Wednesday 24 April 2024

April 2024 A to Z Challenge

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, Regal and Upstart

Image source

Upstart was a chestnut gelding Police horse stabled near Hyde Park in London, until enemy gunfire directed at an adjacent anti-aircraft (‘ack-ack’) station damaged the stables there. He was then transferred to East London.

A few weeks later, he was patrolling Bethnal Green with his rider, D.I. J. Morley, when a bomb exploded 75 feet in front of him. Despite glass and shrapnel and other debris covering them both, Upstart did not bolt but remained calm and continued to help his rider in dealing with crowds and controlling traffic. 

Together with Olga and Regal, Upstart was awarded the Dickin Medal in April, 1947. These three Police horses were chosen principally to represent and honour the entirety of the mounted police force.

All three horses lie buried at the Metropolitan Police Mounted Training Establishment at Thames Ditton in Surrey. Their medals are displayed there in the museum. Upstart’s citation pointed out that ‘he was completely unperturbed and remained quietly on duty with his rider controlling traffic, etc. until the incident had been dealt with.’

Tuesday 23 April 2024

April 2024 A to Z Challenge


                                                    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. 


Theo  2009-2011

Theo was a black and white Springer Spaniel given to the Royal Army Veterinary Corps and trained as an explosives detection dog. He was assigned to his handler, Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, in 2010. Liam Tasker had originally enlisted in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) in 2001, but had transferred to the RAVC in 2007.

In Afghanistan, Theo and L/Cpl Tasker worked with several companies of the 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, impressing everyone with their effectiveness as they advanced ahead of daily patrols, seeking out weapons and IEDs.  In five months, the partnership detected fourteen roadside bombs and caches of weapons, saving many lives through their actions. In addition, they uncovered stores of chemicals and individual components for bomb making. 

2 Para gave Theo their greatest recognition, his own ‘Para wings’, which Liam Tasker sewed onto his harness. The troops said, ‘He’s one of us.’

Theo with L/Cpl Liam Tasker

Image source

The partnership was so successful that their period of deployment was extended. On 1st March, 2011, Theo and Liam Tasker were on patrol when a Taliban sniper’s bullet killed the young man. Hours later, Theo died during a seizure. The autopsy did not reveal any obvious cause of death and the assumption was made that he had died of a broken heart after the shock of seeing his master killed.

Liam Tasker was mentioned in Despatches and his faithful dog was awarded the DM posthumously in October, 2012, ‘For outstanding gallantry and devotion to duty while deployed with 104 Military Working Dog (MWD) Squadron during conflict in Afghanistan September 2010 to March 2011’

Liam Tasker was 26 when he died and Theo was 22 months old. Their ashes were repatriated to the UK and the pair were buried together.



Thorn, wearing his Dickin Medal in March, 1945

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In March, 1945, Thorn received his Dickin Medal, ‘For locating air-raid casualties in spite of thick smoke in a burning building.’

Thorn was a German Shepherd, distantly related to another DM holder, Irma. He trained with the Ministry of Aircraft Production School (Is this MAP, which I could not identify earlier?)

His handler was Mr Russell and Thorn was such an excellent pupil that he was used to teach other dogs how to conduct a mountain rescue, detect mines and lead people to safety from burning buildings. He then worked with the PDSA Rescue Squads. He worked with Jet (DM) on one occasion, the pair detecting 25 people buried in South London. 

When he was called to a burning building, the aftermath of a bomb explosion in 1944, Thorn and Mr Russell willingly went in to the heat and smoke to search and found several people. For this action, Mr Russell received the BEM and Thorn the Dickin Medal in April, 1945.

After the war, Thorn had a brief film career, earning him £75 per film (£4,056:69).


Tich  1940(?)-1959

Tich with (?) Rifleman Thomas Walker

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In 1941, during the Western Desert Campaign, soldiers of 1st Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps found a small, black mongrel bitch and adopted her. They called her ‘The Desert Rat’ and named her Tich and she became their mascot. In 1943, her care passed to Rifleman Thomas Walker, a battlefield medic. She was always to be seen with him, riding on the bonnet of a jeep or a Bren gun carrier.

