The ideas of war and conflict spark countless visuals in our heads, almost all of them violent and depressing, aside from the occasional flash of a Hollywood happy ending that you might have come across on Netflix. We envision the men, women, and children between the trenches and the home front but one visual we overlook is the furry friends by their sides. Just because we figured out cars, tanks, and planes doesn’t mean the war horses of the centuries before were forgotten. If anything they became used more so and with them more animal species were recruited and sent to the Front Lines on missions to the point that some received medals alongside their human comrades.
In 2011, an Australian military unit disembarked their helicopter transport a few hundred metres away from a target location in Afghanistan. Not long after continuing on foot, Kuga (a Belgian Malinois canine), leading the group, sensed a threat hidden within the trees on the opposite side of a small river and immediately set out to apprehend the concealed insurgents. The rebel forces were forced to fire on Kuga as he closed the distance, thereby revealing their position to the rest of Kuga’s unit who would have otherwise been undoubtedly fatally ambushed.
Kuga died of his wounds back home and posthumously became the first Australian animal to receive the PDSA Dickin Medal for saving the lives of his unit by ultimately sacrificing his own and thereby totally breaking our hearts a little bit... OK, maybe a lot.
We know you’re still thinking about the war cat though. Yep, Simon the tomcat was adopted by the crew of the Amethyst in 1948 shortly before they set course to dock near the British embassy in Nanking, China, as an escape option in case China’s civil war became too dangerous to remain in the city. However, the Chinese Communist forces fired upon the Amethyst on its way in and the vessel was forced to hide in a nearby creek where it was essentially held hostage for 101 days. From the attack, the crew suffered 20 casualties, major structural damage to the ship, and Simon himself was found with multiple pieces of shrapnel imbued in his back and legs with burns over his face. The medical officer nursed the young tomcat back to health but no one realised how valuable Simon would prove to be.
Rats had infested the damaged parts of the ship quickly and were destroying the crew’s only food rations but Simon, upon recovery, took up the task of daily de-infestation and were it not for him, the crew may not have survived long enough for the night to come when they took an opportunity to escape on open sea under the cover of darkness. Upon Simon’s expatriation to England he was appointed a “cat officer” to deal with up to 200 letters of adoration a day, as well as cat food and toys, not to mention a feature in LIFE Magazine and, of course, the PDSA Dickin Medal, proving Simon to be a rare example of the argument against the whole ‘cats are evil’ thing.
The PDSA records of Dickin Medal recipients contain many more heartwarming stories; Judy, the english pointer who distributed driftwood to otherwise sure-to-drown crew members of a sinking ship, Sergeant Reckless, a horse who saved countless lives by carrying wounded soldiers to safety only to return to the live battlefield repeatedly, G.I. Joe, a carrier pigeon who flew through artillery barrages to deliver a vital message and many more.
The Dickin Medal reads “We Also Serve” and therefore we shall also remember, not only the recipients of this medal but also those animals who perhaps fought on the opposing side of the conflict and any more that didn’t have a chance to be remembered.