It doesn’t matter whether a dog is big or small, a stray, an unwanted ruffian or a pampered pet, the thing that singles them out is their loyalty and bravery.
Even though we are talking about dogs in wartime, these stories aren’t all about highly trained dogs who have had specific training regimens - there are dogs who have acted on their own initiative. Even dogs such as Peter, who had training to find humans, also wanted to help any creature trapped, rescuing an African Grey Parrot in the course of his work. Time and again, without being asked, these dogs knew instinctively how and when to react in particular situations. Saving their colleagues, friends and strangers, they possess a bravery that very few humans can ever match.
It seems that no matter how many amazing feats and life saving tasks dogs perform for us, people will still say things like ‘you can’t bond with an older dog’, ‘they need to be a puppy to train them’ or simply that ‘strays are no good’ they’re ignoring some of the most loyal, brave and amazing dogs in the world.
And if they don’t believe you, just the story of Sergeant Stubby, the stray whose dedication, bravery and fortitude saved many lives, should be more than enough to convince them.
The story of Sergeant Stubby sounds like the exploits of a dog from a newspaper cartoon serial; from a stray dog who appeared at the New Haven Connecticut military training camp he became a genuine World War I hero who even caught German Spies!
No one knows where Stubby originally came from. There is a lot of speculation over Stubby’s breed; but certainly his size and build made him look like a bull terrier of some sort. Whatever his history or breed, Stubby found his way to the military training camp in Connecticut.
He would regularly come to watch the training drills, and became a familiar face that the soldiers enjoyed seeing around. One of the soliders, Private Robert Conroy struck up a friendship with Stubby, and even trained him funny little tricks, such as raising his paw as if to salute officers as they walked past. Being a very clever little dog, Stubby enjoyed watching (and no doubt joining in) the military drills and exercises.
When it was time for the troops to ship out, to join the fight in Europe, Private Conroy could not bear to leave Stubby behind. Risking his career, Conroy smuggled Stubby aboard the ship. Mascots were not allowed to be on the front lines, and so smuggling a dog aboard against the rules and regulations was a serious offence. It was just a matter of time before Stubby was discovered, and so when Conroy’s Commanding Officer found that Stubby had been brought aboard Conroy feared the worst. However, Conroy should have known better.
Stubby certainly didn’t let a little issue like a Commanding Officer be a problem. As a well-trained little soldier Stubby remembered his ‘military training’ back in Connecticut, and Stubby immediately saluted the Officer. According to Conroy, the Commanding Officer was so impressed that he allowed Stubby to stay on board.
Stubby served for 18 months in France as part of the 102nd Infantry. Despite being under constant fire night and day, Stubby participated in 17 battles and four offensives. During one attack, Stubby was gassed, but survived. This experience taught him how to recognise the danger of gas attacks, and from then on he would alert his fellow soldiers, saving many lives in the process.
His life-saving skills didn’t stop there - Stubby would locate and rescue soldiers from the dangerous environment of no-mans land.
Stubby was also able to alert his fellow infantrymen when shells were incoming before any of the other solider could hear them coming.
If all of those feats weren’t enough reason to commend Stubby as an indispensable member of the war effort, he was also responsible for apprehending a German Spy by biting and holding him by the seat of his trousers!
The bravery and intelligence of Stubby seemed to have no limits, and the story of his exploits were well-known throughout allied territory. When US soldiers helped retake Château-Thierry, the townsfolk were so grateful, they made Stubby a coat made out of Chamois on which his many campaign medals could be hung.
It was during a raid in 1918 that Stubby was injured, and sent to the rear of the lines to recover. Undaunted by his injuries, Stubby simply would not go off duty. Stubby infectious personality and now-famous heroics were vital in improving the morale of injured personnel, just as he had done with the active soldiers while on the front lines.
When Stubby had fully recovered from his injuries, seemingly undaunted, he returned to front line duty.
Thanks to his exploits and medals, he was now known as “Sergeant” Stubby. It wasn’t just Stubby who had received a promotion; Conroy was now a Corporal.
