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Canadian Wartime Animal Heroes

Canadian Wartime Animal Heroes

Every year on November 11, we take pause to remember, reflect, and honor the sacrifices made by the brave men and women of our armed forces who selflessly gave and those who continue to give everything to bring us the freedom we all enjoy today. There are countless stories of bravery and heroism that date all the way back to WWI. Most focus on the acts of humans and while there is no end to the boundless amount of gratitude we have for those brave service men and women, there are also some extremely gallant four-legged and even feathered service members who deserve to be remembered for their brave and heroic acts during times of war.

In Canada, the efforts of our animal service members have been acknowledged with a monument in Ottawa’s Confederation Park called the Animals in War Dedication. Another way animals have been recognized globally for their war efforts is with the Dickin Medal, which is known as the “Victoria Cross for Animals”. More than 70 animals worldwide have received this medal, including four Canadian wartime animal heroes.

There are countless stories all over the world about man’s best friend; saving their owners from fire, accidents, and many other forms of imminent dangers. It is without surprise that we would find many dogs on the list of wartime heroes. One such Canadian hero is a Newfoundland dog named Gander. Originally named Pal, the large dog was given to a Canadian regiment called The Royal Rifles of Canada who were stationed at the Gander International Airport in Newfoundland during the Second World War. The soldiers renamed the dog Gander and “promoted” him to sergeant. After the attack on Pearl Harbour, the Royal Rifles of Canada were shipped overseas to fight in the Battle of Hong Kong and Gander came along to help and protect the island. He helped fight off opposing forces on three separate occasions and heroically protected wounded troops. During his final battle he picked up a hand thrown grenade and ran it back towards the enemy; he was killed in action but his brave efforts saved the lives of many soldiers. He was awarded the Dickin Medal in 2000 and a statue of Gander and his handler was unveiled at Gander Heritage Memorial Park in Gander Newfoundland.

Another brave service dog named Sam is also the recipient of the Dickin Medal. While originally a member of the British Royal Army Veterinary Corps, Sam, a German Shepard was put on assignment with The Royal Canadian Regiment to help create stability in Yugoslavia in 1998. Sam’s handler witnessed on two separate occasions the brave dog’s actions only six days apart. During one such time, Sam charged at an armed man who opened fire and helped bring him to the ground. Next, Sam and his handler helped protect and maintain a barrier around a group of civilians hiding out in a warehouse from rioters armed with crowbars, clubs, and rocks. They stood their ground and protected the civilians until reinforcements arrived. Sam passed away at age 10 of natural causes and received the Dickin Medal two years later in 2002.

Another Canadian Dickin medal recipient is not a dog at all but in fact a thoroughbred horse named Warrior. During World War One, Warrior was a member of The Canadian Calvary Brigade during several battles. Warrior arrived on the front lines of the war in 1914; he survived machine gun attacks and falling shells at the Battle of the Sommes and even made it out after being buried under rubble at Passchendaele. Twice Warrior was caught in a burning stable and made it out alive. He helped lead the charge during the battle of Moreuil Wood, a battle that paved the way to the final days of the war. He was known as an inspiration to the soldiers and is considered an example of “resilience and strength”. Warrior survived the war and lived out the remainder of his life on the Isle of Wight in the U.K. until he passed at the age of 32 in 1941.

The last of our Canadian Dickin Medal recipients is not of the four-legged persuasion but in fact a winged one. Beachcomber was the name of a pigeon who served in World War 2 for the Canadians as a messenger. Beachcomber was assigned the important task of ensuring the delivery of a key message in 1942. The message was written on a small piece of paper and placed in a container attached to the leg of the pigeon, Beachcomber flew across the English Channel during extremely hazardous conditions, including an aerial dogfight and attempts by the enemy to take down such birds, to deliver the news of the first landings at Dieppe. Beachcomber was awarded the medal in 1944 for bravery.

All over the world and in a million different circumstances there are animals who demonstrate unbelievable bravery and heroism. Often times putting their lives on the line for the humans that they love and are working alongside of or even by simply being a shining example of resilience and optimism during even the darkest of times.

To all the service members who have and continue to serve, both human and animal, on Remembrance Day and every day, we remember.