A dog, pigeon, horse and cat all proudly wear PDSA Dickin Medals alongside members of the RAF, Army and Royal Navy.

To mark the milestone 75th anniversary of the PDSA Dickin Medal – the animals’ Victoria Cross – vet charity PDSA gathered the animal heroes together at the Imperial War Museum.

At the height of World War II 75 years ago, a messenger pigeon named Winkie became the first ever recipient of the PDSA Dickin Medal, which is awarded to animals that display conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving in military conflict.

Since then, the life-saving actions of 72 incredible animals have been honoured by the charity; 71 animals – 34 dogs, 32 pigeons, four horses and one cat have received the medal.

An Honorary medal was also bestowed to ‘the real war horse’, Warrior, on 2 September 2014, on behalf of all 16 million animals that served in the Great War.

Some of the incredible images were found by family history website Findmypast’s collection of historical newspapers.

They include 1945 photo of Beauty, the Wirehaired Terrier, receiving her medal for rescuing over 63 people and animals trapped under rubble during the blitz.

And Irma the Alsatian receiving her award for finding 233 buried blitz victims, of which 21 were found alive.

In one incident, she refused to give up on the scent of two little girls who were trapped under a fallen building for two days.

First recipients

The inaugural medal was presented on the 2 December 1943 to Winkie, alongside fellow RAF pigeons, White Vision and Tyke.

Winkie was on board a Beaufort Bomber that ditched in the sea after coming under enemy fire during a mission over Norway. Unable to radio the plane’s position, the stranded four-man crew released Winkie in an attempt to raise the alarm.

Despite horrendous weather and being covered in oil, she flew more than 120 miles home, where her owner was able to pass her message onto RAF Leuchars in Fife.

A successful rescue operation was launched within 15 minutes of her return. Her actions saved the lives of her crew.

Cologne the pigeon – DM26

Owned and trained by William Payne, World War II messenger pigeon Cologne was a veteran of more than 100 operations with the RAF.

He ‘homed’ from crashed aircraft on a number of occasions, but Cologne is renowned for one truly astonishing mission.

Carried by a Lancaster Bomber crew downed on a mission to attack the German city of Cologne to use the official National Pigeon Service title, survived the crash. Five of the seven crew died, and the remaining two crew members were captured.

Cologne, despite serious injuries thought to have been sustained during the crash, managed to escape and headed home to Nottingham – a distance of more than 450 miles.

The flight took two weeks in all and Cologne was discovered to have completed this phenomenal journey with multiple injuries, including a broken breastbone.

Here, the Workman is representing the 32 pigeon recipients of the PDSA Dickin Medal.

Simon the cat – DM54

In the summer of 1949, at the height of the Chinese Civil War, HMS Amethyst came under People’s Liberation Army artillery fire while cruising along the Yangtze river.

The ship received more than 50 direct hits and despite the efforts of a passing Navy Frigate to pull it to safety, the ship and crew members were stranded mid-river for almost 10 weeks.

Hot, humid conditions were the perfect breeding ground for a rat infestation. The already-limited food supplies were in danger of being completely destroyed.

Despite shrapnel wounds to his legs and burns to his back and face, ship’s cat Simon was all that stood between the rats and the crew’s essential supplies.

The rats were bold and had even attacked crew members, but this didn’t stop Simon from hunting them down. For protecting supplies and lifting his injured shipmates’ morale when accompanying the Maintenance Officer on his daily rounds, he was promoted to ‘Able Seaman’ in recognition of his achievements.

The only feline recipient, Simon received his PDSA Dickin Medal posthumously in 1949 and was buried with full military honours.

Gremlin the cat is representing recipient Simon.

Sasha the dog – DM65

Sasha and her handler, Lance Corporal Kenneth Rowe, were scheduled to return home from their tour of Afghanistan in July 2008.

However, Corporal Rowe was aware that no dog team would be available to replace them and volunteered to stay to help protect their colleagues. It was a decision that, tragically, cost both their lives the very next day.

Four-year-old Labrador Sasha and Corporal Rowe were a highly successful specialist arms and explosives search team.

They worked alongside the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment stationed at the Inkerman base in the Kandahar region. During their tour they were credited with 15 confirmed finds, including mortars, mines, ammunition and explosives.

On 24 July 2008 the unit was on patrol with Sasha and Corporal Rowe leading at the front, looking for IEDs when they were ambushed by the Taliban.

Sasha was shot and injured by a sniper yet, despite her injuries, managed to make it back to her handler. Sadly, this revealed Corporal Rowe’s position and he was subsequently killed by a volley of rocket-propelled grenades.

On return to Britain, a parade in their honour took place in Royal Wootton Basset following a private repatriation service held at RAF Lyneham.

Sasha was posthumously awarded a PDSA Dickin Medal on 21 May 2014.

Pictured today is PDSA Dickin Medal recipient Mali the dog.

Sgt Reckless the horse – DM68

The Korean War included some of the fiercest combat in military history. Originally bred as a racehorse, Sgt Reckless – called after the nickname used for the ‘Recoilless Rifle’ she carried ammunition for – joined the Anti-Tank Division of the US Marines in October 1952.

She completed gruelling missions in mountainous terrain and often freezing conditions. Despite constant enemy fire and numerous hazards, including shell craters and barbed wire, Reckless carried out her duties and quickly became a much-loved, morale-boosting comrade.

During Battle of Outpost Vegas in March 1953, she made 51 supply trips to the frontline in five days – carrying more than 386 rounds of ammunition weighing around five tonnes in total – through steep mountains and open paddy fields.

Constantly under fire and facing up to 500 rounds per minute, Reckless was wounded twice.

She bravely transported multiple casualties to safety on her return trips. After loading up with ammunition, she repeated the process: again, and again and again. How many lives she helped save is unknown.

On 15 June 1957 she was promoted to ‘Sergeant Reckless’ in recognition of her combat record. She was posthumously awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal on 27 July 2016.

Warrior the horse – DM (Hon)

Known to many as ‘The horse the Germans couldn’t kill’, Warrior’s story is one of the most remarkable tales of animal bravery and endurance to emerge from the Great War.

General Jack Seely left his home on the Isle of Wight in 1914 to take command of the Canadian Cavalry Corps. His beloved horse Warrior, a thoroughbred stallion, travelled to the Western Front with him.

Over the next four years, Warrior witnessed the full horror of war during major battles, including the first day of the Battle of the Somme and the muddy hell of Passchendaele.

Trapped in burning stables twice, buried in rubble and mud, and regularly subjected to intensive attack from machine guns and mortar shells, Warrior survived it all.

In March 1918 he led a cavalry charge against the Germans at Amiens, which proved to be one of the most crucial battles of the whole campaign and helped bring the end of the conflict closer.

Warrior was posthumously awarded the Honorary PDSA Dickin Medal on 2 September 2014 to mark 100 years since the start of the Great War.

The only recipient to pre-date the Medal’s institution in 1943, he received the Medal on behalf of all animals that served.

Metropolitan Police Horse Upstart represents the four horse recipients of the PDSA Dickin Medal.


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