The Dickin Medal, often referred to as the animals' Victoria Cross, is an award given to animals having displayed great gallantry and devotion to duty. Named after Maria Dickin, it was created in 1943 and is awarded by the PDSA (also founded by Maria Dickin). The first recipient of the award was a white mongrel named Bob, attached to the Queen's Own Royal West Kents (an infantry unit). While on a night patrol mission in North Africa, the dog suddenly froze and refused to move. His companions could see no reason for this until a sudden noise betrayed the presence of a German unit. Had the men advanced but a few yards further they could have been killed or captured.

The medal is a large bronze medallion, with a laurel wreath round the edge and bearing the words "For Gallantry" and "We also serve" (in smaller letters). The ribbon is striped green, dark brown and pale blue that symbolize water, earth and air, which in turn represent the 3 branches of the armed forces.

The medal was originally created for animals having served in World War II and its aftermath. Between 1943 and 1949 54 medals were awarded. Man's best friend may be the dog, but the 18 awards (24 counting medals awarded recently) received by dogs are outnumbered by the 32 given to carrier pigeons who on numerous occasions defied the enemy or the elements to deliver messages of crucial importance. 3 horses and one cat have also received the award. Although initially the medal was created for those having served with Britain's armed forces many "foreign" dogs have since received the award.

The last medal was given to Simon, ship's cat and able seaman of HMS Amethyst. During the Yang Tse incident, the ship was trapped on the river for 3 months with no additional supplies. Simon protected the ship's supplies from rats and helped maintain crew morale. No further medals were awarded until October 2000 when Gander, a Newfoundland dog and mascot of the Royal Rifles of Canada, was awarded the 55th Dickin medal for his actions during the defense of Hong Kong. He saved many men in his unit by gathering a grenade that landed next to a group of wounded soldiers.

The first awards for events occurring after World War 2 were given after the events of September 11, 2001. Three dogs were presented with the award; Salty and Roselle were guide dogs who led their blind owners (as well as others) through smoke and dust down more than 70 flights of stairs to safety and Appollo was an NYPD dog who received the award on behalf of all the Search and Rescue dogs who worked tirelessly among the debris of the World Trade Center. In 2003, the year of the 60th anniversary of the award, a posthumous award was given to Sam of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps for his outstanding gallantry during the Bosnia Herzegovina conflict, and to Buster (also of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps) for locating a hidden cache of arms and explosives in Iraq.

Whatever one thinks of war, the devotion displayed by these animals (and the many who remain nameless) dragged into conflicts that were not their own is nothing short of outstanding.

Sources: http://www.pdsa.org.uk/pages/page01_13.cfm
http://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/dickin/
http://www.eadieshouse.org/eadies/dickinmedal.html
http://homepage.ntlworld.com/k.westgate/history5.htm

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