The Dickin Medal has been called "the Victoria Cross for animals." The award was created in the UK by Maria Dickin CBE in 1943 to honor valiant animals who served in World War II. It is a bronze medal of a laurel wreath surrounding the words "For Gallantry" and "We Also Serve." It hangs from a ribbon of sky blue, dark brown, and green. It was most recently awarded just last month to a dog named Kuga.

Kuga, Dickin Medal Recipient
Kuga, Dickin Medal Recipient

Image via ABC

Dickin was a pioneering animal and social activist born in 1870. In 1917 she started the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) which now oversees the Dickin Award. The medal is awarded to animals who have shown "conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defense Units"

The Dickin Medal
The Dickin Medal

Image via PDSA

The medal was awarded 54 times between 1943 and 1949 to 2 pigeons, 18 dogs, 3 horses, and a ship's cat. Since then the award has been given to animals from conflicts from World War I forward. Overall 70 animals have received the award, plus 1 honorary award that was given to War Horse Warriors to recognize all of the animals who served in the first World War.

Rob, the Parachuting Dog Receiving His Award, 1945
Rob, the Parachuting Dog Receiving His Award, 1945

Image via Wikipedia

While it is primarily dogs who serve in the military these days, that was not so true of the past. Before radio communication was common pigeons were employed to fly messages back and forth between front line units and the rear echelon. Horses served in the cavalry and both horses and mules were used as pack animals to move supplies. Cats were largely used on ships to keep down rat populations that threatened food supplies.

Rip Discovered People in the Rubble During the Blitz in London
Rip Discovered People in the Rubble During the Blitz in London

Image via Wikipedia

The first animal to receive the Dickin Medal was a female pigeon named White Vision who was working with the Royal Air Force (RAF). She was officially stationed in the Shetland Islands. White Vision delivered a message from a flying boat that had been forced to ditch in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland. This allowed for a search and all eleven members of the crew were rescued.

William of Orange Received the Medal in 1945
William of Orange Received the Medal in 1945

Image via Wikipedia

The most recent horse to receive the award was a Mongolian mare named Reckless who served in the Korean War. She received her award posthumously on July 28, 2016. Staff Sergeant Reckless was purchased by members of the United States Marine Corps for $250 from a stable boy in Seoul who was desperate to get money to buy his sister an artificial leg. She was trained to be a pack horse for the Recoilless Rifle Platoon. She made 51 trips by herself to resupply several front line units in a single day. She also helped evacuate wounded soldiers.

Sergeant Reckless
Sergeant Reckless

Image via Wikipedia

Reckless had free range of the camp and would wander in to various tents to sleep on cold nights. She had a well-known reputation for eating anything -- scrambled eggs, beer, Coke, poker chips. Like many pets, food could not be left unattended around her. She was wounded twice and became the first horse in the Marine Corps to participate in an amphibious landing. What a gal! Earlier this year a bronze statue of Reckless was erected in the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.

Sergeant Reckless Under Fire
Sergeant Reckless Under Fire

Image via Wikipedia

Last month a Belgian Malinois from Australia named Kuga received the medal for his service in Afghanistan. In August 2011, while on a routine patrol, Kuga sensed an insurgent hiding nearby. He took off into a creek and his handler watched the dog as bullets struck the water all around him. Kuga pushed on to the other side of the river and grabbed the guy. Kuga's actions forced the insurgent to fire at him instead of at the men on patrol and caused the insurgent to run away. Kuga had been shot five times and received shrapnel wounds over much of his body. He also had a broken leg.

Kuga on Duty
Kuga on Duty

Image via ABC

His handler called him and, injured as he was, he came. Since Kuga hadn't given up, no one gave up on him. An emergency medical evacuation was called in.The next nine months saw Kuga with veterinarians in Afghanistan, Germany, and Australia. However, the stress of all those injuries ended up proving to be too much for him and he died in July, 2012.

Off-Duty Kuga
Off-Duty Kuga

Image via Wikipedia

The one cat to be awarded the Dickin Medal, Simon, served on the HMS Amethyst, a British war ship, after the end of World War II. Simon was smuggled on board the ship in Hong Kong by Seaman George Hickinbottom. He didn't stay hidden in the seaman's cabin long and was soon found out. Fortunately the captain was a cat lover and Simon was allowed to stay. He proved his worth by being an expert rat catcher. For more information on Simon and other sea-going cats, click here. Simon's story also inspired the book "Able Seacat Simon: The Wartime Hero of the High Seas."

Able Seacat Simon
Able Seacat Simon

Image via Know Your Cat

This year marked the 75th anniversary of the Dickin Medal. I have always found it somewhat interesting that the animal whisperer in the book The Secret Garden was a boy named Dickon. Perhaps there really is something to a name.

Sources: PDSA, Know Your Cat, ABC, Wikipedia, Wikipedia, Wikipedia

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