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”.
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!
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!
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”.
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”.
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.
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