When the battalion was sent to Italy by sea, she was smuggled aboard the ship, where she gave birth to puppies. While in Italy, Rifleman Walker earned the Military Medal for valour when rescuing or treating injured soldiers while under fire. At all times, Tich remained by his side, despite being wounded several times.

The Commanding Officer of 1 KRRC, Lieutenant-Colonel E.A.W. Williams recommended Tich for the Dickin Medal, saying, ‘Her courage and devotion to duty were of very real and considerable value and her courageous example materially helped many men to keep their heads and sense of proportion in times of extreme danger. The sight of her put heart in the men as she habitually rode on the bonnet of her master’s jeep and refused to leave her post even when bringing in wounded under heavy fire.’

When the war ended, Tich accompanied her master to his home in Newcastle, where they took part in events to raise money for the PDSA. She died in 1959 and lies buried in the PDSA Animal Cemetery in Ilford. Her Dickin Medal citation reads, ‘For loyalty, courage and devotion to duty under hazardous conditions of war, 1941 to 1945, while serving with the 1st King’s Rifle Corps in North Africa and Italy.’

Tich's grave in Ilford

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons 



Tommy, wearing his DM, 1946

Image source

Tommy was bred by William Brockbank of Dalton in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. He was taking part in a race from Christchurch, Dorset, when he was blown off course in a storm, landing in occupied Holland. He was rescued by a Dutchman, sympathetic to the Allies, who gave him to a Dutch resistance worker, Dick Drijver. Mr Drijver nursed the bird back to health and named him Tommy. He knew from his leg ring that the bird had come from England and he sent him back with a message attached with details of armaments being manufactured at a factory in Amsterdam.

Tommy’s wing was hit by gunfire but he managed to fly on, reaching his home loft on 19th August, 1942. Mr Brockbank gave the message to the police, and the Antwerp factory was subsequently destroyed. The Air Ministry told him that Tommy was to receive the Dickin Medal and in 1946, the Brockbank family and Mr Drijver attended the presentation. Tommy’s DM citation was worded, ‘For delivering a valuable message from Holland to Lancashire under difficult conditions, while serving with the NPS in July 1942.’

All the racing pigeons in the Netherlands had been destroyed by the Germans to prevent intelligence reaching UK. Mr Drijver was presented with a pair of pedigree pigeons, just two of the 2,000 birds given to the Dutch nation after the war, to help them regenerate their stock of racing pigeons.

For his part, Mr Brockbank prepared an exhibition about Tommy and the money raised purchased a field which was used to build a children’s playground.


Treo   c.2001-2015

Treo at work

Image source

Treo was a cross-bred black Labrador/English Springer Spaniel. His owners found him difficult to handle, with his inclination to growl and snap at people, so they gave him to the Army. He was trained at the Defence Animal Centre before being sent to Northern Ireland for three years. When his first handler retired from the Army, Treo was assigned to Sergeant Dave Heyhoe.

Sgt Heyhoe and Treo were posted to Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2008. On 1st August of that year, Treo uncovered a daisy chain at the side of a road. A daisy chain is a series of explosive devices wired together. A month later, Treo detected another daisy chain. His clever nose saved the lives of many troops and civilians and his success was noted by the enemy. Intercepted messages referred to ‘the black dog.’

In 2009, Treo retired from active service and went home to live with Dave Heyhoe. His DM ceremony took place in February 2010. I can find no record of the citation.

Treo died in October 2015 and was buried with a Union Jack and his DM. A statue commemorating him was unveiled in Congleton in October 2017.

Treo with his DM

Image source 


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Tyke, who was also known as George, was the offspring of British and South African birds, and was hatched in Cairo. In June 1943, he was aboard an American bomber which was shot down. He was launched with a message conveying the position of the downed aircraft and flew more than 100 miles in poor visibility to deliver it.

