The Victoria Cross is Great Britain's highest military decoration, but no animal has ever received the award. That led the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), a British veterinary charity, to create the PDSA Dickin Medal during World War II. It is considered “the animals’ Victoria Cross.”
The medal “acknowledges outstanding acts of bravery or devotion to duty displayed by animals serving with the Armed Forces or Civil Defence units in any theatre of war throughout the world,” according to the PDSA website.
Last month, a "hero" sniffer dog named Hertz became the seventy-fourth recipient of the Dickin Medal for his life-saving devotion to protecting coalition forces in Afghanistan in 2013. The German short-haired pointer, who serviced with the Royal Air Force (RAF), was the first dog in British military history to detect electronic communications equipment such as mobile phones, voice recorders, sim cards, and GPS devices.
Hertz found more than one hundred items of contraband in Afghanistan, including drugs and personal electronic devices (PEDs) that could have been a threat to the lives of service personnel and civilians. What is notable too is that Hertz – in addition to being a German short-haired pointer – was also born in Croatia!
However, as a one-year-old pup, he showed skills in drug detection and was selected for training in detecting electronic devices. During his thirteen-month tour, there hadn't been a single rocket on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan's Helmand Province where Hertz was stationed. The sniffer dog later worked in Kabul.
Warrant officer Jonathan Tanner, who had been Hertz's former handler, expressed his delight that the dog was to receive the highest honor.
"For a military working dog that I have trained and handled to be recognised in this way is fantastic," Tanner said, according to an RAF press release. "At no point during the training process or our operational deployment did I expect or even suspect that Hertz would be acknowledged on the global stage by the PDSA."
Hertz received his medal at a special ceremony at the Royal Air Force club in Mayfair, London.
Just as the Victoria Cross was instituted to honor those from all classes and ranks, the Dickin Medal has been awarded to all sorts of animals. Breeding has not been a consideration. The Dickin Medal was first issued in 1943 to a pigeon named White Vision who flew nine hours in bad visibility and heavy weather and successfully delivered a message that led to the rescue of a ditched aircrew.
The first dog to receive the award was a mutt named Bob, who served as a patrol animal in North Africa with the 6th Battalion Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment.
During the Global War on Terror (GWOT), numerous coalition dogs had been awarded the Dickin Medal. That included Appollo, a New York Police Department German Shepherd who received the award on behalf of all search-and-rescue animals who assisted in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.
Image: RAF Press Release.