Despite Stubby’s heroic actions, Conroy still had to smuggle Stubby back to America when their tour of duty was over.
Unbeknown to Sergeant Stubby, he had become something of a celebrity in his absence. The tales of his adventures had been recounted to an adoring public in newspaper reports during the war. Such was his popularity, he met a number of US Presidents; Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Warren G. Harding.
Sergeant Stubby even became the team mascot of Georgetown Hoyas’ baseball team after Conroy and Stubby attended Georgetown University Law Centre. At games, Stubby was given the football during halftime and would entertain the crowd with his antics.
Sergeant Stubby passed away in the arms of Conroy in 1926. He is honoured with a brick in the United States World War I monument the “Wall of Honor”. His preserved remains are still featured in an exhibit at the Smithsonian.
It is amazing to think that an unwanted stray animal (whose breed is often denigrated these days), saved countless lives, became a war hero, and it still celebrated to this day.
Bamse was born to be a seadog, and was named after the Norwegian word for ‘Teddy-bear’. His owner was the Captain of the whale catcher Thorodd, and was used to sea-going life from an early age.
Due to the beginning of the Second World War, the Throdd was conscripted as a coastal patrol vessel by the Royal Norweigan Navy. Shortly before the complete Nazi occupation of Norway, the Throdd was able to escape to the United Kingdom. By this time, Bamse had already been enrolled as an official member of the crew.
The Thorodd was converted into a minesweeper, and Bamse had a vital role. During battle, Bamse would stand on the front gun tower of the boat, as if guiding his troops. The crew decided to make Bamse a special metal helmet he could wear into such battles.
Bamse had a strong strong sense of responsibility, and appeared to take on the role of ship security. Not only did he take on the task of ensuring the crew’s safety (he once pushed a knife-wielding assailant into the sea to stop them attacking a young Lieutenant Commander), but he would also break up fights by jumping up and putting his large paws onto the shoulders, claiming them down and leading them back to the Thorodd. He was also responsible for dragging a young sailor who had fallen overboard, back to safety.
During his time in Scotland, Bamse took it upon himself to ensure the crew were present and correct if they went missing. He was well known for rounding up the crew in time for duty. This was no small task - he would take the local buses into Dundee, find the crew and bring them back again. So accomplished at this, Bamse was unaccompanied on these trips, and so the crew bought him his own buss pass, which hung from his collar. On the occassions he could not locate his crew, he would take the return trip back to base - no doubt he didn’t want to fall foul of the curfew.
Due to his bravery and impressive sense of professionalism, Bamse first was awarded the honour of becoming the mascot of the Royal Norwegian Navy. It was probably inevitable that he also become the mascot of all the Free Norwegian Forces.
On the 22nd of July 1944, Bamse died on the docks at Montrose of heart failure. Such was his effect on the his naval comrades, Bamse was buried with full military honours. According to reports, hundreds of servicemen, sailors, and local residents of Dundee and Montrose of all ages attended his funeral.
Even to this day, the Royal Norwegian Navy holds a commemorative ceremony every ten years. In 2006 HRH The Duke of York unveiled a bronze statue of Bamse, crafted by Scottish sculptor Alan Herriot.
Sources seem unclear as to whether Bamse was a male or female, but his official website describes him as male, although other sources believe from photographs, that ‘he’ was a ‘she’. Whatever gender, there’s no argument that Bamse was a big, brave dog with a huge heart.
A dog doesn’t have to be as big as a St. Bernard to make a difference in wartime. During World War II, Smoky, a small Yorkshire Terrier was found down a foxhole in New Guinea. It seems amazing that such a small breed, that had largely become unfashionable by this time, would be stray in the jungles of New Guinea!
The soliders who first found Smoky believed that she must have belonged to the Japanese. This idea was quickly discounted when it become clear that she didn’t understand Japanese or English. One of the soliders that found Smoky, needing money to fund a poker game, sold Smoky to Corporal William A Wynne for two Australian Dollars. This must have been the best spent $2 by Corporal Wynne.
