Animals in war

Private Jim Moody was in northern Egypt in 1941 when he found a scruffy little terrier.

Despite the camp rule against pets, “Horrie” would come to be a vital and adored member of the team and travel with them to Greece, Crete, Palestine and Syria.

“Whenever enemy aircraft was coming Horrie would start barking and they knew to get cover long before they appeared in the sky,” author Anthony Hill told ABC News Breakfast.

When their time in World War II ended, Private Moody smuggled Horrie back to Australia — but their struggles weren’t over.

After a few years Down Under, the quarantine authorities found out about Horrie and ordered him to be put down. There were rules to be followed, after all.

The story now goes that Private Moody searched the local pounds for a lookalike and it was this poor pup that was put to death, while Horrie lived out his days in regional Victoria.

Regardless, Mr Hill believes Horrie’s story is a perfect example of both the importance of animals to Australia’s war efforts — and of the fact these companions haven’t always received due credit.

“Like the human beings, they offer their lives and often sacrificed them,” he said.

“We often forget about them, but they are very real and very much part of our lives, and saving lives.”

Mr Hill has researched the history of animals that have served alongside soldiers in wars over the past 100 years and compiled their stories in his book, Animal Heroes.

There were the dogs that served as messengers in WWI, trackers in Vietnam, and explosive detectors more recently. There were carrier pigeons in WWII and as recently as 2003, dolphins searched and marked underwater mines off the coast of Iraq.

There were the “mascot” animals who boosted morale, like Snappa the crocodile in Queensland or the cat on board HMAS Encounter during WWI.

Then there were the 135,000 Australia horses sent abroad in WWI — of which only one would return.

“All acted as their training and instinct told them to. They had no choice about going to war,” Mr Hill wrote.

“And all found their own levels of courage and loyalty in the face of death, even if faithfulness was too often in the past repaid by official indifference.”

While Horrie and his animal colleagues may not have received full credit in the fever of 20th century war, their contribution — and that of their modern-day equivalents — have now achieved a new stature.

In 2012, the Military and Service Working Dog National Memorial in Queensland was dedicated to Sapper Darren Smith and his explosive detection dog Herbie, who were killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2010.

At the time retired Lieutenant Colonel George Hulsee said people often underestimated the role of dogs in the military.

“Sometimes these dogs do things they were never trained for. They’ll find people, non-explosive devices; they’ll find machine guns hidden in walls, concreted in the ground,” he said.

“We’re still after all these years not sure how they do it but we’re very glad that they do.”

And last year the Australian War Animals Memorial Organisation (AWAMO) was founded to ensure animals that served with defence forces weren’t forgotten.

Meanwhile, Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson said animals were becoming increasingly important to the way were remember past conflicts.

For instance, at the interactive section of WWI galleries at the AWM, the most popular item is “animals in war”.

“Whether in our exhibits, statues, artefacts, relics or commemorative days, animals are increasingly regarded as a powerful way of telling the stories of the men and women whose lives and service stand behind the Memorial,” Dr Nelson wrote in the forward to Animal Heroes.

“Animals, so loyal and trusting, stimulate the imaginative capacity within us to see the world and its conflicts through the eyes of others.”

As for Horrie, time has been kind and a bronze statue now takes pride of place in a memorial park in Corryong, Victoria where he is believed to have been smuggled.

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