

 order to send messages by pigeon. At

 first, it relied on donated birds until a breeding programme was organised.

The birds faced many challenges – poor visibility, strong headwinds, atrocious weather, attacks by birds of prey, gunshot and shrapnel – and casualties were high.

All combatants were aware of the use of pigeons to convey messages and it was considered entirely legitimate to shoot them down. In Germany, unregistered breeders were regarded as traitors and many hundreds were rounded up with their birds and shot.

Falcons were used by all sides, but the birds of prey were unable to distinguish between allied pigeons and those of the enemy.  British falcons flew high and were able to observe all the islands off the Cornish coast. Any pigeon venturing over the Isles of Scilly would be targeted by falcons, which patrolled for two-hour shifts.                                                                                                              

Monday 15 April 2024

A to Z Challenge 2024


A to Z Challenge 2024

                                Mali with his handler, Corporal Daniel Hatley 

Image source

This year my blog posts for the April 2024 Challenge will be about the recipients of the Dickin Medal, which you can read about hereThey are in alphabetical, not chronological order, within the different letters.


Mali  2009/10-present

Mali is a Belgian Malinois in the service of the British Army. He was trained to detect explosives and enemy insurgents and was sent to work in Afghanistan in 2012. He played a significant rôle during a mission that took 7½ hours to complete, under intense gun fire. The objective was to overcome an important Taliban base in a multi-storey building. Mali twice went through direct gunfire while looking for explosives and alerted troops to the presence of insurgents many times.  He was hoisted up the side of the block on several occasions in order to gain access and clear the enemy. He sustained serious injuries to his chest and legs through three grenade blasts, which also damaged his ear and mouth, but continued to work.

After treatment, Mali returned to UK and made a full recovery. He is retired from front line action. He works with Corporal Daniel Hatley, who first trained him as a puppy, at the Royal Army Veterinary Corps Defence Animal Centre in Leicestershire, helping with the training of apprentice dog handlers.

Mali received his DM in November 2017 and the handler who worked with him was awarded a gallantry medal.



Maquis and friend

Image source

Maquis was hatched in Bedford and served with the Special Section of the National Pigeon Service. This pigeon delivered three important messages from enemy-occupied France. The first was brought from Amiens in May 1943, the second from Combined Operations in February 1944, and the third, in June 1944, from the Maquis (French and Belgian Resistance fighters).

The DM was awarded in October 1945, ‘For bringing important messages three times from enemy occupied country’.


Mary of Exeter  1940-1950

                                                        Image source

Mary of Exeter was awarded her DM in 1945, ‘For outstanding endurance on War Service in spite of wounds.’

She was bred by Cecil ‘Charlie’ Brewer, a shoemaker in Exeter, who became a loft keeper and intelligence agent during the war.

On one mission, she was attacked by a German-kept hawk in France, which injured her neck and breast. Once she had recuperated, she went back into service two months later.

Following this, she was shot, which removed the tip of one wing and left three pellets in her body. Again, she recovered and returned to service, the shortened wing tip making no noticeable difference to her flight performance.

In what proved to be her final mission, she was hit by shrapnel, which severely damaged her neck muscles. Her owner retired her from service and made her a leather collar to support her head.

For such a little creature, weighing less than one pound, the shocks to her body must have been incredible. She had 22 stitches to repair her.

During her retirement, she survived when her loft was hit by the Luftwaffe raids on Exeter in 1942 and many pigeons were killed. 

Mary of Exeter died in 1950 and is buried in the Ilford Animal Cemetery.

                                                                           Image source 

A Blue Plaque was installed at the site of Charlie Brewer’s home in 2018, the first such memorial in UK. It applauds ‘the partnership of a heroic animal and its owner.’



                                                        Image source

Mercury was bred in Ipswich by J. Catchpole and served with the Special Section of the National Pigeon Service. The DM was awarded for bravery in 1946, ‘For carrying out a special task involving a flight of 480 miles from Northern Denmark while serving with the Special Section, Army Pigeon Service, in July 1942.                                       

Sunday 14 April 2024




On Tuesday afternoon, we were quietly pursuing our individual interests in the sitting room when we heard the front door open. No surprises there – we often leave it unlocked so the postman can just pop parcels into the porch. Then we heard a voice and assumed it was Susannah, but it didn’t sound quite like her. Roxy and Gilbert were alert, ears pricked, tails wagging, so we were fairly certain this was not a threatening intruder.

They’re very friendly dogs but not averse to barking at strangers and unusual situations. That is, Roxy barks and Gilbert stands back and wonders if he should be barking too. So far, he only barks, and that just once, if he’s outside the closed patio door and wants to come in.

The voice proved to be that of Gillian, who had arrived, unannounced and unexpected, with Paul. It was not a case of ‘just popping in as they were in the neighbourhood’ as they live more than 80 miles away. That’s not far in big, wide-open countries, but UK is small, crowded, and festooned with roadworks where no-one is working, and diversions up the ying yang, so we really appreciated the effort they had made.

It was lovely to see them and sit and chat for a couple of hours and it made a very pleasant interval between a visit to the dentist in the morning for me and an appointment with the hygienist in the afternoon, again, for me.

Roxy loved having lots of attention. Two of her full siblings from a later litter live in Dorset with the family. Gilbert was beside himself to have different people to interact with.  We all had a very enjoyable afternoon.  