Throughout the rest of the war, Smoky was Wynne’s constant companion on treks through inhospitable terrain and stifling weather conditions. She even accompanied Wynne on a dozen air combat or reconnaissance missions in the Pacific. At one point, Smoky even parachuted 30ft from a tree, using a parachute made especially for her. She saved lives on many occassions warning the troop of incoming air attacks before anyone else could hear a thing. On one occassion, Smoky guided Wynne away from a particular spot on the ship’s deck - moments later a shell hit that section, killing eight fellow servicemen.
Smoky’s bravery and trust in Corporal Wynne made her a vital component during the building of an Airbase in Lingayen Gulf, Luzon. The Signal Corps needed to run a telegraph wire through a 70-foot-long pipe that was just 8 inches in diameter. Due to the conditions, a significant amount of soil had come through the joints of the pipes, making access almost impossible for the engineers. Corporal Wynne, appearing on NBC-TV after the war, recounted the story:
“I tied a string to Smoky's collar and ran to the other end of the culvert. Smoky made a few steps in and then ran back. `Come, Smoky,' I said sharply, and she started through again. When she was about 10 feet in, the string caught up and she looked over her shoulder as much as to say `what's holding us up there?' The string loosened from the snag and she came on again. By now the dust was rising from the shuffle of her paws as she crawled through the dirt and mold and I could no longer see her. I called and pleaded, not knowing for certain whether she was coming or not. At last, about 20 feet away, I saw two little amber eyes and heard a faint whimpering sound . . . at 15 feet away, she broke into a run. We were so happy at Smoky's success that we patted and praised her for a full five minutes.”
The simple role that Smoky played in this could not be underestimated - the runway, piping and surrounding area would have had to been dug up, has Smoky not succeeded. This would have required many hundreds of servicemen, engineers and other ground crew to be vulnerable from enemy bombings, not to mention the number of reconnaissance planes necessary to try and keep the area safe. It was estimated that the work would have taken anything to to three days - a task Smoky accomplished in just a few minutes.
Despite her clear importance and value to the soldiers, Smoky wasn’t an ‘official’ war dog, and so didn’t qualify for her own rations. Corporal Wynne would share his rations with her, and even made her a special blanket from some green card table felt.
Her talents didn’t end there. Smoky also performed a role as what is to be believed as the first official ‘therapy dog’. Still in New Guinea, she accompanied nurses to try and lift the spirits of casualties from the Biak Island invasion. Smoky was already well known, which ensured her special status. She performed this role for 12 years, long after the war ended.
After the end of the war, Smoky became something of a celebrity, appearing over 40 times on American television performing tricks, and entertaining millions of viewers.
After a long career of danger, and finally adoration of millions, Smoky passed away in 1957 at the approximate age of 14. On November the 11th 2005, a bronze life size statue of Smoky was unveiled at the Rocky River Reservation, Lakewood, Ohio - her final resting place. The statue depicts Smoky wearing a GI helmet. The monument is dedicated to “Smoky, the Yorkie Doodle Dandy, and the Dogs of All Wars".
Smoky was beloved far and wide, and there are no less than six memorials to this brave little Yorkie in the United States alone.
Another dog with a strong will and mind of his own was a Great Dane named ‘Nuisance’. Nuisance earned this name because whilst hanging around the ships in dock in Simon’s Town, South Africa, he discovered his favourite place to lay; right at the top of the gangplank of ships. Being a large Great Dane, who stood 6’6” when on his hind legs, laying at the top of the gangplank made those trying to get on or off the ships very difficult indeed!
Nuisance discovered his favoured spot on top of the gangplank after spending many hours being taken for walks by members of the British Navy. It’s quite often the case that dogs wanting to keep an eye on their humans will select a spot (rather like being on the landing at the top of some stairs) where they have a great view of what’s going on, and anyone coming or going needs to come past you.