Tyke was awarded the Dickin Medal in December, 1943, ‘For delivering a message under exceptionally difficult conditions and so contributing to the rescue of an Air Crew, while serving with the RAF in the Mediterranean in June, 1943.’ He was one of the first pigeons to receive the award.

Monday 22 April 2024

April 2024 A to Z Challenge


Sadie, with her handler, Lance Corporal Karen Yardley and her Dickin Medal, February 2007
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. 


Sadie  1996-2009

(Sources give her dates as 1996-2019, which would make her 23 at her death. That is very unlikely, for a large breed, though just about possible for a very small dog.)

Sadie was a black Labrador who was trained to be an Arms and Explosives dog by the RAVC (Royal Army Veterinary Corps) in Leicestershire. She served in Bosnia and Iraq before being deployed to Afghanistan in 2005, where the Taliban were infamous for their use of Improvised Explosive Devices. Sadie, and dogs like her, were invaluable. They could search eight vehicles at a checkpoint in the time a human would take to check one.

Detection dogs are trained to sit at the location of explosives, which is why you should be concerned if a sniffer dog sits down near you at an airport, (although it could be a drug detection dog!)

One devastating tactic by the Taliban was to set off a second device after a primary detonation. As people, both civilian and military, approached the scene of an explosion, they would be targeted by the second IED, causing further injuries and fatalities.

In November, 2005, an explosion occurred near UN Headquarters in Kabul, in which one soldier was killed and several more were injured.

  When Sadie and her handler, Lance Corporal Karen Yardley, arrived at the scene to begin searching, Sadie was immediately alert, staring at a wall. Bomb disposal personnel arrived and disarmed an IED, which had been hidden under sandbags behind the two foot thick wall.

The citation for her DM in February, 2007, read, ‘For outstanding gallantry and devotion to duty. On 14 November 2005 Sadie gave a positive indication near a concrete blast wall. At the site of Sadie’s indication was a bomb designed to inflict maximum injury. Sadie’s actions undoubtedly saved the lives of many civilians and soldiers.’

Sadie retired shortly after her award. The working span for a Military Working Dog is between nine and eleven years.


Salty and Roselle

Roselle, left, and Salty, right, with their owners

Image source

Salty and Roselle were Guide dogs who were in the World Trade Center with their owners on 11th September, 2001. They led their people down many, many flights of stairs to escape the terminally damaged buildings.

Salty   1996-2008

Salty was a yellow Labrador who lived with his owner, Omar Rivera, from 1999. On 11th September, 2001, they were on the 71st floor of Tower 1 of the WTC, when the (first?) ‘plane flew into the building, several floors above. Salty guided his master to the crowded stairwell, working calmly through the chaotic scenes, round debris and people. It took an hour and fifteen minutes for them to reach the ground floor and escape the doomed building, moments before it collapsed.

Roselle  1998-2011

Roselle was also a yellow Labrador and met her owner, Michael Hingson, in 1999. She was his fifth guide dog. She was sleeping under a desk when the ‘plane hit. Roselle led her master to stairwell B, working quietly and efficiently, despite the panic around her, guiding him and thirty other people out of the tower. About halfway down, they met firefighters coming up. Roselle greeted them, then continued her descent. After an hour, they reached the bottom and she led him to the shelter of a subway station.

Michael Hingson wrote, ‘She saved my life. While everyone ran in panic, Roselle remained totally focused on her job. While debris fell around us, and even hit us, Roselle stayed calm.’

When they eventually reached home, Roselle went in and started playing with her master’s retired guide dog, as though it had been just another day at the office.

Salty and Roselle were awarded a joint Dickin Medal in March 2002, ‘For remaining loyally at the side of their blind owners, courageously leading them down more than 70 floors of the World Trade Center and to a place of safety following the terrorist attack on New York on 11 September 2001.’

