Wednesday 12 March 2008 by Andrew Gray. 10 comments
News, Exhibitions, Animals in war

An exhibition on animals in war will open at the Memorial in February 2009. A is for Animals will explore a range of themes relating to animals during times of war. The exhibition will explore stories of the Light Horse; the donkeys, camels, horses and other creatures used to transport soldiers and equipment; the pigeons used to carry messages; the dogs who have located injured soldiers and tracked the enemy, and the many and varied animals adopted as mascots and pets. Additionally the exhibition will consider the unwelcome animals in war, such as insects, rats, wild elephants and jungle dwellers, which can make life difficult or even dangerous.

Blog posts highlighting some interesting stories and collection items will appear throughout the year in the lead-up to the opening. Here's a taster.


Pigeons - the use of pigeons for communications in war can be traced back to the classical era. The unique advantages of the homing pigeon as a method of communication are that it is silent, difficult to intercept, not significantly affected by gas or noise and can be trained to home to mobile lofts.

Pigeons were used in great numbers during the First World War. However, as technology, including the radar, wireless and telephone, had greatly advanced since then, by 1939 it was thought that pigeons would no longer be required. Nonetheless, it was soon realised that this equipment could still fail in certain situations and message-carrying pigeons were reinstated as an alternative.

In 1942, the threat of enemy invasion of Australia led civilian pigeon-fanciers to voluntarily establish a network that could carry messages in the event that radio contact failed. Later that year the Australian Corps of Signals Pigeon Service was established. It was soon realised that the successful Pigeon Service might also be of use to the Army overseas in the South-West Pacific. The birds could fly over the tropical oceans, mountains and jungle that were proving to be considerable impediments to the Signal Corps’ usual communications methods.

The 8th Australian Pigeon Section was sent to Port Moresby in December 1942 to support operations on the Kokoda Trail. The pigeons were trained to carry a message for up to 120 miles (193 km) at an average speed of 30 miles per hour (48km/hr). They were particularly useful in emergency situations when no other method of communication was available.

In 1943, a British organisation, the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), began awarding the Dickin Medal to "animals displaying conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units". It is regarded as the ‘animal's Victoria Cross'. Two Australian pigeons were awarded the Dickin Medal in February 1947.

The bodies of the two Dickin Medal winners and several other pigeons were returned to Australia for display at the War Memorial. The following ‘epitaph’ appeared in the Sydney Sun on 8 November 1945:

Now fare you well my faithful bird,

In war you were a wizard.

So now your country honours you

By taking out your gizzard.

(Above text - extracts taken from Working Animals - Pigeons, by Elspeth Grant, AWM Summer Scholar, 2008)


Pat Crowe

In reference to your upcoming exhibition "A is for Animals", I draw your attention to the late Private Edward Crowe, MM who was killed in WW1. His citation for the Military Medal mentions him as working with "water-carrying mules" on the night he was killed. Edward would have become my uncle had he survived. His photograph and a copy of his citation has just been forwarded to Joanne Smedley, Curator, Photographs at the AWM. Yours faithfully, Pat Crowe. Adelaide.

Emma Campbell

"A" is for Andrew! Yay for the Animal Man!!

Michael Tyquin

I am currently writing the official history of the Australian Army Veterinary Corps and yes, animals played a key part in Australia's involvement in a number of overseas theatres as well as helping out on home soil.

Tony Dick

I am wondering if Michael Tyquin (or anyone else!)may be able to help me. I'm trying to find out a little more regarding my grandfather (who died in 1943) - Major Robert Dick. Although an Australian, he was in England in 1914 and joined the British army in 1914. However, my enquiries through UK show that he was attached to the "Australian Veterinary Hospital, Royal Army Medical Corps" (from UK National Archives) and havent been able to find anything further from UK. I would like to to find out a little more about the Australian Veterinary Hospital and, if possible, my grandfathers attachment there. Tony Dick