Nuisance loved following his Naval colleagues around, to the extent of enjoying train trips into Cape Town. Unfortunately, the conductors on the trains would throw Nuisance off of the train if discovered. This never perturbed Nuisance, who would then walk to the next station, and get on the next train.
Unfortunately, the train company announced that if Nuisance was found on their trains again, he would be put down if his fare was not paid.
Despite being a “nuisance”, such was the affection he’d gained with Sailors and other Navy staff, many of the sailors and locals wrote to the Navy, asking if anything could be done to help. They could not bear the idea of their pal being put to sleep.
Naval Command decided the best course of action was to enlist Nuisance into the Navy. As a member of the Navy, Nuisance would be eligible for free train travel. Nuisance served in the Navy between 1939 and 1944 at the HMS Afrikander, a Royal Navy shore establishment in Simon's Town.
On filling in his papers, to make his Naval position official, “Just” was given as his first name, which is how he became known as “Just Nuisance”. As a special perk, Just Nuisance was promoted to Able Seaman so that he could receive official rations.
Rather like Bamse the St. Bernard, Just Nuisance enjoyed escorting sailors back to base when the pubs closed. He was a force to be reckoned with however, and was often on the disciplinary list for fighting with other dogs. One of his misdemeanours, which carried an official reprimand, was that Nuisance was discovered sleeping in a Petty Officer’s bed!
Whilst Nuisance may not have been in battle, his presence was crucial in a different kinds of battle - the battle to keep morale high amongst the naval personnel.
Unfortunately, Nuisance was struck by a car. Due to complications following this car accident, Nuisance gradually became paralysed, and so had to be discharged from the Navy. On the 1st of April 1944 he was taken to Simon's Town Naval Hospital where, he was put to sleep.
Despite some of his misdeeds, and having to be discharged due to injury, Just Nuisance was buried with full Naval honours. His body was covered with the Royal Naval White Ensign and received the playing of the Last Post.
If proof were ever needed that every dog needs ‘the right home’, it’s Peter’s story. Born in 1941, Peter’s first owner, Mrs Audrey Stables found him, like many Collies, to be a handful. She commented that Peter had two talents; his innate ability to disregard any command she gave him, and his ability to systematically destroy her house!
Mrs Stables decided that she couldn’t cope with Peter, but thought that being such an intelligent breed, he may be of some use in a different environment. After some thought, Peter was conscripted to try and help the war effort. Officially known as “Rescue Dog No. 2664/9288 Peter”, he was trained by Archie Knight, a Search and Rescue trainer. After his training was completed and Peter passed the relevant tests, he was put into service in early 1945 as an official Search and Rescue dog.
Peter was found to have a natural ability for this work, and on one occasion Archie Knight wrote in a report of Peter’s skills and dedication, "I think one of his finest jobs was on Monday. We were called 20 hours after the incident and after several hours of heavy rain. Three bodies were missing and he very quickly indicated in a most unlikely spot, but he was right, and they uncovered a man and a woman. The next day we were called to another job. There were so many calls for Peter that I worked him 10 hours and he never once refused to give all he had. All his marks revealed casualties. I hated to work him like this – but I also hated to refuse the rescue parties who were asking for him."
In other incidents, Peter rescued six people who had been trapped in a single air raid. Peter didn’t just save humans, on one occasion Peter even managed to locate and save an African Grey Parrot. It seemed there were no limits to Peter’s talents.
After the end of the war, Peter and his handler were presented to the King and Queen at the Civil Defence Stand–Down parade in Hyde Park, London. Peter received a Royal Seal of Approval not many have received over the years - the future Queen Elizabeth the II kissed Peter on the nose!
Despite no longer being needed in urban search and rescue at the end of the war, Peter’s skills were transferred to Mountain Rescue techniques, and was often used to teach other handlers and dogs.
After his heroic adventures, Peter returned home to Mrs Stables, and moved to a PDSA animal sanctuary before he died in 1952.