Source: ABC News (Extract)
Posted: March 12, 2023

Animals have a long history of being sent to battlefields to act in many different roles, and have saved countless human lives.

Dogs were deployed overseas to sniff out the enemy, find fallen soldiers and send messages to the frontline, while cats were common in the trenches and aboard ships to provide comfort to troops and prevent disease outbreaks by hunting rats and mice.

The RAF Bomber Command heavily relied on homing pigeons during World War II — with crews releasing them through the window of their plane when it is being shot down, so the bird can fly the coordinates of the downed plane back to base.

Some of the more well-known animals that served in war include a black Labrador cross named Caesar, who was tasked with sniffing out the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.

He saved dozens of Australian lives when he placed his paw on his handler’s foot and alerted him and others to an unexploded landmine — despite not being trained to do so.

During WWII, a pigeon known as Q879 from the Australian Army Signal Corps, received a Dickin medal for saving a US Marine patrol that was being attacked by Japanese forces on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.

Despite being shot at multiple times, Q879 delivered a call for help after making it back to headquarters in record time.

And then there is the heartwarming story of a horse that was able to get a badly wounded soldier back to base safely in the dead-of-the-night during WWI.

Calls for more recognition

While the actions of humans in war are regularly commemorated, there are only a few occasions where animals who served in war are recognised in Australia.

But a number of people hope to change that.

Terese Binns is the Campbell Town organiser for the national War Animal Remembrance Day, which is held in February each year around the country.

The service at this year’s event, in Tasmania’s Midlands, gave hundreds of people the opportunity to reflect and honour the contribution of all war animals.

“We recognise their loyalty and service in conflicts and in peacekeeping roles and we do not forget their incredible work and sacrifice, because we must remember animals died too,” she said.

“We think of all the animals involved in the First and Second World War and the ones that continue to serve.”

Hobart resident Suzanne Curry has written about the Australian war dogs that were sent to Vietnam to track the enemy, in an effort to raise awareness of the history and highlight what happened to the four-legged soldiers in the aftermath.

“The dogs needed to find the enemy before they could sense them.”

Ms Curry describes her disbelief when she discovered no dog ever returned home to Australia after the Vietnam War.

“I sit and ponder how these war dogs, who served this country for the entirety of the war, for whatever disgraceful reasons, were left behind,” she said.

“Thankfully, as a result of public pressure, every Australian dog who is deployed overseas is now repatriated.”

‘Riders would share their last drop of water with the horses’

The Tasmanian Light Horse is teaching younger generations about how instrumental horses were in the battle of Romani defending the Suez Canal against the advancing Turkish forces, and in the following Sinai and Palestine offensive.

Troop Sergeant Nevill Thomas said Australian soldiers had great respect for the horses that served in war, and who proved so successful that they were in great demand by the British Army.

“The riders would share their last drop of water with the horses, even if it was just to wet a handkerchief and wipe their nostril and squeeze a few drops into their mouth,” Mr Thomas said.

“There were a few tough men who would shed a tear if their animals were killed or injured in action.”

National day for war animals

Organisations such as the Australian Defence Force Trackers and War Dog Association, and the Australian War Animal Memorial Organisation (AWAMO) are working tirelessly to promote the work of military dogs and other animals that served in war.

National Military Working Dog Day is held in June and the AWAMO has been successful in establishing a number of animal memorials in Australia and overseas, as well as getting a national day of remembrance on February 24.

“Nine million animals died in the First World War on both sides and it’s important to recognise the deeds and sacrifices of all animals that served alongside soldiers,” AWAMO president Nigel Allsopp said.

“No-one wants to go to war, and wouldn’t it be good if one day we didn’t have to send our children … or pets to war.”

The organisation is currently lobbying the federal government to get more recognition for operational dogs serving in the Australian Defence Force, which includes a pension when they retire from duty.

“Dogs are certainly needed because there are no tools to replace them, but the federal government needs to consider giving these animals a pension, which they don’t currently get,” Mr Allsopp said.

“[Without a pension] it means the dog’s handler has to fork out money for vet bills once it retires.”