The Dogs of War

The Dogs of War

From the records held at the Norfolk Record Office and Norfolk Heritage Centre

Dogs have always had a role to play in wartime.  Some larger dogs were used for the transportation of ammunition and lighter stores.  Other breeds were used for pathfinding, tracking and carrying messages.  As well as carrying out specific roles for the military they have also been a source of comfort and friendship in harrowing times.

The Military Dog

Private Bob Benifer of the Norfolk Regiment kept a photograph album during the war.  It includes several photos of dogs.  (MC 2149/1 925×5)

The photo below is annotated by Benifer who wrote “Private Kirby given to me at Bangalore 30/6/17”. 

Photo 1 Pt Benifer Pt Kirby

Private Benifer and Private Kirby (NRO, MC 2149/1 925×5)

Benifer and Kirby also appear in a regimental photo along with several other dogs.  Kirby looks the same but Benifer has since acquired a moustache!

Photo 2 Benifer with regiment edited

Benifer (first row, right-hand side) and Kirby with the rest of the regiment (NRO, MC 2149/1 925×5)

At Pulham Royal Naval Air Station, Peter was the station mascot.  In September 1917 the first edition of The Pulham Patrol, the air station magazine, was published.  A whole page was dedicated to this important member of the base.

For 11 months he has been with us . . . Being a staunch patriot he absolutely refuses to accept pay . . . . he has fine musical tastes, for he thoroughly objects to all bugle calls!

 

Photo 3 Peter the Pulham mascot edited

Peter the Pulham mascot (NRO, MC 2254/183)

Dogs – our faithful friends

The Carrow Works Magazines of April 1915 and January 1917 recount two stories of the lengths to which dogs would go to be with their masters.

In April 1915 Private Brown of the 1st North Staffordshire Regiment left for the Front.  His wife and Irish terrier Prince accompanied him to the station to say goodbye.  Prince became very distressed at the parting.  Shortly afterwards Prince went missing.  Mrs Brown was reluctant to tell her husband that she had lost him and searched in vain without success.  However, after several weeks, she plucked up the courage and told him.  To her surprise her husband replied that Prince was with him.  Private Brown wrote:  “I could not believe my eyes till I got off my horse and he made a great fuss of me.  I believe he came over with some other troops.  Just fancy his coming and finding me”. 

 

Photo 4 Prince edited

Prince – not such a dumb dog  (Carrow Works magazine April 1915)

In January 1917 an article entitled “A Dog Story” told of the tale (no pun intended) of a collie dog at Cambridge railway station.  Mr George Lambton had often noticed the dog on the platform.  When he asked about the dog he was told that some eighteen months ago the dog had come to the station with its owner who left on a train for the Front.  Since then the dog returned every morning and stayed until late at night awaiting his master’s return.  The dog was very friendly and responded to those at the station who befriended him.

The other day his fervent desire was gratified.  A soldier in khaki descended from the carriage.  At first the good dog could not believe his eyes, but another look and a sniff sufficed, and with one bound he sprang up, got his paws on his master’s shoulders, and clung hard.  His eighteen long months of waiting were at last rewarded.

Edith Cavell and her dogs

Edith Cavell had two dogs, Don and Jack, both born in 1909.  Little is known of Don and he had died by 1912.  After Cavell’s death Mlle de Meyer took on the matronship of the Edith Cavell School in Brussels and she also took on Jack.  Jack did not settle and he was sent to the Duchess of Croy’s estate.  Meyer wrote “the poor animal felt lost without its owner and in new surroundings. . . . . .. .Some nurses and I took him there and he became the great comfort of the Duchess who is well known for her great love of animals”.

 

Photo 5 Jack edited

Jack (From ‘Nurse Cavell Dog Lover’ by Rowland Johns held at NRO)

 

The Duchess of Croy later wrote:

“I was first told that after her death he had been locked up in a damp stable all alone. . . . No one in Brussels dared take the dog for fear of the Germans.  I did not know of his existence, or else I would have taken him as soon as poor Nurse Cavell was put in prison, and let her know that the dog was safe.  She was very anxious about him, and begged in several letters that he might be well looked after.  Jack was brought to me in March 1916.  He was extremely naughty and bit”.  Eventually, “he became as good and gentle as any other dog. . . . Jack seemed very happy here . . . I had him for about seven and a half years, when he died of indigestion caused by old age.”