Gilbert’s nose is very busy. Every parcel that comes into the house has to be investigated thoroughly and he tries to help with the unpacking.

 Recently, on Friday, he learnt how to start the Roomba. I think he likes the noises it makes. It certainly has a lot of work to do as there seem to be drifts of fur across the floor at every twist and turn. 

I suppose the animals are shedding their winter coats, clearly not taking any notice of the old adage about casting clouts.

Saturday 13 April 2024

A to Z Challenge 2024


A to Z Challenge 2024


Image source

This year my blog posts for the April 2024 Challenge will be about the recipients of the Dickin Medal, which you can read about hereThey are in alphabetical, not chronological order, within the different letters.


Leuk  2013-2019

Leuk, a Belgian Malinois, was born on 20th September, 2013 and joined the K9 division of the élite French Special Forces Commando Kieffer unit almost two years later. He had been trained both to detect explosives and as an attack dog. Leuk displayed a particular skill in following drones to locate Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

                Leuk wearing special head gear to protect his ears and eyes
Image source

In March 2019, Leuk and his handler were engaged on a four-month tour of duty in Mali, West Africa. (The Mali War, between the north and south of the country has been ongoing in the former French colony since 2012.) In recognition of his extraordinary expertise, he was nicknamed Leuk la Chance (Lucky Leuk).

In an operation involving jihadist insurgents, the area surrounding their camp was set ablaze. Leuk ran through the flames and a hail of bullets from automatic weapons to clear out two militants. He attacked one of them, which created a diversion, enabling his team to move in and take control. His encounter with them lasted seven minutes.

                                                       Leuk, napping.
                                                                Image source

A short while later, during the same mission, Leuk tracked down four more insurgents. Again, he diverted the jihadists so that his team could proceed. Finally, he was seeking out IEDs when he suddenly stopped in his tracks, exposing another concealed armed insurgent. This one, it is said, ‘he bit firmly, allowing the unit to capture him before anyone was harmed.’

It was for these actions, ‘for his unstinting bravery and lifesaving devotion to duty’, that he was awarded the Dickin Medal, in a private ceremony in Brittany, in 2021. At the same time, a memorial to all the dogs who had died in the service of the French Navy was unveiled. He is the first French military dog to have been given the Dickin Medal.

In May 2019, Leuk uncovered another enemy position but was shot dead in the process.

When Leuk’s body was returned to France, his human comrades formed a guard of honour as they would for any fallen soldier, and his body was covered with the French Tricolour.


     Lucca  2003/4-2018

Lucca on the day she received her DM

Image source

Lucca was a German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois cross-bred bitch who worked with the United States Marine Corps for six years.  She was born in the Netherlands and taken to Israel to train with an American team for six months, after which she travelled to the States for further training in desert conditions. 

She joined the Marine Corps when she was two years old and was assigned to Sergeant (now Master Sergeant) Chris Willingham. Her job as a specialised search dog was to detect explosives and she worked with the Marines for six years. She was exceptional in that she was able to work off-lead far distant from her handler in the most dangerous situations.

Lucca had two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. She carried out more than 400 missions and under her watch no troops were ever injured. She is documented as finding explosives, ammunition and insurgents at least 40 times.  However, she was not just a protection dog – she did much to raise the morale of the troops with whom she worked. They may not have known her handler’s name but they all knew Lucca by name.

Chris Willingham had to relinquish his handling of Lucca when he was deployed elsewhere. He chose his replacement carefully, and Corporal Juan Rodriguez took over handling duties. While on patrol in Helmand, in 2012, Lucca indicated she had discovered a 30-pound IED, and as she continued her search, another IED exploded underneath her and she lost her left front leg. She was casevaced to Germany for surgery and rehabilitation and ten days after the explosion which nearly killed her, she was walking again. 

Military retirement later that year saw her returning to the States to live with Chris Willingham and his family, with whom she enjoyed five years living a ‘normal’ dog’s life.

Lucca taking part in a road challenge

Image source

In 2016, she was awarded the DM, the first US Marine Corps dog to receive the honour. She was also unofficially given a Purple Heart and ribbons.

In January 2018, aged 14, Lucca died and was buried in the Michigan War Dog Memorial in South Lyon, Michigan. In 2019, she was posthumously awarded the ‘Animals in War and Peace Medal of Bravery.’



I can find no record of Lucky’s birth and death. He and three other German Shepherds were intensively trained by the Royal Air Force Police dog unit as an élite anti-terrorist tracker and detection team. During the Malayan Emergency of 1949-1952, Lucky, Bobbie, Jasper and Lassie were used in the Malaysian jungle to track Communist guerillas.

At different times, Lucky and his dog team were attached to the Malay Police, the Coldstream Guards, the Royal Scots Guards and the Gurkhas. The dogs were credited with capturing hundreds of Communist terrorists and relieving the local populace of the threat of death at the hands of the insurgents.

Lucky served for three years and was the sole survivor of the four. He continued working as a military dog until his retirement. He was awarded the DM posthumously in February 2007. 

His handler, Corporal Bevan Austin Stapleton, received the medal on Lucky’s behalf and on behalf of the other three dogs, and said, ‘Every minute of every day in the jungle we trusted our lives to those four dogs, and they never let us down. Lucky was the only one of the team to survive our time in the Malayan jungle and I’m so proud of the old dog today. I owe my life to him.’