New memorial honours military working dogs

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The Australian War Memorial has unveiled a new memorial dedicated to, and created by, military working dogs and their handlers.

Military working dogs have served alongside Australia’s defence forces since the First World War, and continue to play a vital role in domestic and international operations today. The memorial titled Circling into sleep,  unveiled this morning in the Memorial’s Sculpture Garden, honours generations of dogs who have served, given their unconditional loyalty and, in many cases, their lives, to a common cause.

Acting Director of the Australian War Memorial Major General (Ret’d) Brian Dawson said the new memorial serves as a reminder of the invaluable contribution of military working dogs, as well as the special bond between dogs and their handlers.

“The Australian Defence Force has a long tradition of working with dogs, from the First World War through to operations in places such as Afghanistan, East Timor and Somalia,” Major General (Ret’d) Dawson said.

“In 2017, the ADF commissioned the Canine Operations Service Medal, becoming the first military in the world to specifically recognise and honour the contributions of military working dogs.”

The ashes of Aussie, Military Working Dog 426, were interred within the memorial on 4 December 2019. As a military working dog, Aussie served in Australian domestic and international operations including the Solomon Islands in 2004 and four deployments to Afghanistan with the Explosive Detection Dog Team. Described as a tireless worker, Aussie began to slow down after retirement and died in 2017, aged 16.

“Dogs including Aussie, whose ashes are interred here, have detected explosives, searched for and attacked the enemy, provided base security, and laid their lives on the line to save others. Unveiled on the National Day for War Animals in Australia, this memorial is a fitting tribute to their loyalty, bravery and sacrifice,” Major General (Ret’d) Dawson said.

Circling into sleep was created by renowned artist Steven Holland, with help from an Explosive Detection Dog called Billie and herr handler. Billie was trained to walk in a tight circle on a bed of soft clay to create the paw-print track which spirals into the memorial, representing the steps of a dog as it circles into sleep.

“This is the dogs’ memorial. It is low to the ground and humble,” Mr Holland said.

“The tear stone and the paw prints symbolise the remembrance of military dogs. Through their playfulness and curiosity, their intelligence and insight, their bravery and their faithfulness, they made a profound impact.”

Additional background:

Working dogs were first used by the Royal Australian Engineers in 1918 when British dogs worked as messengers for Australian sappers in the trenches on the Western Front. The 1st Australian Dog Platoon, RAE, began to use search dogs during the Second World War, and Army Explosive Detection Dogs and their handlers have provided critical support to the Australian Defence Force and civilian government agencies in modern conflicts. Today, these dogs help save lives as they help their handlers find improvised explosive devices, ammunition, and weapons.

According to the Department of Defence, the Australian Defence Force uses military working dogs to provide specialist sensory detection, tracking, early warning and protection in support of Australian operations at home and overseas. They are primarily used by the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Air Force as sentries and for drug and explosives detection.

The war in Afghanistan has highlighted the role of Explosive Detection Dogs (EDD) in the Australian Defence Force. Trained at Holsworthy Barracks in Sydney, EDDs are specially trained to use their heightened sense of smell to detect the many different chemical compounds that make up Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) by Taliban insurgents throughout Uruzgan province. They are also used to search compounds for contraband such as drugs and weapons caches. As such, EDDs work in conjunction with their highly trained handlers, usually from the Royal Australian Engineers, who command the dogs to locate IEDs ahead of infantry and vehicle patrols.

It is unknown just how many EDDs have deployed to Afghanistan since Australian troops were committed to Afghanistan in 2001, but one defence source suggests that there were as many as thirteen in Afghanistan as of 21 August 2012.  The names of five dogs killed in action in Afghanistan are listed on the EDD and Handler Memorial dedicated in June 2013 at Yungaburra in Queensland. They are:

  • Merlin, 437 EDD. Killed in action 31 August 2007
  • Razz, 409 EDD. Killed in action 21 September 2007
  • Andy, 452 EDD. Killed in action 23 November 2007
  • Nova, 472 EDD. Killed in action 23 October 2009
  • Herbie, 476 EDD. Killed in action 7 June 2010.

In addition to these, two military working dogs died on operations while serving with the Special Operations Task Group. Quake and Devil were Belgian Shepherds posted to the Special Air Services Regiment and had distinguished records of service detecting Taliban positions and equipment on operations in Afghanistan. Quake was killed by small arms fire during an SOTG operation on 25 June 2012; Devil was killed by an insurgent a week later on 2 July 2012 having providing his handler with early warning of a Taliban fighting positions.

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