Animals have long helped people in times of war, conflict, and peace. A stone arch in the Peace Tower honours these special workers and supporters; The work by artist, John. A. Pearson, represents the animals that served during the war: reindeer, pack mules, carrier pigeons, horses, dogs, canaries and mice. The inscription reads: THE TUNNELLERS’ FRIENDS, THE HUMBLE BEASTS THAT SERVED AND DIED.
Animals served in wars in a variety of roles such as transporting supplies, delivering messages, helping the wounded or just being a soldier’s companion. In fact, thousands of animals contributed in times of war.
Pigeons were used during the First and Second World Wars to deliver messages when radio or telephone communication wasn’t possible. They flew for many kilometres and in all kinds of weather. The sky was sometimes filled with gun fire. Some of them didn’t complete their journeys and others were wounded. It was dangerous but the birds were loyal and faithful.
One such ‘feathered friend’ was Beachcomber, who served with the Canadian army win WWII as a carrier pigeon. This was an important job as the soldiers in the field, sailors on their ships, and pilots in airplanes needed the ability to communicate and send messages about their progress, to request supplies, or to call for help. The messages were written on small pieces of paper, put inside a small container and attached to one of Beachcomber’s legs. (photo VAC)
In August, 1942, Beachcomber brought the first news of the landing at Dieppe, under hazardous conditions; for this he was awarded the Dickin Medal on March 6, 1944.
Horses have been a part of war for centuries. Considered strong and loyal, they’ve served alongside men around the world. Here in Canada, the Lord Strathcona’s Horse Regiment was formed in the Prairies during the 1900s and its soldiers and brave horses were sent to fight in the South African War. During the First World War, though, the role of horses changed considerably. Cavalry charges became almost impossible on the rough battlefields with their trenches, barbed wire and machine guns. Horses were needed for transporting things but weren’t used much in attacks. The unit went on to serve in WWII, the Korean War, and in military efforts in Egypt, Cyprus, Bosnia, and Afghanistan.
Cats were often kept on ships as mascots during war because, as hunters, they caught rats onboard. They adapted well to sea life and were easily cared for. In addition, when the seamen were sick, scared, or lonely, they cuddled the cats. Perhaps the most celebrated cat was Simon of the H.M.S. Amethyst.
Simon was born in 1947 in Hong Kong. A seaman found him abandoned so brought him back to his British ship to kill some of the rats on board. Simon not only did a good job, but he also became the cuddly friend of the men. The Amethyst was sent to protect the British people on the Yangtze River in China, but it was attacked; during the battle, some of the seamen were killed and the ship sailed into shore. Although men tried to escape from the ship, many were killed as soon as they left the ship. About 50 remained on board; some of them were injured. The ship was heavily guarded by the enemy for the next three months.
Simon stayed with the men, despite being injured himself; he continued doing his job. He apparently caught at least one rat a day, often more, which helped the crew’s morale because Simon was helping save their food supply. Simon also had another job. Several of the men were in sick bay, shocked and wounded from their experiences under fire. The doctor on board thought that Simon could help so he encouraged the cat to sit on their bunks, where he would knead his paws and purr as well as to tend his own wounds. The sailors were able to related to Simon and his injuries and that welcomed his visits, which helped them get over their own injuries. 101 days later, the seamen were able to escape and sailed the Amethyst back to Hong Kong. The news found its way to the papers and radio reporters, then shared with the world.
And so it was that Simon became famous. He received letters and gifts from around the world; there were even poems written about him.
Simon was awarded the Dickin Medal, the only cat to receive this honour. A special cat collar, woven with the Medal’s ribbon colours, was made for Simon to wear. Sadly, Simon died the month before the medal was to be presented. Simon was buried with full Naval honours in a pet cemetery near London, England.