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

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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

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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  


  1. It's nice to see a cat in this long line of heroes.

  2. The range of situations in which our domestic animals (even cats!) have played heroic roles continues to amaze.

    1. It's almost a case of 'expect the unexpected.'

  3. It was good to see a cat in today's list, doing what cats do. There are so many recipients beginning with S, I can't make a call today. I guess there will be plenty for the next post too.

  4. Amazing what these dogs did, even those who were not trained ! They didn't have a nice life, or maybe they liked it who knows. It's quite unusual that cats hunt rats, because sometimes the rats are as big as the cats ! My Rosie was good in mice hunting and brought them proudly in the house, sometimes still alive and then we had to chase the mouse out of the house !

    1. Cats have been known to catch rabbits and hares. Our cats have caught rats before now, admittedly not huge.

  5. Thank you for sharing the stories of these wonderful and heroic creatures. I was pleased to see a cat among the group but wish Simon's story had ended more happily. Even in the best of times, animals often have such brief lives.

    1. Simon had a wonderful time with his crew mates, who really loved him - a short life, but a happier one than he might otherwise have had..

  6. Another heart rendering post, thank you so much! Such bravery should be recognized a thousandfold.

  7. After surviving the ordeal - and killing those rats, of course - I was sad to learn it didn't end well for Simon :-(
    I'm impressed with all of these animals, but Salty and Roselle do stand out for me in this post! xxx

  8. Salty and Roselle did what they had been trained to do but under overwhelmingly frightening circumstances - quite remarkable.

  9. I enjoyed reading about these wonderful animals and so nice there was a cat mentioned :)

    However, it was also that smile on handler, Lance Corporal Karen Yardley's face with Sadie, which really caught my eye.

    All the best Jan

    1. A young woman working with a young dog - it gives hope to us all.

  10. Hi Janice - amazing collection of brave animals you've found for your 'S' entry - your choice of theme is heart-warming for many - cheers Hilary


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