The PDSA Dickin Medal - recognised as the animals' Victoria Cross - was named after Maria Dickin, the founder of the PDSA, formerly known as the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA).
Between 1943 and 1949, 54 animals received the medal, including 32 pigeons, 18 dogs and 3 horses. Here are just a few examples.
Simon The Cat
Simon, the ship's cat aboard HMS Amethyst during the Yangtze Incident of 1949, was awarded a posthumous PDSA Dickin Medal for his devotion to duty despite suffering terrible injuries when the British warship was shelled by the Chinese Communist forces. During the 101 days HMS Amethyst was held captive on the Yangtze River, Simon devoted his time to catching the rats that threatened the crew's dwindling rations.
GI Joe, Pigeon
GI Joe, Pigeon USA43SC6390, was awarded the PDSA Dickin medal in August 1946. The citation reads: “This bird is credited with making the most outstanding flight by a USA Army Pigeon in World War II. Making the 20 mile flight from British 10th Army HQ, in the same number of minutes, it brought a message which arrived just in time to save the lives of at least 100 Allied soldiers from being bombed by their own planes.”
Rob a War Dog
Rob, a Collie (War Dog No. 471/332 Special Air Service) was awarded the PDSA Dickin medal on 22nd January 1945. Citation: “Took part in landings during North African Campaign with an Infantry unit and later served with a Special Air Unit in Italy as patrol and guard on small detachments lying-up in enemy territory. His presence with these parties saved many of them from discovery and subsequent capture or destruction. Rob made over 20 parachute descents.”
Upstart the Police Horse
Upstart was a police horse awarded the PDSA Dickin medal on 11th April 1947. The citation reads: “While on patrol duty in Bethnal Green a flying bomb exploded within 75 yards, showering both horse and rider with broken glass and debris. Upstart was completely unperturbed and remained quietly on duty with his rider controlling traffic, etc., until the incident had been dealt with.”
In this picture, Upstart is on the right with two other PDSA Dickin medal winers, Olga and Regal.
'Goodbye Old Man'
Finally, below is a famous and moving picture by Fortunino Matania (1881-1963). The picture is owned by the Blue Cross and illustrates the extraordinary bond that existed between soldiers and their horses.