Honouring the animals who fought alongside us

Animals bring us love and joy with their companionship – and in times of war, they’ve been known to serve and protect us too.

This ANZAC Day, we’d like to pay tribute to the Australian animals who risked their lives in wars to help their humans. From explosive detection dogs to winged warriors, here are some of our favourite stories.

Sarbi the EDD

Image source: ‘Sarbi – EDD Private Sarbi’ official Facebook page

Sarbi was a Labrador Newfoundland crossbreed employed by the Australian Defence Force during the war in Afghanistan. She was an Explosive Detection Dog (EDD) with the Special Operations Engineers Regiment.

Sarbi went missing in the Uruzgan province on 2 September 2008 when the Taliban ambushed Australian, US and Afghan troops. During the nine-hour battle, the harness that kept Sarbi tied to her handler was shot and, presumably spooked by the explosion, she ran off.

After troops searched high and low for Sarbi, she was declared missing. Thirteen months passed before a US soldier miraculously spotted her in a local village – well fed and looked after. After negotiating to get her back, Sarbi was reunited with her handler Corporal David Simpson and lived out the rest of her days by his side in Australia.

She received the RSPCA Purple Cross Award and War Dog Operational Medal for her astounding bravery.

Sadly, Sarbi passed away in 2015 but her memory lives on at the Australian War Memorial. Curator of the AWM Jane Peek told the ABC that many EDDs just like Sarbi have saved the lives of Australian soldiers.

Bill the B*stard

Despite his less-than-flattering name, Bill was a much-celebrated horse who served Australia in WWI. Him and his rider Major Michael Shanahan saved the lives of four Tasmanian soldiers during the Battle of Romani on 5 August 1915.

He draws his nickname from his reported stubbornness – Bill was originally deemed unrideable and delegated to be a pack horse. It wasn’t until Shanahan won him over with whispers, patience and liquorice all-sorts that he was ridden into battle.

Bill was one of 130,000 Australian horses who valiantly served in WWI. Famous war poet Banjo Patterson wrote of the war hero, “You can’t lead Bill the B*stard to anything and you certainly can’t make him drink.”

Simpson’s Donkey

ANZAC donkeys
Simpson (right) and his donkey. Image source: Wikipedia

ANZAC legend John Simpson Kirkpatrick and his donkey took wounded soldiers from battle to be cared for at the beach. As the story goes, the pair dodged gunfire in order to get their fellow men to safety. It’s estimated they helped 300 people.

According to the Australian War Memorial, Simpson’s donkey was named either Murphy, Abdul or Duffy.

Pigeon Q879

During WWII, Pigeon Q879 from the Australian Army Signal Corps successfully delivered a call for help from an attack by Japanese troops.

When US marine control came across the Japanese army camping on Manus Island, a fight broke out between the opposing sides and the US released their flock of pigeons to notify fellow soldiers at the base. Q879 was set free with three other birds but he was the only one who made it back, in a record 47 minutes.

Historian Dr Meleah Hampton spoke about the importance of pigeons for communicating during wartime.  

“There are lots of stories of pigeons valiantly going forward and saving people’s lives,” Dr Hampton said. “Nobody really knows if they are just doing what they are trained to do or if they are truly winged warriors. But they are a tool that we have been able to use to our advantage, and they have been incredibly valuable in wartime.”

Pigeon Q879 received the Dickin Medal for his brave efforts.

Lest we forget.