Remembering the Sacrifices of all Men, Women and Animals this ANZAC Day

Each year on April 25, ANZAC Day, all Australians and New Zealanders are reminded of the enormous sacrifice that thousands of men and women made during World War 1 at the landing of Gallipoli in 1915. ANZAC Day also provides us with an opportunity to remember all wartime efforts throughout history, some of which still take place today. Here, we would also like to reflect on the contribution of our four-legged soldiers, and their important roles throughout history.

Horses at War

In Australia, the Waler horse was the chosen breed to assist in World War 1. Being very strong and sturdy, Walers had the physical ability to travel long distances with little water and proved to have the considerable endurance that war required.

Horses’ wartime roles differed throughout history. Initially used for cavalry purposes, where soldiers fought on horseback, as time went on horses were also used to transport ammunition, equipment and wounded soldiers for medical help. By 1945, the introduction of vehicles such trucks and tanks for transportation and combat meant the use of horses by Australian forces diminished significantly.

Although their efforts were valiant and of much use to the armed forces around the world, the grim reality is that it is estimated over eight million horses lost their lives as a result of warfare, many of those from Australia. In fact, of the horses from Australia sent to World War 1, only a solitary one returned home. This was due to the fact that returning thousands of surviving horses to Australia was not only costly, but there was a fear of introducing exotic diseases to the country, threatening the livestock industry. A bay gelding by the name of Sandy was the lucky one.

Sandy

Sandy belonged to Major General Sir William Bridges, who died of a gunshot wound at Gallipoli in 1915. It was not until 1918, two years after General Bridges’ memorial ceremony took place in Melbourne, that Sandy was deemed disease free and transported back to Australia from Liverpool. He was then turned out to pasture at the ‘Central Remount Depot’, Maribyrnong where he lived out his final days.

Sandy’s remains were reserved by War Museum (now known as the Australian War Memorial) and displayed for many years, paying tribute to the thousands of horses that served in Australian war efforts. Eventually removed for preservation reasons, the display is still kept in the War Museum’s collection.

Sandy’s story is unique however he represents a life that many Australian horses endured through war, keeping their riders safe whilst forging unbreakable bonds, and a place in history forever.

Dogs at War

Unlike horses, who were primarily used at war for combat and transportation, dogs were utilised for their incredible sense of smell. Highly trained to sniff out dangers, including explosives and ammunition, dogs greatly reduced soldiers’ chances of injury and increased their chances of success. Their amazing skills even extended to finding fallen soldiers and carrying messages.

Still widely used today, dogs continue to serve in war efforts and are just as important as ever.

Sarbi

One of the most famous war dogs of Australia is Sarbi, a black Labrador X Newfoundland. Originally owned by a couple in NSW, Sarbi and her brother Rafi were acquired by the Australian Defense Force after the couple could no longer keep them due to work commitments. After extensive training, the two became Explosive Detection Dogs (EDD) and Sarbi became EDD Private Sarbi.

Sarbi’s story becomes that of a great tale after she went missing for 13 months whilst on deployment in Afghanistan in September 2008. Having disappeared after a violent gunfire battle, Sarbi was believed to have been captured and resided with a local for the time that she was MIA. The canine was eventually found by an American soldier, who organised for her to be returned to her Sapper (a soldier who performs engineering type tasks like bridge building), Corporal David Simpson.

In 2010, after extensive quarantine procedures, Sarbi was returned home to Australia where she was retired to live with her handler David and his wife. In 2011, Sarbi was awarded RSPCA’s Purple Cross, the organisation’s highest bravery award for animals who show ‘outstanding bravery and fortitude in the service of humans’. Sarbi has also been awarded the War Dog Operational Medal.

At 12 years of age and after a short battle with brain cancer, Sarbi sadly passed away in 2015. Her handler, Corporal David Simpson said that Sarbi passed away peacefully surrounded by her loved ones and that he hopes her story inspires other people to be determined and persevere through whatever comes their way in life.

Dogs and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD Dogs)

Not only are dogs unbelievable soldiers, they are widely used as companions for sufferers of PTSD, that service men and women may suffer as a result of war.

Assistance Dogs Australia specially trains dogs to provide freedom and independence of those living with a disability. Assistance Dogs trained for PTSD sufferers have a particular set of skills to help their owners feel more comfortable in their life away from battle. As outlined by Assistance Dogs Australia, these dogs are trained to respond to the following commands:

  • ‘Block’ directs the dog to stand in front of their owner, offering a barrier and space.
  • ‘Behind’ tells the dog to position itself behind their owner, a technique known as ‘posting’ which helps to ease the feeling of being constantly on edge.
  • ‘Lights’ signals for the dog to enter a room before the owner and turn on the lights so they don’t have to enter a dark space.
  • ‘Sweep’ is the cue for the dog to enter a room or house and sweep it for people or intruders, alerting its owner by barking.

The positive effects Assistance Dogs have on PTSD sufferers are monumental and incredibly important, highlighting how the role of dogs is just as crucial to a soldier’s wellbeing at home, as it is during battle.

There is no doubt that the incredible efforts and sacrifices made by these animals during times of need have saved many lives and assisted in times of war. As Australians, we sincerely thank all of our past and present, selfless service men and women, as well as their four-legged buddies who join them on the front line.

Lest We Forget.


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