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Often forgotten and rarely recognised, are our four-legged canine diggers, who have served and suffered alongside Australian soldiers.
From the Boer War (1899-1902) through to more recent conflicts in Vietnam and Afghanistan, the values of instinctive loyalty, courage, intelligence and trainability have been highly regarded by our armed forces.
To their handlers, our canine diggers are a source of unconditional and uncomplaining friendship, mateship and relief from the daily horrors and stresses of conflict - the only price they ask is a pat and a smile. When far from home, the powerful bonds formed between dogs and their handlers are valuable in helping to maintain a sense of humanity.
Among many duties in the First and Second World War, our enlisted mates have helped carry messages through the trenches, laid telephone wire and carried ammunition and medical supplies. German Shepherds were given sentry duties, watching over valuable military equipment.
In Vietnam, the Australian Task Force began to appreciate their natural attributes, including a keen sense of smell. Dogs were included in combat tracker teams, searching for wounded soldiers and detecting enemy mines and positions.
In more recent conflicts, explosive detection dogs have saved countless Australian soldiers and Afghanistan civilians by detecting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) up to 100 metres away.
Even though dogs have served our country for more than a century, much of their efforts have escaped public attention. Recognition is increasing, mainly thanks to organisations such as the Australian Defence Force Tracker & War Dog Association, who are ensuring that memorials are appearing across Australia.
While we often rightly focus on the human cost of operations, we should never forget the sacrifice and contribution made by man’s best friend.
Australian troops, machine gun section with mascot 'Punch' on board Berrima, from an album of Photographs Used in the Book "How Australia TookGerman New Guinea: An Illustrated Record of the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force", 1914, by F. S. Burnell State Library of New South Wales, PXA 2165
Australia’s first official war dog, a black and white collie-cross called “Bushie”, was a mascot of the NSW Bushmen’s Contingent and travelled with them to the Boer War in 1900.
After the war, he was presented as a gift to Queen Victoria shortly before she died, ending his days in the royal kennels at Osborne House.
Postcard of Bushie, from the New South Wales Bushmen's Contingent correspondence relating to Bushie the dog, 1900-1901.
Article extract from the New South Wales Bushmen's Contingent correspondence relating to Bushie the dog, 1900-1901.
New South Wales Bushmen's Contingent correspondence relating to Bushie the dog, 1900-1901.