An exhibition honouring hero animals from World War I and II will go on display to members of the public for the first time this half term at the National Army Museum in Chelsea, London.
The exhibition is part of leading veterinary charity PDSA’s celebrations to mark the 75thanniversary of the PDSA Dickin Medal.
The Medal, which is awarded to animals that display conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving in military conflict, was first awarded to messenger pigeon named Winkie on 3 December 1943.
The full exhibition – PDSA Dickin Medal: Extraordinary Animals In Action – honours the incredible animals: 34 dogs, 32 pigeons, four horses and one cat, who have received the PDSA Dickin Medal. An Honorary PDSA Dickin Medal was also bestowed to ‘the real war horse’, Warrior, on 2 September 2014, on behalf of the 16 million animals that served in the Great War.
Two ‘pods’ from the full exhibition will be on display in the Atrium of the National Army Museum until Wednesday 27 February. These ‘pods’ feature stories of some of the horses who have been awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal, along with details of why the medal was instituted by the charity’s founder, Maria Dickin.
Feline Heroes Featured in the Exhibition
In the summer of 1949, at the height of the Chinese Civil War, HMS Amethyst came under People’s Liberation Army artillery fire while cruising along the Yangtze river. The ship’s captain, Lieutenant Commander Skinner, died when an artillery shell blew a 15-foot hole in the bulkhead and many others were injured, including the ship’s cat, Simon.
HMS Amethyst received more than 50 direct hits and despite the efforts of a passing Navy Frigate to pull it to safety, the ship and the crew members left on board ended up stranded in mid-river for almost 10 weeks.
Hot, humid conditions were the perfect breeding ground for a rat infestation. The already limited food supplies were in danger of being completely destroyed. Despite shrapnel wounds to his legs
and burns to his back and face, Simon was all that stood between the rats and the crew’s essential supplies.
The rats were big and fierce, and had even attacked crew members, but this didn’t stop Simon from hunting them down. One particularly vicious rat, nicknamed Mao Tse-tung, carried out repeated attacks on the meagre food supplies. When Simon killed it, the crew were so impressed they promoted Simon to ‘Able Seaman’ in recognition of his achievement.
As the weeks went by, Simon continued protecting supplies and lifting his injured shipmates’ morale when accompanying the Maintenance Officer on his daily rounds. Simon later received the Amethyst campaign ribbon for ‘distinguished and meritorious service… single-handedly and unarmed stalk down and destroy ‘Moa Tse-tung’ a rat guilty of raiding food supplies which were critically short. Be it further known that from April 22 to August 4, you did rid HMS Amethyst of pestilence and vermin, with unrelenting faithfulness’.
Simon received his PDSA Dickin Medal posthumously in 1949 and was buried with full military honours in PDSA’s Animal Cemetery in Ilford, Essex. His citation read: “Served on HMS Amethyst during the Yangtse Incident, disposing of many rats though wounded by shell blast. Throughout the incident his behaviour was of the highest order, although the blast was capable of making a hole over a foot in diameter in a steel plate.”
Equine Heroes Featured in the Exhibition
Sgt Reckless (horse) – DM68
The Korean War included some of the fiercest combat in military history. Originally bred as a racehorse, Sgt Reckless – called after the nickname used for the ‘Recoilless Rifle’ she carried ammunition for – joined the Anti-Tank Division of the US Marines in October 1952.
She completed gruelling missions in mountainous terrain and often freezing conditions. Despite constant enemy fire and numerous hazards, including shell craters and barbed wire, Reckless carried out her duties and quickly became a much-loved, morale-boosting comrade.
During Battle of Outpost Vegas in March 1953, she made 51 supply trips to the frontline in five days – carrying more than 386 rounds of ammunition weighing around five tonnes in total – through steep mountains and open paddy fields. Constantly under fire and facing up to 500 rounds per minute, Reckless was wounded twice.
She bravely transported multiple casualties to safety on her return trips. After loading up with ammunition, she repeated the process: again, and again and again. How many lives she helped save is unknown.
On 15 June 1957 she was promoted to ‘Sergeant Reckless’ in recognition of her combat record. She was posthumously awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal on 27 July 2016.
Warrior (horse) – DM (Hon)
Known to many as ‘The horse the Germans couldn’t kill’, Warrior’s story is one of the most remarkable tales of animal bravery and endurance to emerge from the Great War.
General Jack Seely left his home on the Isle of Wight in 1914 to take command of the Canadian Cavalry Corps. His beloved horse Warrior, a thoroughbred stallion, travelled to the Western Front with him. Over the next four years, Warrior witnessed the full horror of war during major battles, including the first day of the Battle of the Somme and the muddy hell of Passchendaele.
Trapped in burning stables twice, buried in rubble and mud, and regularly subjected to intensive attack from machine guns and mortar shells, Warrior survived it all. In March 1918 he led a cavalry charge against the Germans at Amiens, which proved to be one of the most crucial battles of the whole campaign and helped bring the end of the conflict closer.
Warrior was posthumously awarded the Honorary PDSA Dickin Medal on 2 September 2014 to mark 100 years since the start of the Great War. The only recipient to pre-date the Medal’s institution in 1943, he received the Medal on behalf of all animals that served.
Emma Harper, Head of Exhibitions at the National Army Museum, said: “We are very excited to host part of PDSA’s debut exhibition this half term which provides a fantastic opportunity to bring to life the stories of the hero horses who played such a vital role during times of conflict around the world.
“The showcase is particularly complimentary to First World War artist, Alfred Munnings’ exhibition, which is currently on display and features the war horse, Warrior. It’s a fantastic opportunity to knit these two poignant exhibitions together and we hope people will go away with a greater understanding of the incredible role that horses and animals have played in the theatre of war.”
About the PDSA Dickin Medal
The PDSA Dickin Medal was instituted by Maria Dickin, CBE. Maria founded PDSA on 17 November 1917 to relieve poverty in unique way; by alleviating the suffering of animals through the provision of free veterinary treatment to the pets of people in need.
A quarter of a century later, she saw the vital, life-saving roles animals were playing in the war effort – both on the home front and Front Line – and wanted to ensure they were recognised. She sought to raise the status of animals in society – believing that would improve their care. So, with the support of the War Office and Imperial War Museum, the PDSA Dickin Medal was born.
Recipients of the prestigious Medal hail from histories deadliest warzones. From the battlegrounds of World War I and II, to the Korean War and Chinese Civil War, and the more recent conflicts in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Over a century after it was founded, PDSA is the UK’s leading veterinary charity and strives to improve the wellbeing of all pets’ lives through providing preventive care, educating pet owners and treating pets when they become sick or injured. Today, PDSA treats around 470,000 pets in need a year, helping around 300,000 of the UK’s most vulnerable families through its nationwide network of 48 Pet Hospitals.
The DM75 exhibition will be touring the UK over the next two years, and will be on display at the National Army Museum until 27 February 2019.
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