November is always a time for thoughtful remembrance for those who have given their lives in war to protect our freedom. This year of course marks the centenary of the start of The Great War and as such has been marked with even more tributes and events than usual. Anyone lucky enough to have seen the installation of ceramic poppies at The Tower of London can’t help but have been moved incredibly by this solemn but beautiful scene of remembrance.
Personally I was also moved by a recent episode of Countryfile dedicated to the countryside of the Somme which included a great story on dogs used for military purposes in the First World War. What follows is some information about the brave dogs & handlers who did excellent work during the war in awful and dangerous conditions and I would urge anyone interested in this to Google the subject which would be fascinating for anyone interested in dogs and their training.
Lt Col. Edwin Richardson had always had a fascination with dogs and in 1895 wRichardson with Airedaleshilst shooting on a friend’s estate in Scotland he noted a man buying up sheepdogs for military use by the German army. By 1900 he had started up his own training school on a small scale on his farm near the east coast of Scotland. He worked on his training methods; developing the dogs’ skills and testing them at a local military base.
In 1914 at the start of WW1 there was only 1 dog in the British Army. He was an Airedale terrier attached to the 2nd Battalion Norfolk Regiment who worked as a sentry but was sadly killed by a shell in France.
Richardson was asked by the war office to set up an official training establishment and soon they were collecting dogs from The Home for Lost Dogs at Battersea and then from Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol and Manchester Dogs’ Homes. When those supplies were exhausted they appealed to the general public who generously donated family pets for the war effort. One lady wrote, “I have given my husband and my sons, and now that he too is required, I give my dog”.
The dogs were trained for various uses including:
Sentry work – their acute hearing could detect the enemy approaching
Guard dogs for munitions factories and other vulnerable establishments replaced human guards who were required for fighting roles
Dispatch work – the ability to return to base with a message from an advance position made them an invaluable asset to the army.
They were even used to go out to look for injured soldiers amongst the masses of dead bodies in the field.
The following is a quote from a piece about Airedale Terriers on a website called dogtime.com
“During World War I, a hardy Airedale Terrier named Jack braved the battlefields to deliver a message to British headquarters. Running through a half-mile of swamp, artillery raining down on him, Jack suffered a shattered leg and broken jaw. Sadly, he passed away soon after he’d completed his mission. Incredibly, the message he was carrying saved his battalion and he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for “Gallantry in the Field.” The bravery and courage exhibited by Jack holds true for today’s Airedales.”
So there you have it, a little known but amazing story about our canine friends and how many of them also gave their lives in defence of our freedom.