Animals in War- Top Military Pets of All-TimeReading Time: 5 minutes
Military life is all about discipline and uniform behavior, so it can be difficult to stand out. Still, there are people who are able to rise through the buzz-cut masses and create a career path that is truly the stuff of legends. And sometimes, these extraordinary people . . . aren’t even people. Animals have always played a role in warfare, whether they’ve been used as tools or simply to boost the morale of soldiers, it can be easy to forget the massive contributions animals in war have made during our darkest hours.
Animals in War- SGT. Bill Canadian Hero of World War I
A train full of Canadian soldiers bought a goat as a mascot while they were passing through Broadview, Saskatchewan. They managed to avoid quarantine and smuggle the goat into France. Bill stayed with his unit, suffering shrapnel wounds, shell shock, and trench foot. He went missing once, and was once arrested for eating military equipment. Yet he was credited with saving at least three lives when he head-butted men into a trench to avoid an exploding shell.
Sgt. Bill was honored with the 1914 Star, the General Service Medal, and the Victory Medal for his war efforts, and, after being retired, returned to Saskatchewan. After he died, the goat was mounted and is now a part of the Broadview Museum. The hero goat of World War I is the subject of an upcoming movie, The Invincible Sgt. Bill.
Animals in War- Wojtek Polish Artillery Bear of World War II
In 1943, a Polish artillery supply company found a small brown bear cub while fighting in the Middle East. Unwilling to leave the bear to die in the middle of Iranian wilderness, they adopted him and named him Wojtek. The bear enjoyed the company of other soldiers, and even playfully wrestled them on occasion. He could even perform a fairly convincing military salute. To fully prove that he was a natural back-line soldier, Wojtek even developed a taste for beer and cigarettes.
When the company was deployed to support the British in the Italian campaign, pets weren’t allowed on the transport ships. The Polish force cleverly got around this by officially enlisting Wojtek as a private. For the rest of the war, Private Wojtek traveled with the company. He slept in a specially constructed truck crate, or in the tents with other soldiers. Since the unit’s function was to provide munitions for the artillery, Wojtek could also do his share of combat. During the Battle of Monte Cassino, he carried munition along with his friends and never dropped a crate.
Wojtek the Soldier Bear survived the war and moved to the Edinburgh Zoo, which is apparently the go-to home for military animals of all countries. His legacy lives on in the official emblem of the Polish 22nd Transport Company: a bear carrying an artillery shell.
Animals in War- Simon The Ship’s Cat
Simon was born in 1947 in Hong Kong. As a half-grown cat, he was taken aboard the HMS Amethyst to control rats. In 1949, the ship was attacked on the Yangtze River in China by communists. Simon was wounded and not found for days. The injured sailors had been evacuated, so the ship’s doctor nursed Simon’s facial burns and shrapnel wounds. As Simon recovered, he resumed rat catching, but also added visiting sick and wounded sailors to his list of duties.
Upon return to Hong Kong, Simon was presented with a campaign ribbon and news that he would receive a Dicken Medal, an award for animal gallantry. When the Amethyst reached England, Simon had to go into quarantine; sadly, he developed an infection and died just before his planned formal medal ceremony. The veterinarian believed the young cat would have recovered if his war wounds hadn’t weakened him. Simon was buried in a specially-made casket with full naval honors.
Animals in War- Siwash The Marine Duck
The First Battalion of the Tenth Marine Regiment managed to acquire a duck named Siwash as a mascot. Supposedly, a Marine won the duck in a poker game in New Zealand. Siwash accompanied the Marines to the Battle of Tarawa in 1943, where the animal engaged in hand-to-hand (or wing-to-wing) combat with a Japanese rooster. A citation was published in LIFE magazine a year later:
For courageous action and wounds received on Tarawa, in the Gilbert Islands, November 1943. With utter disregard for his own personal safety, Siwash, upon reaching the beach, without hesitation engaged the enemy in fierce combat, namely, one rooster of Japanese ancestry, and though wounded on the head by repeated pecks, he soon routed the opposition. He refused medical aid until all wounded members of his section had been care of.
Siwash was referred to as “he” during the war, and then “she” in her retirement at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Trained zoo personnel probably could tell better than the Marines. Still, it’s sad that she had to hide her gender in order to serve. Siwash lived until 1954, when she died of a liver ailment. According to Siwash’s obituary, the duck’s death had no connection to her “fondness for beer.” A service was held at a taxidermist’s shop.