George Hulse

I am the President of the Australian Defence Force Trackers and War Dogs Association (ADFTWDA). We are curently conducting a project to issue medals for dogs involved in government work, at both Federal and State levels. We intend to launch the medals for dogs project at a canine biathlon and seminar to be held at Baldivis in Western Australia on 25 October 2008. There are to be two medals. Thee are: (1) The War Dog Operational Medal. This will be issued to those military working dogs which have served for a minimum period of twenty-eight days in a Theatre or War or an Area of Operations. (2) The Canine Service Medal. This will be issued to those working dogs which have served for a continuous period of five years. We are currently receiving requests for these medals from Army, RAAF, Police, Correctice Services, and Customs dog hanling units and agencies. The medals do not carry any official recognition as military honours and awards. They are to be presented to military units and government agencies as gifts from a grateful ADFTWDA. It will be up to each organisation to decide whether or not to wear them. However, the ADFTWDA has been assured that many of the medals will be worn by their dogs with rpide on parades etc. Medals will also be available for past dogs going back to at least the Vietnam War. The ADFTWDA believes that we will be the first nation on earth to recognise the service of its canines by the issue of a high quality military styled medal and medal ribbon. For more information, please contact me on 0412 341 363 George Hulse Lieutenant Colonel RAE (Retd) President ADFTWDA 17 June 2008

Michael Rooke

I have spoken to you before about us attending. We have a dog in our unit that has retired from active work when he was 9 years old, is it possible for him to be presented with the Canine Service Medal. Hope to hear from you Regards Michael Section Leader of the Rockingham SES Tracker Dogs.

Richard Cosgrove

Congratulations George, an excellent project and not before time. Have read "Trackers" several times and it always leaves me in tears. Have met Leo Van De Kamp and know his brother Theo very well. Is there anything I can do to help? Regards, Richard Cosgrove Major RAA (Retd)

Marilyn Walton

I am a U.S. author who writes about military and police K9s. In my latest book, I have profiled two Australian dogs, K9 Rex a MWD, and K9 Shadow a retired dog from Adelaide. I have also told the poignant story of a VIetnam MWD. I have felt honored to write about such heroic dogs. The books are entitled, Badge on My Collar--A Chronicle of Courageous Canines and Badge on My Collar II-To Serve with Honor. Below is information on the most recent book: About the Book From the heathered Scottish Highlands to the rugged Australian land down under, K9s are on patrol. Tracking through the Arctic blasts of Canadian winter or across the scorching desert heat of Arizona, they go where they are called. Thrashing through the dangerous jungles of Vietnam or patrolling through the magical green of England’s Sherwood Forest, memorable and dedicated dogs of beauty and valor serve with honor. Come along to the U.S. Capitol Building or hover in a helicopters over Indonesia with four-footed officers who protect and serve. Follow the hilarious tales of New Jersey’s Tracker and witness the astonishing heroics of dogs, both young and old, from the East Coast to the Deep South. Whether accompanying a crack SWAT unit or tenderly standing by the hospital bed of a sick child, the multi-faceted dogs will warm your heart. In this sequel to Badge on My Collar—A Chronicle of Courageous Canines, Marilyn Jeffers Walton takes you around the globe to ride along with dogs whose stellar careers and unselfish sacrifices exemplify the brave character and profile of today’s police canine. The common thread among the geographically-distant dogs is their love of handler, their bravery in the face of confrontation with the “bad guys” and their total willingness to surrender their very lives in order to protect their handlers and the public. Highly-trained, intelligent and steeped in the deepest measure of devotion, this international collection of K9s cast a bright light on all dogs that protect and serve. They are truly the guardians of the night. Kindest regards, Marilyn Walton USA

marie balfoort

we believe we found a homing pigeon in our community there is a number on the device on his foot but we are not sure what to do he has been around for a few weeks can you help assuming he stays around.

Eliza Adamthwaite

I'm researching stories for Anzac Day and I'm looking for any Albury-Wodonga (and broader to Victoria's North East and the southern Riverina of NSW) link to war dogs or animals involved in the war effort. Does anyone know if any of the dogs or handlers came from this area? I'd appreciate your help. Regards, Eliza The Border Mail newspaper Albury-Wodonga