Dickins  Medal
Credit: PDSA

As The ‘Animals’ Victoria Cross’ Celebrates Its 70th Anniversary, Pays Tribute To The Audacious Animals Who Have Received The Prestigious Dickin Medal

Some 70 years ago last month, the UK’s People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) charity’s Dickin Medal – the animal version of the Victoria Cross – was first awarded during World War II.

Since then the famous medal, which bears the inscription ‘We Also Serve’, has been awarded to some 64 gallant animals – 32 pigeons, 28 dogs, 3 horses and 1 cat.

The Dickin Medal is the highest award any animal can receive in recognition of conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving in military conflict.

The first Dickin Medals were awarded to three humble pigeons on December 2, 1943: White Vision, Winkie and Tyke. The most recent award was made to Springer Spaniel Theo, who was awarded posthumously in October 2012. Theo made a record 14 confirmed finds of weapons, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and bomb-making equipment while working with the army in Afghanistan. Theo died of a seizure in March 2011, just hours after his handler, Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, was killed by enemy fire.

Here we take a look at some of the courageous animals that have received the Dickin Medal over the last 70 years...

Pigeons: 32 Medals

An often misunderstood recipient of the PDSA Dickin Medal is the pigeon. To date, half (32) of the Medal’s recipients have been winged messengers who relayed vital messages from the front line.

Pigeons like Paddy (September 1944), one of the first birds to reach England with a coded message from the war-torn beaches of Normandy on D-Day. He not only delivered valuable news of the Allied position, but despite poor weather conditions and the threat of German falcons deployed to tear the fragile messengers out of the sky, he did so in record time, covering 230 miles in 4 hours 50 minutes – the fastest time of any of the pigeons deployed during the mission.

Another pigeon, named GI Joe (August 1946) saved the lives of hundreds of Allied troops in the Italian town of Colvi Vecci. In October 1943, Allied forces were trying to advance on the German-held town. In an effort to weaken the German position, the infantry ordered an aerial bombardment. On October 18, the German resistance fell and Allied soldiers, prepared to take whatever came their way, took up position in the town 30 minutes before the aerial assault was due to begin. GI Joe was released with news of the development and flew 20 miles in 20 minutes to deliver the message cancelling the operation just as the bombers were taxiing the runways.

Dogs: 28 Medals

Sheila was awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal in July 1945. Though not a military dog, her actions saved the lives of four serving American airmen, whose Flying Fortress bomber had crashed into the snow-covered Brayden Crags in Northumberland during a fierce blizzard. Local shepherd John Dagg heard the crash and immediately set off into the snow with Sheila at his heels. Sheila used her sense of smell rather than sight to eventually reach the burning wreckage. She then led her master through the deep snow to the crevice in the hillside some distance away where she found the four surviving US airmen sheltering.

The actions of Theo (October 2012, posthumous) were remarkable. His role, alongside his handler, was to provide search and clearance support, uncovering hidden weapons, improvised explosive devices and bomb-making equipment. His record haul of 14 finds was made in just six months, making his partnership with his handler Lance Corporal Tasker the most successful in Afghanistan to date. Theo was deployed to Afghanistan with Lance Corporal Tasker as part of the RAVC’s 1st Military Working Dog Regiment in 2010 and 2011.

Horses: Three Medals

Three Metropolitan Police Horses have received the PDSA Dickin Medal. Olga, Upstart and Regal (all April 1947) remained devoted to their duty on the streets of the capital despite having to face fire and the hail of flying bombs during the Blitz.

While on patrol duty in Bethnal Green a flying bomb exploded within 75 yards of Upstart and his rider, showering them both with broken glass and debris. Upstart was completely unperturbed and remained quietly on duty with his rider controlling traffic, until the incident had been dealt with.

Cats: One Medal

One cat has been awarded the Dickin Medal. Simon was a ship’s cat who served on the Royal Navy sloop, HMS Amethyst. In 1949, during the Yangtze Incident, he received the medal after surviving injuries from cannon shell, raising moral, and killing off a rat infestation during his service.

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