‘Animal VC’ reaches 75th anniversary

Heroic actions of animals ‘who also serve’ honoured by leading vet charity.

75 years ago, founder of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) Maria Dickin CBE created an award to recognise the animals whose actions have saved lives despite being faced by extraordinary danger. The PDSA Dickin Medal - the animals’ Victoria Cross – has since been awarded 72 times. Today at the Imperial War Museum, a dog, pigeon, horse and cat – proudly wearing PDSA Dickin Medals – and representing the range of recipients - stood alongside human members of the RAF, Army and Royal Navy and military dogs in training, to honour those animals ‘who also serve’.

Animals serving in the Armed Forces make a massive difference to the lives of so many. Colonel Neil Smith

British Army Colonel Neil Smith QHVS, Chief Veterinary and Remount Officer, said: “Animals serving in the Armed Forces make a massive difference to the lives of so many. Not just those men and women they serve alongside, but the civilians whose lives our military are protecting. They fulfil a role humans cannot replicate. The PDSA Dickin Medal is a fitting tribute to their extraordinary contributions.”

Jan McLoughlin, PDSA Director General, said: “Today we honour the animals who also serve: those noble creatures whose skill and courage have saved countless military and civilian lives. The face of armed conflict has changed beyond recognition over the last 75 years, yet we rely on these gallant animals as much as ever.”

Recipients of the prestigious Medal hail from history’s deadliest warzones. From the battlegrounds of World War I and II, to the Korean War and Chinese Civil War, and the more recent conflict in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. From the wounded messenger pigeon whose determination to get home, though soaked in oil and under fire, saved the lives of an RAF air crew, to the Army horse the Germans couldn’t kill. From the world’s only Prisoner of War dog to a life-saving Royal Navy ship’s cat. Their stories are incredible, life affirming, inspirational and unique. 

Military Working Dogs provide an invaluable service to our troops in security, explosive search and evacuation and representing all today was Mali who was awarded The PDSA Dickin Medal a year ago this week for extraordinary service in Afghanistan. The award is a large, bronze medallion bearing the words ‘For Gallantry’ and ‘We Also Serve’ all within a laurel wreath. The ribbon is striped green, dark brown and sky blue representing water, earth and air to symbolise the naval, land and air forces. 34 dogs, 32 pigeons, four horses and one cat have received the PDSA Dickin Medal which is awarded to animals that display conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving in military conflict. An Honorary PDSA Dickin Medal was also bestowed to ‘the real war horse’, Warrior, on 2 September 2014, on behalf of all 16 million animals that served in the Great War.

Maria Dickin, CBE founded PDSA on 17 November 1917 to alleviate the suffering of animals by providing free veterinary treatment to the pets of people in need. A quarter of a century later, she saw the vital, life-saving roles animals were playing in the war effort – both on the home front and Front Line – and wanted to ensure they were recognised. She sought to raise the status of animals in society – believing that would improve their care. So, with the support of the War Office and Imperial War Museum, the PDSA Dickin Medal was born.