Animals at War – the Dickin Medal

Dickin Medal

Dickin Medal

Mark Twain said” “Heaven goes by favor; If it went on merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”

Most of us love animals, and the affection and undivided loyalty some species show, especially dogs. Even today, all over the world we hear about courageous animals saving people or doing extraordinary service on battlefields – searching out bomb for instance. In 1943, the founder of the People Dispensary for Sick Animals, Maria Dickin, created an award for any animal within the British Commonwealth armed forces and civil emergency services who had helped preserve human life. However the scope expanded and in addition to British animals, there are American, Canadian, Australian and Egyptian winners of this unique award. It is the Dickin Medal – the animal’s Victoria Cross. Unfortunately, in South East Asia, too many deserving recipients are overlooked or die together with their human friends. Here are those who won the prestigious award in South East Asia.

Sergeant Gander, Dickin Medal

GanderIn 2013, in Belledune, New Brunswick, Canada, a new war memorial is completed together with a statue of a much loved and admired dog, Gander the Newfoundland, the regimental mascot of the Royal Rifles of Canada.
He was donated to the regiment after he accidentally scratched a child, and then accompanied the Canadian battalions to  Hong Kong just prior to the Japanese invasion in 1941.

Sergeant Gander fights

gander-and-royal-rifles (1)When this occurred Gander set about defending his friends from the Japanese, who were generally surprised at his size and sudden appearance. These delays enabled the wounded to be moved, and eventually assisted  in the retreat from the mainland led to various actions on Hong Kong Island. One action, early on in the Japanese attack on Victoria Island, was the action at Lei Yue Mun, where the Canadians attempted to stop one of the the Japanese landings. Gander sat with the wounded helping them to wake up and scramble to safety, but as the attack increased  a Japanese grenade was thrown – which he picked up and charged the Japanese themselves.
Gander died, but saved so many Canadian lives. Gander was awarded the Dickin Medal in 2000, which is displayed in the Canadian War Museum.
For saving the lives of Canadian Infantrymen during the Battle of Lye Mun on Hong Kong island in December 1941. On three documented occasions “Gander” the Newfoundland mascot of the Royal Rifles of Canada engaged the enemy as his regiment joined the Winnipeg Grenadiers, members of Battalion Headquarters “C” Force and other Commonwealth troops in their courageous defence of the Island. Twice “Gander’s” attacks halted the enemy’s advance and protected groups of wounded soldiers. In a final act of bravery the war dog was killed in action gathering a grenade. Without Gander’s  intervention many more lives would have been lost in the assault.”

His name is engraved upon the Canadian War Memorial – “Sergeant Gander, Dickin Medal.”

Ablecat Simon, Dickin Medal


Able Seacat Simon

Able Seacat Simon

The only feline recipient of the medal, Simon, was ship’s cat the HMS Amethyst, a sloop modified as a frigate. In April 1949, the vessel was ordered to steam up the Yangste to relieve HMS Consort, vessels given permission by the Nationalist Government to lie off Nanjing to protect the British Embassy. However this was at the culmination of the Chinese civil war, and by the time Amethyst tried to take station the Communists had taken command on both banks of the river.

Prior to departure from Hong Kong the vessel had taken on supplies – and rats – and a stray harbour cat – which when found by the crew was named named Simon, and he quickly set about dealing with the rats.

HMS Amethyst only got 95 miles upriver before being attacked by Communist shore artillery, which killed the Captain with 24 others, and injured Simon, who became “walking wounded” but he still started after the rats, even after the initial gun battle, especially a huge rat which the sailors called “Mao Tse Tung”. After Simon’s success against Mao he earned promotion to “Able Seacat”.
After duty, Simon would sit with the ratings and the wounded and increased morale immensely.

Against many battle difficulties the Amethyst returned to Hong Kong, and then to England after which Simon sadly died of viral infection. He was buried with full naval military honours, in the presence of the crew of HMS Amethyst.

On his gravestone at the PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, N.E. London  is written:

“Throughout the Yangste Incident his behaviour was of the highest order”

Judy, Dickin Medal

Judy with A/C Frank Williams

Judy with A/C Frank Williams

Judy, a Shanghai dog born in 1937, was bought by the captain of the HMS Gnat to become the ship’s mascot. She was assigned the HMS Grasshopper, which was sunk in 1942 after the fall of Singapore. Judy was seen floating to a piece of flotsam by the survivors who had landed on an uninhabited island. There was no fresh water, until the recovered Judy found a source, and saved the lives of the sailors. The crew then sailed to Sumatra on a requisitioned Chinese junk.

A Japanese patrol vessel discovered the survivors” when they walked into an occupied village, and they became POW’s. Judy was smuggled in to the Medan camp in a sack. Unfortunately many of the guards were Korean, who ate dogs. Judy’s fate could have been obvious, but she had one protector – Leading Aircraftman Frank Williams. He persuaded the Japanese commandant,(who was drunk) to give her full POW status, which he did, after being promised one of her puppies. This was the only time an animal was afforded the “status” of “Prisoner of War “during the WW2.
Judy intervened numerous times when prisoners were about to be beaten by the guards, and when they tired of chasing her Williams negotiated a peace.


Judy receives her Dickin Medal from the Viscount Tarbat. Frank Williams is on the right. JUdy was awarded the Dickin Medal and became a member of the Returned POW Association.

Judy receives her Dickin Medal from the Viscount Tarbat. Frank Williams is on the right. JUdy was awarded the Dickin Medal and became a member of the Returned POW Association.

Eventually, in 1944 Williams was transferred with others to another camp in Singapore, and the vessel they were on was torpedoed. The surviving prisoners found themselves some 300 metres offshore, and Judy helped many men to shore, dragging them or nudging them awake. She was exhausted but after a rest she promptly disappeared into the bush – but just as suddenly reappeared at the new camp where Williams, who did not know of her survival,had just arrived. He was suddenly aware when she lept upon his back.

This camp was on Sumatra. Here they stayed until liberation in 1945, surviving many scrapes and “almost” disasters, and then she was smuggled onto a British troop ship to Liverpool. She became the only canine member of the Returned Prisoner of War Association.

Judy lived a long life, a constant companion of Frank Williams, and died in Africa. Her medal citation reads:

” For magnificent courage and endurance in Japanese prison camps which helped maintain morale amongst her fellow prisoner and also for saving many lives through her intelligence and watchfulness”

To date there have only been 64 recipients of the Dickin Medal, including pigeons,horses, dogs and a cat. Presently the most recent heroes have seen service in Afghanistan. Each recipient has an amazing story. 

There are many more animal heroes, but these are the Dickin Medal recipients who saw service in South East Asia .

“Beauty without vanity, strength without insolence, courage without ferocity, and all the virtues of man without his vice.”


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