The Brave Dogs

The Carrow Works Magazine for April 1915 reported on several acts of canine bravery.  In February 1915 a dog show in London had a special section for fifteen dog heroes.  There was Lassie, the dog who lay at the side of W S Cowan rescued from the British ship Formidable.  Cowan was thought to be dead.  Lassie stayed by his side licking his face for quite some time and Cowan started to move.  Cowan’s movements and Lassie’s barks attracted attention and Cowan was saved.  Then there was Wubbles who had rescued a drowning Frenchman and Tony the Belgian sheep dog who had helped the wounded on the field by taking out refreshments in a tin bottle with a tin mug attached.

Photo 6 Old man and brave dog edited

Unknown man and his dog who rescued fifty fugitives in his fishing boat from the Scheldt (Carrow Works magazine April 1915)

They may have been our “dumb friends at the Front” but they were clearly not dumb.

Daryl Long NRO Blogger

 

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What Happened to the 5th Norfolks in 1915?

On Tuesday 3rd October we’re really pleased to be welcoming historian and battlefield guide Steve Smith back to the Norwich Millennium Library for another of his great talks:

Steve will be talking about, and debunking, the myths that surround the alleged disappearance of the 5th Norfolks on 12th August 1915.

The event starts at 7pm and will last about an hour, tickets are £2 and can be booked by calling 01603 774703 or emailing millennium.lib@norfolk.gov.uk.

The Mystery of a Military Cross Award.

On the Norfolk Regiment pages of this blog a conversation has been taking place regarding a one of the regiment’s own but that has subsequently thrown up more questions than answers…

One of our readers has restored a trench watch that belonged to Captain R B Caton of the 4th and contacted us to see if we could help him fill in some of the details relating to Cpt. Caton.

Captain Caton

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Finding the Fallen: The Battle of Gaza exhibition panels tour the county

Following on from The Forum’s Battle of Gaza exhibition in April, there are more chances to view the pop-up exhibition panels as they start their tour of the county – find out more about the exhibition and where to see it below.

The Battle of Gaza touring exhibition marks the centenary of the Second Battle of Gaza on 19 April 1917, in which hundreds of men serving in the Norfolk Regiment fought. It tells the story of how the Territorial Force soldiers were recruited and of their journey from Gallipoli to Gaza. It also demonstrates how the campaign in the Middle East impacted on the Norfolk Regiment.

Officers Mess, 1/5th Battalion, The Norfolk Regiment (Territorial Force) Palestine, 1917. Image courtesy of the Purdy Archive.

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Branching out into Suffolk (slightly)

We’ve been contacted by another blog reader looking for some help filling out the final details of some family history research which has led him from Suffolk to Norfolk.

 

My grandfather, Albert Holmes from Newmarket Suffolk, was born in  1883.  Albert was a Bricklayer before he joined up to the B Company of the 2nd Btn Suffolk Regiment. He was born in Exning (nr Newmarket) and lived in Newmarket. He married just before he joined up and his widow (my grandmother) never remarried but lived until 1971 aged 88 –  much of the time in the house they moved into after the marriage!

We know he was home on leave late 1916/1917 as I have a photo of him with his wife and my mother – who was born in April 1915.

Albert with wife Edith and daughter Beryl.

He is recorded on the War memorial in Newmarket but until I contacted the Suffolk Regiment Museum with a photograph I did not know that he was in the Norfolk Regiment.  More research has let us know that Albert died of his wounds on 6th Aug 1918 and was buried in North Gate Cemetery in Baghdad.

Albert is believed to be the man in the front row of seated privates on the immediate left of the central officer.

I knew from my grandmother that he was buried in the Middle East  but I don’t know if she even knew exactly where. I have two requests:

Does anyone have any photos of his grave or memorial in the North Gate Cemetary? At present I don’t know if he even has a grave or if this cemetary is still in existance.
Also I would also love to know is more about his service, things like when he returned from leave (which would more positively date my family photo),  when he joined the Norfolks, when he arrived in the Middle East, when and where he was injured and in hospital.

I know that other readers of this blog have helped fill in the gaps for other people and I hope the same comes true here – thank you in advance, Mike Browne.

As ever if you can help tell Albert’s story please do drop us a line (norfolkinworldwar1@gmail.com), leave a comment here or reach us on Twitter (@Norfolkinww1).