This Anzac Day we honour the many animals which have served, and continue to serve, in armed conflict, often sadly making the ultimate sacrifice. In 1943, the veterinary charity organisation, the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals ((PDSA), established the PDSA Dickins Medal, to recognise animals for ‘conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units’. The first Dickins Medal, also known as the Victoria Cross for animals, was awarded in 1943 to three messenger pigeons which contributed to the rescue of aircrew from ditched aircraft. The most recent awards, in 2018 and 2020, were to dogs Kuno and Kuga, for gallant service in Afghanistan. Kuga served with the Australian Special Air Services Regiment (SAS) from 2008 until his death from wounds in 2012.
Australian explosive detection dogs have also played a significant role serving alongside troops in Afghanistan, and a sculpture at the Australian War Memorial, unveiled in 2015, honours these dogs. It shows a sapper helping his explosives detection dog out of its gear, and celebrates the service of all explosive detection dogs, and those such as Merlin, Razz, Andy, Nova, Lucky and Herbie, which died on duty. Sapper Darren Smith, Herbie’s handler, also died with his beloved dog Herbie in Afghanistan in June 2010.