Animals in War- Sgt. Stubby Hero Dog of World War I
Probably the most famous war dog, this American Pit Bull Terrier was the only dog to be given the rank of sergeant. Stubby wandered into the encampment and was adopted by the 102nd infantry of Massachusetts in 1917. When the infantry shipped out to Europe, Stubby was smuggled onto the ship bound for France. During World War I, Stubby kept watch and alerted the troops to German attacks. He was wounded by a hand grenade, gassed several times, and once found a German spy and held him by the seat of the pants until American troops could complete the capture.
When his master, Corporal J. Robert Conroy was wounded, Stubby accompanied him to the hospital and made rounds to cheer the troops. He eventually became a highly decorated dog, amassing medals for service, campaigns, and battles, a Purple Heart, and various veteran’s awards. A group of French women made Stubby a chamois blanket decorated with Allied flags to display his medals. Stubby died in his owner’s arms in 1926.
Animals in War- Sgt. Reckless Korean War Veteran Horse
In 1952, a young Korean sold his beloved race horse Ah Chim Hai (Flame in the Morning) to the U.S. Marines so he could purchase a prosthetic leg for his sister, who had lost her limb to a land mine. The Marines renamed the mare Reckless. She was very friendly with the troops, sharing their rations, entering their quarters, and snuggling with them on cold nights. Reckless’s appetite was famous: She loved candy, beer, eggs, and coffee—anything the Marines ate—and would even eat poker chips or a hat if she was feeling stubborn.
Reckless was used to carry ammunition. Her finest hour came during the five-day Battle of Outpost Vega in March of 1953, when she made 51 trips to the front in just one day—most of them unaccompanied—to ferry ammunition in and wounded Marines out. That was a total of 9000 pounds of ammunition, and over 35 miles of walking under enemy fire. Reckless was wounded twice, but kept going.
For her bravery, Reckless was promoted to Staff Sergeant. She was eventually awarded two Purple Hearts and a slew of other medals. After the war, Sgt. Reckless was shipped to the U.S. She arrived in San Francisco on November 10, 1954 (the Marine Corps birthday), and was feted at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball that evening, where she ate both the cake and the flowers. Just before a parade was held for her promotion, she ate her custom-made blanket, and a substitute had to be constructed quickly to hold her medals. Sgt. Reckless lived peacefully at Camp Pendleton until her death in 1968.
Animals in War- Judy British Dog Hero of World War II
Judy became famous in history as the only dog to be registered as a POW during WWII. She was a Royal Navy mascot serving on the HMS Grasshopper when the ship was bombed and caught fire in February 1942. Judy and many of the ship’s people survived, making it to shore on an uninhabited island with little food and no apparent water. Judy was credited with saving everyone’s lives when she unearthed a fresh water spring. A few days later, the survivors traveled by boat and trekked 200 miles to the war camp in Medan, with Judy hidden beneath empty rice sacks. Judy made it to the camp, and met Leading Aircraftman Frank Williams of the Royal Air Force (RAF).
Judy was viewed as a guardian angel to the prisoners. She would alert the men of dangers like scorpions and poisonous snakes, and she would bark, snarl and lunge at the guards when they would beat the prisoners. In June 1944, the prisoners were transferred to Singapore aboard the SS Van Waerwijck. Dogs were not allowed on the ship, but Williams smuggled her on board in a rice sack. The ship was torpedoed on June 26 and began to sink. In a desperate attempt to save Judy’s life, Williams pushed her out of a small porthole with a 15 foot drop to the water.
About 200 people died that day, but Williams managed to make it out alive. He spent two hours in the water, frantically searching for Judy. She was nowhere to be seen. Once ashore, Williams was recaptured and two days later sent to a new prison camp. He had given up on ever seeing Judy again. Miraculously, they were reunited. “When I entered the camp, a ragged dog jumped me from behind with a great amount of force, flooring me,” Williams recalled. “She was covered in bunker oil and her old, tired eyes were red.” Williams was in tears.
His hope was renewed and his determination to survive was restored. Williams learned about Judy’s heroism on that fateful day – how she helped save many men from drowning by bringing debris to them to keep them afloat, or by letting the men hold onto her back while she swam them to safety. Judy was a hero, and was awarded the highest honor an animal could receive, the Dickin Medal, for her courage and service. The inscription on Judy’s Dickin Medal reads “For magnificent courage and endurance in Japanese prison camps, which helped maintain morale among her fellow prisoners and also for saving many lives through her intelligence and watchfulness.”
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