Salty and Roselle were also honoured by the British ‘Guide Dogs for the Blind Association’ and received a ‘Partners in Courage’ award from the American ‘Guiding Eyes for the Blind.’


Sam  ?-2000

Image source

Sam was seconded from the RAVC Dog Unit to serve with the Royal Canadian Regiment on peacekeeping duties in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2008, there was a great deal of unrest in the region, Serbians and Croats vying for supremacy and using ethnic cleansing to attain their ends.

Sam and his handler, Sergeant Iain Carnegie, were working with a NATO force to protect civilians in the town of Drvar. While patrolling one day, they were fired at by a single gunman. Sam chased him to a bar and held him down, waiting for Sgt Carnegie to reach him and make an arrest

A few days later, many Serbian refugees had sought shelter from angry Croats. The compound they were in was being attacked with crowbars and stones by around fifty Croats. Sam and the men in his squad battled their way in and held off the assailants until additional troops arrived to restore order. Iain Carnegie later said, ’I could never have attempted to carry out my duties without him. Sam displayed outstanding courage in the face of the rioters, never did he shy away.’

Sam retired from military duty shortly after this, aged ten.

The Dickin Medal was awarded posthumously in January, 2003, ‘For outstanding gallantry in April 1998 while assigned to the Royal Canadian Regiment in Drvar during the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina. On two documented occasions Sam displayed great courage and devotion to duty, on 18 April Sam successfully brought down an armed man threatening the lives of civilians and Service personnel. On 24 April, while guarding a compound harbouring Serbian refugees, Sam’s determined approach held off rioters until reinforcement arrived. This dog’s true valour saved the lives of many servicemen and civilians during this time of human conflict.’


Sasha  2004-2008

Sasha, a yellow Labrador, was killed with her handler, Lance Corporal Kenneth Rowe, in a Taliban ambush.

Sasha was an RVAC Arms and Explosives dog attached to the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment in Kandahar. She and L/Cpl Rowe had only been paired since May 2008, but had proved themselves an efficient team. She made fifteen confirmed finds of explosives and weapons caches.

  On July 24th, 2008, when L/Cpl Rowe and Sasha were on patrol, a sniper shot Sasha. She returned immediately to her handler, which unfortunately allowed the Taliban to pinpoint Kenneth Rowe’s position. They were both killed by a hail of rocket-propelled grenades. L/Cpl Rowe was twenty-four and Sasha was four. Six other men were injured in the attack, one of them seriously.

In 2010, Kenneth Rowe’s family received the Elizabeth Cross in his honour. Sasha was awarded the Dickin Medal in April, 2014. ‘Sasha’s actions were conducted in perilous conditions over a sustained period. Without doubt she saved many soldiers and civilians from death or injury. Her calm presence and wagging tail also comforted and reassured soldiers risking their lives on the front line.’

Though Sasha was a well-trained and responsive dog, she also had a mischievous side to her, and enjoyed chasing the feral cats, which amused and entertained the troops.


Scotch Lass

                                                    Scotch Lass
                                                                Image source
Scotch Lass was bred by ‘Collins and Son’ in Musselburgh, East Lothian. She was taken into the Netherlands by a British agent and when she was released with her message, he saw her fly straight into telegraph wires. Nevertheless, she continued her flight across the North Sea, and in June 1945 was awarded the DM for bravery, ‘For bringing 38 microphotographs across the North Sea in good time although injured, while serving with the RAF in Holland in September 1944.’



                                            Sheila with Mr Dagg

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A Flying Fortress from the US Eighth Air Force, was flying, fully laden with bombs, when it crashed into the Cheviot Hills, in blizzard conditions. Two shepherds, and Sheila, the Collie sheep dog belonging to one of them, started to search for the crew of the stricken aircraft. Visibility was so poor that they had to rely on Sheila’s nose to track them. She found the four survivors sheltering in a crevice and took the shepherds to them. The group then made their way down the hillside, reaching safety just as the bombs on the downed aircraft exploded.

