In 1917 Maria Dickin founded an animal charity People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) in the United Kingdom. During WWII she introduced the Dickin Medal which honors the bravery and devotion to duty of animals in wartime. The medal is considered to be the animal equivalent of the British Victoria Cross. Recipients of the award have included pigeons, dogs, horses, and a cat. Below are the stories of three of the animal heroes.
Southill Street Air Raid Warden Mr. E. King found a stray dog in the Poplar area of East London in 1940. It was discovered that Rip had an instinctive ability to find people buried beneath the rubble of buildings bombed by the German Luftwaffe during the London Blitz (1940-1941). He is credited with saving the lives of over 100 people. Rip was London’s first “search and rescue” dog.
Rip’s Dickin Award Citation: “For locating many air-raid victims during the Blitz of 1940.”
Pigeon, William of Orange, served with the British Army Pigeon Service (APS) in WWII. When elements of the British 1st Airborne Division and the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade were surrounded by German forces near the town of Arnhem, Netherlands, during Operation Market Garden (September 17-25, 1944), the pigeon was released with a message to carry back to England. He flew over 250 miles through bad weather in 4 hours and 25 minutes to his home loft there. His flying speed was calculated at nearly 60 miles per hour or 1,740 yards per minute. The information in the message was used to develop a troop withdrawal plan (called Operation Berlin) which resulted in over 2,000 British and Polish soldiers escaping through German lines.
William of Orange Dickin Medal Citation: “For delivering a message from the Arnhem Airborne Operation in record time for any single pigeon, while serving with the APS in September 1944.”
Judy was an English Pointer born in Shanghai, China, in 1936 and became a British Royal Navy ship mascot on His Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Gnat and later on the gunboat HMS Grasshopper.
The HMS Grasshopper was sunk February 14, 1942, during the Malaya-Singapore Campaign (1941-1942). Judy, with surviving HMS Grasshopper crew members, was marooned for a time on an uninhabited island off of Sumatra. She was able to locate fresh water on the island for them to drink. They eventually made their way to Sumatra, and after trekking 200 miles through the jungle, they were captured by the Japanese and became prisoners of war (POW). The crew members smuggled Judy into the POW camp with them.
It was at the Medan, Indonesia, Gloergoer POW camp that Judy met Royal Air Force Leading Aircraftsman Frank Williams in 1942. In the POW camp Judy would snarl and growl at Japanese guards who were beating POWs. Frank Williams knew this kind of behavior would probably result in Judy being killed. He convinced the camp commandant to register the dog as a POW hoping that would save her life. It worked. Judy became POW #81A.
In 1944, Medan camp POWs, including Judy, were put on the Steam Ship (SS) Van Waryck which was to transport them to Singapore. A torpedo from the British submarine HMS Truculent sank the ship on June 26. Judy, Frank Williams, and other POWs survived the sinking. While they were in the water, it is said Judy would swim over to drowning men, let them grab hold of her, and then swim with them to some debris or wreckage that would help them stay afloat. All were again captured by the Japanese and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp in Sumatra.
In 1945 WWII ended. Being hidden yet another time, Judy was smuggled back to Britain on the SS Atenor with Frank Williams and other released POWs. Frank Williams credited Judy with saving his life. He said she lifted his morale and gave him a reason to live in order to protect her.
Judy’s Dickin Medal Citation: “For magnificent courage and endurance in Japanese prison camps, which helped to maintain morale among her fellow prisoners and also for saving many lives through her intelligence and watchfulness.”
The award of the Dickin Medal continues today.
Sir William Proctor Smith of Cheshire, England, the original owner and breeder of William of Orange, bought the pigeon from the APS after WWII ended. Smith commented, some 10 years later, that William of Orange was “the grandfather of many outstanding racing pigeons.”
Judy was the only dog registered as a POW in WWII. She spent the rest of her life with Frank Williams after the war.
Thank you to W. O’Konski for his assistance in writing this story.