“On this day in 1943, near the turning point of World War II, the first ever Dickin Medals were bestowed upon three deserving recipients serving with Britain’s Royal Air Force for aiding in a heroic rescue. The recipients’ names were White Vision, Winkie, and Tyke. They were pigeons.
The Dickin Medal is named after Maria Elisabeth Dickin, who founded the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) in 1917 to provide for sick and injured animals belonging to people in need. During World War II, Dickin sought to celebrate and honour the great bravery of animals serving both at the frontlines and at home. She introduced the medal in 1943, which is a bronze medallion bearing a laurel wreath surrounding the words “”For Gallantry”” and “”We Also Serve”” hung on a stripped green, brown, and blue ribbon–representing the naval, land, and air forces.
The decorated White Vision, Winkie, and Tyke (who was also known as George to some) were one of many messenger, or honing, pigeons used in the war. Beyond pigeons, animals such as horses, dogs and even elephants have a long history of serving alongside humans in combat. There is even a history of animals receiving awards prior to the Dickin Medal, a notable example being Cher Ami, another pigeon, who was awarded the Croix de Guerre by France for helping save almost 200 men in the Argonne Forest during World War I. Despite being shot in the chest and almost losing a leg, Cher Ami managed to fly 25 miles and delivered the message to headquarters.
Between 1943 and 1949, the Dickin Medal was awarded to more than 50 animals, including 32 pigeons, 18 dogs, three horses and a cat named Simon who had helped rid HMS Amethyst of rats.
The PDSA still recognises animals “”displaying conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty”” in service today. Two recent recipients are Labradors named Sadie and Treo who helped locate explosive devices in Afghanistan.”
Credit: Getty Images
Caption: British soldiers train a carrier pigeon in South England, circa 1914.