Sheila was awarded the DM in July, 1945, for her work, the first medal to be given to a ‘civilian’ dog, ‘For assisting in the rescue of four American Airmen lost on the Cheviots in a blizzard after an air crash in December, 1944.’



Simon on board HMS Amethyst

Image source

Simon was a stray black and white tom cat in the Hong Kong docks in May 1948 when he was picked up by 17-year-old Ordinary Seaman George Hickinbottom and smuggled aboard the frigate HMS Amethyst to deal with the rats.

A year later, in April 1949, when the Chinese Civil War was raging, Amethyst was ordered to sail up the Yangtze River to take over guard duty from HMS Consort at the British Embassy in Nanking. The British had not taken sides in the Communist/Nationalist conflict, so did not expect any trouble, and, in any case, a ceasefire was in operation, due to terminate on 21st April at midnight. However, Communist forces resumed firing on the morning of 20th April.

Amethyst was caught in the crossfire, sustaining more than 50 hits, which killed the Captain and eighteen crew and injured 27 more. Amethyst found shelter in an inlet and began to negotiate with the Communists for release.

Simon was probably in the Captain’s cabin and was hit by shrapnel in his back and legs and his face was burnt. In the manner of sick cats, who tend to hide away, Simon was not seen for several days until he appeared on deck, in very bad condition. He was dehydrated and thin and clearly in pain from his injuries. 

The Medical Officer, Michael Fearnley tended to him, but thought that his chances of survival were slim. He suggested that Simon should remain in the sick bay with the young crew members, to raise their morale. After all, Simon had been through the same experiences as them and so was considered one of them.

Almost three months elapsed, during which time rations were halved to conserve them.  Large rats were breeding freely and stealing and contaminating the food supplies. They were fierce, aggressive creatures, even attacking sailors, but Simon proved himself more than a match for them.

One exceptionally vicious rodent, nicknamed Mao Tse-Tung, repeatedly broached the food supplies. When Simon killed it, the ship’s crew were so enthralled that they applauded Simon and promoted him to ‘Able Seaman Simon’. He was awarded the Amethyst campaign ribbon: ‘Able Seaman Simon, for distinguished and meritorious service on HMS Amethyst, you are hereby awarded the Distinguished Amethyst Campaign Medal.

Be it known that on April 25, 1949, though recovering from wounds, when HMS Amethyst was standing by off Rose Bay you did single-handedly and unarmed stalk down and destroy ‘Mao Tse-Tung’, a rat guilty of raiding food supplies which were critically short.

Be it further known that from April 22 to August 4, you did rid HMS Amethyst of pestilence and vermin, with unrelenting faithfulness.’

Peggy the dog also received the Distinguished Amethyst Campaign Medal. 

Negotiations were not proceeding favourably and eventually it was decided that Amethyst should make a run for it.  On 30th July, HMS Amethyst broke free, ending 101 days of custody.

The PDSA contacted HMS Amethyst to inquire of Simon’s exploits. The reply came, ‘For many days Simon felt very sorry for himself, nor could he be located. His whiskers, even now, show signs of the explosion.

 Rats, which began to breed rapidly in the damaged portions of the ship, presented a real menace to the health of the ship’s company, but Simon nobly rose to the occasion and after two months the rats were much diminished.

Throughout the incident Simon’s behaviour was of the highest order. One would not have expected a small cat to survive the blast from an explosion capable of making a hole over a foot in diameter in a steel plate. Yet after a few days Simon was as friendly as ever. His presence on the ship, together with Peggy, the dog, was a decided factor in maintaining the high level of morale of the ship’s company.’

Simon remains, to date, the only cat, and the only Royal Navy animal, to have been awarded the Dickin Medal. While in quarantine, Simon fell ill. He died two weeks before his presentation in August, 1949, his war wounds undoubtedly responsible for weakening his resistance to infection. He had lived more than six lives in his two short years of life. In addition to the DM, Simon was also awarded the Blue Cross Medal and the Naval General Service Medal with Yangtze 1949 clasp.

