During World War II, Maria Dickin, founder of the veterinary charity People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), was so touched by the plight of animals in wartime that she instituted the PDSA Dickin Medal.
The animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross, the bronze medallion acknowledges extraordinary valor and has worldwide recognition as the highest honor that can be given to any animal in military conflict. Exceptional acts of bravery performed on the civil front by police dogs, horses, and guide dogs can also earn the elite medal bearing the words “We Also Serve.”
On February 23, 1942, a Beaufort bomber and her crew were in serious trouble. While returning from a World War II mission over Norway, enemy fire seriously crippled the aircraft.
Although the men survived both the attack and the crash landing into the ocean, their odds for survival weren’t looking good. The men were somewhere in the freezing North Sea and a long way from the safety of the nearest RAF base.
When they realized that their radio was dead, the desperate crew pinned their hopes on a carrier pigeon named Winkie. The blue chequered hen was released and flew home under incredibly difficult circumstances, covering 200 kilometers (120 mi) across the North Sea.
When her owner found the exhausted bird in her loft in Broughty Ferry, she was full of oil. She also carried no message. This didn’t deter the RAF from launching a rescue mission.
By calculating the time that the plane went down, the wind direction, the time of Winkie’s arrival, and the effect of the oil on her speed, the position of the bomber was discovered. Her crew was rescued within 15 minutes.
Without the dramatic flight of their carrier pigeon, the men most certainly would have died. A year after playing her part in the rescue, Winkie became the first animal to be given the Dickin Medal.
Sometimes I feel that many animals, even acting on nothing but instinct, are more courageous than many humans. Certainly more loyal than many people I could name, ya know?
Coffee out on the patio again this morning.