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27 November 2014
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Pigeon tank (Pic: Imperial War Museum)
A pigeon being released from a tank

Paws that fought

Jo O'Connor
A pigeon that saved aircrew, a horse that survived an IRA bomb and a spaniel that located a cache of arms in Iraq are among some of the animals remembered for their war efforts in a new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North.

The Animals’ War explores the extraordinary role that animals have played in conflict from the First World War through to the present day.

Around 16 million animals served during the First World War. By 1916 countries involved in the conflict had raised 103 cavalry divisions with more than a million horses.

K-Dog (Pic: REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Brien Aho)
K-Dog the Bottle Nose Dolphin

In World War II more than 200, 000 carrier pigeons were used by Britain's armed forces and secret service organisations, and, more recently, dolphins’ sonar has been used to find mines in the Persian Gulf.

Tails of the unexpected

Using photographs, film, paintings and memorabilia, the exhibition reveals fascinating stories of many animals that lent a paw during war, including springer spaniel Buster, a Royal Army Veterinary Corps dog, who was awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal for finding a hidden stash of explosives and bomb making equipment in Iraq.

Winkie the pigeon, who saved the lives of aircrew by carrying a message revealing their location, joins Roselle the Labrador in the category for bravery. The dog led her blind owner to safety from the 78th floor of the World Trade Centre. More than 300 search and rescue dogs were used to look for survivors and the dead in Ground Zero.

Cat out of hell

A portrait of Simon the cat, who won a Dickin medal posthumously in 1949, is also included in the exhibition. The cat was famous for catching rats on board HMS Amethyst.

Simon the cat (Pic: Imperial War Museum North)
Simon on board HMS Amethyst

Despite suffering from shrapnel in the leg and back after the ship was shelled by Chinese Communists, the brave kitty continued to catch rats.

His rat catching skills were so good, word spread, and when the ship sailed into Hong Kong, letters, toys and tinned food awaited him. Sadly, Simon died in quarantine. He is the only cat to be awarded the medal, known as the ‘animals Victoria Cross’.

The Dickin Medal was named after Maria Dikin, the founder of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA). Between 1943 and 1949, 54 animals received the medal, including 32 pigeons, 18 dogs and 3 horses. The most recent Dickin Medal went to Sadie, an arms and explosives search dog.

The free exhibition opens with a family fun day on Saturday 26 May and runs until January 6 2008. For more information contact the Imperial War Museum North.

last updated: 24/05/07
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