The entire crew of HMS Amethyst attended his burial at the PDSA Animal Cemetery in Ilford, alongside hundreds of civilians who had followed his story.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons  

Sunday 21 April 2024

Underneath the Arches


Underneath the Arches

We have three arches along a winding path in the garden, now entering their third iteration. The first ones were metal and lasted a few years. Their replacements were wooden and lasted a few years more. When they started to sag, being supported by rather than supporting honeysuckle, clematis and jasmine, they were strengthened with spars, which kept them going a little longer.

 Now, they are being replaced with sturdier structures. We considered doing away with them altogether, but we like the different aspect they give the garden. Really, we should be trying to make the garden easier to maintain, I suppose, but that’s not the way we do things. It keeps us out of mischief!

Elsewhere in the garden  . . .

        Raspberry canes. Look carefully and you'll see small flower buds.

                                            Crab apple blossom

                                    The pretty bells of blueberry

Interesting bark of the apricot tree. We don't get much fruit, but what ripens is delicious.

Saturday 20 April 2024

April 2024 A to Z Challenge

       Reckless with her handler, U.S. Marine Sergeant Latham
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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. 


Reckless  c.1948-1968

Reckless, also known as Sergeant Reckless, and ultimately Staff Sergeant Reckless, was thought to be about four years old when she was purchased in Korea by the U.S. Marine Corps in 1952. She was a small Mongolian mare and was originally trained as a pack horse, carrying equipment for the Recoilless Rifle Platoon of the 5th Marine Regiment.

However, she proved to be a much more enterprising animal, learning new routes quickly, often travelling without a handler to deliver supplies on her own and evacuating wounded and dead soldiers on her back. On one memorable day, in March 1953, she made 51 trips, mostly by herself, to resupply front line units. On each trip she carried several 24-pound shells. She was wounded twice by shrapnel but continued to work.

Reckless had a remarkable ability to recognise danger and would not move forward if she sensed an enemy attack was imminent. She saved many lives by these actions.

She was very popular with the troops and moved freely among them, accepting whatever they chose to give her to eat, frequently helping herself to anything in reach and often moving into their tents to lie down with them. Her name was derived from ‘Recoilless’.

                Reckless in retirement at Camp Pendleton, circa 1964
                                    Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Reckless was honoured with two Purple Hearts, a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation with bronze star, the National Defense Service Medal, a Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Korea Medal, a Navy Unit Commendation and a Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, all of which she wore on her horse blanket, with a French fourragère the Marines had been awarded in the First World War.  LIFE magazine named her ‘one of America’s 100 all-time heroes.’

Lieutenant General Randolph McC. Pate, United States Marine Corps said of her, ‘I was surprised at her beauty and intelligence, and believe it or not, her esprit de corps. Like any other Marine, she was enjoying a bottle of beer with her comrades. She was constantly the center of attraction and was fully aware of her importance. If she failed to receive the attention she felt her due, she would deliberately walk into a group of Marines and, in effect, enter the conversation. It was obvious the Marines loved her.’

After the war, she lived in retirement in Pendleton.

In 2016, Reckless was posthumously awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal, for her Korean War service in 1952 -1953 and the ‘Animals in War and Peace Medal of Bravery’.

                                    Reckless with a recoilless rifle

 Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons


                                        Regal with P.C. Hector Poole

Image source

Regal was a bay gelding, working with the Metropolitan Police from 1940 to 1944, in the Muswell Hill area of London.

There were about 186 horses in the mounted division of the Metropolitan Police. Patrols worked throughout London, to help with traffic control and to raise the morale of the citizens, during the period of the V1 and V2 bombing raids. More than 3,000 V2 rockets were launched against Britain, causing 9,000 deaths.

Each horse had the same handler during its career and was trained to remain calm in all situations. Regal’s handler was P.C. Hector Poole. 

In April, 1941, incendiary bombs were dropped near the Police stables in Muswell Hill. Fire spread to the area near Regal’s stable from flames in the food store. The horse was not injured and did not panic and was led to safety.  Three years later, in July, 1944, another bomb caused the roof to collapse, injuring Regal with flying debris.

Regal was awarded the DM in April 1947. The citation stated, ‘Was twice in burning stables caused by explosive incendiaries at Muswell Hill. Although receiving minor injuries, being covered by debris and close to the flames, this horse showed no signs of panic.’

Regal’s grave is at the Metropolitan Police Mounted Training Establishment at Thames Ditton in Surrey. 




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Rex was an Alsatian search and rescue dog, working with Civil Defence units. He worked in extremely difficult conditions in bombed buildings to find casualties. His DM was awarded in April 1945 for bravery. The citation said, 'For outstanding good work in the location of casualties in burning buildings. Undaunted by smouldering debris, thick smoke, intense heat and jets of water from fire hoses, this dog displayed uncanny intelligence and outstanding determination in his efforts to follow up any scent which led him to a trapped casualty.’



Mrs Litchfield lent her Welsh Collie Ricky to the war effort in 1944, and was adamant that the dog was on loan only. Ricky joined the War Dogs Training School and soon showed his mettle and ability to become a mine detection dog.

By December 1944, Ricky was working with his handler, Maurice Yielding, clearing mines along a canal bank in Noordevaart, in the Netherlands. There was a multitude of mines – at least 26 different types – as well as booby traps. Ricky was constantly detecting devices, although they were concealed in gravel and deep mud. When a mine was accidentally set off very close to him, he was unfazed and continued his work, even though he had shrapnel wounds to his head.

Realising the great value of Ricky’s ability as a sniffer dog, the Army was extremely keen to buy him from Mrs Litchfield, but she would not be persuaded and so he returned home to Kent at the end of the war.

When he was awarded the DM in March 1947, his citation ran, ‘This dog was engaged in cleaning the verges of the canal bank at Noordevaart, Holland. He found all the mines but during the operation one of them exploded. Ricky was wounded in the head but remained calm and kept at work. Had he become excited he would have been a danger to the rest of the section working nearby.’


Rifleman Khan

                            Rifleman Khan with L/Cpl Jimmy Muldoon

Image source

 When the British Government asked for donations of dogs to help in the war in 1942, the Railton family in Surrey offered their pet Alsatian. After training at the War Dogs Training School, he was assigned to Lance Corporal James Muldoon of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles). Given the name ‘Khan’, he worked well with his handler and the two became very close.

In 1944, an assault craft they were in was heavily bombarded and capsized. Khan swam ashore, but Jimmy Muldoon could not swim and was laden down by his heavy pack. On hearing his cries, Khan swam back to him, grabbed him by his uniform collar and hauled him the 200 yards to shore.

When the war had ended, Khan returned to his home in Surrey. His citation for the Dickin Medal, which he received in March 1945, said, ‘For rescuing L/Cpl Muldoon from drowning under heavy shell fire at the assault of Walcheren, November 1944, while serving with the 6th Cameronians (SR)’

Two years after the award, Rifleman Khan was invited to take part in the National Dog Tournament, alongside fifteen other DM recipients. Barry Railton wrote to Jimmy Muldoon to ask him to attend. He and Khan had not seen each other for two years and their reunion was a joyous occasion, so much so that the Railton family suggested that Khan should go to live with Jimmy Muldoon. They lived out their days in the small town of Strathaven and in 2021 a statue of Khan was unveiled there.


Rip  ?-1946

             Rip at work. Look at the joy on that little dog's face!

Image source

Rip was a stray mongrel in Poplar, East London. He was found by Air Raid Warden Mr E. King after a heavy bombing raid and became the mascot of the local Air Raid patrol. He was not trained as a rescue dog, but proved it was instinctive when he started indicating where there were casualties. In one year, he found more than 100 victims of the London air raids. His DM, ‘For locating many air-raid victims during the blitz of 1940’ was awarded to him in 1945 and he wore it on his collar until his death in 1946.

                            Rip's grave in the PSDA cemetery, Ilford

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Rob  1939-1952

Rob was a working collie and family pet on the Shropshire farm of the Bayne family. He was a gentle dog, even picking up straying chicks and returning them to the mother hens, and allowing the little boy, Basil, to hold onto him as he started toddling. In 1942, Edward Bayne offered him to the War Effort and he was trained as a messenger and guard dog. He was the first dog to be assigned to the SAS (Special Air Service)

 Rob was alleged to have made 20 parachute jumps, but in 2006 this was revealed as a probable hoax, in a bid to prevent him going back to his family, who had requested that he be returned. That seems to me to be unlikely. Why would the Bayne family ask for Rob to be returned when the war was still ongoing?

Nonetheless, Rob was a brave member of the SAS, and he was awarded the DM in January 1945, the citation reading, ‘Took part in landings in the North Africa Campaign with the Infantry Unit. From September 1943 he served with the Special Air Unit in Italy. Most of these operations were of an unpleasant nature. He was used as a patrol dog and guard on small detachments lying-up in enemy territory. There is no doubt that his presence with these parties saved many of them from being discovered, and thereby from being captured or killed.’

Rob returned to his family in Shropshire, readily picking up his farm work. He was buried on the farm when he died in 1952 and the two Bayne children erected a stone memorial, engraved with the words, ‘To the dear memory of Rob, war dog no 471/322, twice VC, Britain’s first parachute dog, who served three and a half years in North Africa and Italy with the Second Special Air Service Regiment. Died 18th January 1952 aged 12½ years. Erected by Basil and Heather Bayne in memory of a faithful friend and playmate 1939-1952.’

Rob also received the RSPCA Red Collar and Medallion for Valour.


Royal Blue

                                                Royal Blue

Image source

Royal Blue was a male blue pigeon hatched in the Royal Lofts at Sandringham. He belonged to King George VI and served with the RAF pigeon service.

Bombers and reconnaissance aircraft carried messenger pigeons, so that, should they be forced to land, their location could be conveyed to their base. Thus, it might be possible to conduct a rescue attempt.

On 10th October, 1940, Royal Blue was released in the Netherlands and flew 120 miles back to base in four hours and ten minutes. In March, 1945, he was awarded the DM with the citation, ‘For being the first pigeon in this war to deliver a message from a forced landed aircraft on the Continent while serving with the RAF in October, 1940.’

Royal Blue is one of 32 pigeons who have received a Dickin Medal.

Royal Blue's DM citation

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Ruhr Express

                    Ruhr Express wearing his Dickin Medal, May 1945

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Ruhr Express was bred and trained at RAF Detling in Kent. The station was bombed several times during the Battle of Britain. Its motto was ‘Dare to be wise.’

Ruhr Express was a large, dark chequered male, so successful in his work that he was used to train other pigeons. In 1945, he was selected to join a US force on reconnaissance behind enemy lines in the Ruhr. As the heart of German steel and coal production, this area was a significant centre of industry. The objective of the exercise was to gather information on troops and defences.

Ruhr Express had to fly 300 miles overnight, and the information he carried was vital to the Allied invasion of the Ruhr. The following month, he was awarded the Dickin Medal, ‘For carrying an important message from the Ruhr Pocket in excellent time, while serving with the RAF in April, 1945.’ 

He was put up for auction at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, to raise money for the RAF Benevolent Fund and the Allied Forces Animals’ War Memorial. He sold for £420, the equivalent of £22,717 in 2024. His new owner used him, and another bird, called ‘Per Ardua’ (Through adversity) as the foundation birds in a new line of long-distance flyers.