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A Century of Service:
Animals in War

This issue commemorates the valour and sacrifice made by countless animals during Australia’s involvement in war. For over a century, in times of conflict we have relied on animals for transport, logistics, communications and companionship. Strong and hardy, mules and donkeys have been vital pack animals in situations of war. The most famous are Simpson’s donkeys, who carried first aid and wounded soldiers during the Gallipoli campaign in World War I.

Dogs have also been indispensable, being used to carry messages, ammunition and medical equipment as well as locate wounded men and enemy soldiers. By sniffing out explosives dogs have saved many lives in Afghanistan, where Improvised Explosive Devices are one of the biggest threat to Australian soldiers. The mounted troops known as the Australian Light Horse first served in the second Boer War (1899–1902) and a number of units still exist today. Millions of horses, including thousands sent from Australia, died on the Western Front during World War I. The Australian Corps of Signals Pigeon Service was established during World War II in order to communicate vital messages. For actions during this conflict, two Australian homing pigeons were awarded the Dickin Medal for bravery. Thousands of camels served in the Imperial Camel Corps in the Middle East during World War I. Soldiers in the first four companies were recruited from Australian infantry battalions.

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Stamp - Mules and donkeys

Mules and donkeys

Strong and hardy, mules and donkeys have been vital pack animals in most situations of war. The best known are Simpson’s donkeys, who carried first aid and wounded soldiers during the Gallipoli campaign in World War I. However, because of poor records, it is difficult to know how many of these animals have actually served for Australia.

Unlike horses, mules and donkeys were generally regarded as stores items and consequently were not branded or numbered.

The main stamp photograph (AWM 024164) shows a mule and soldier of the 26th Australian Infantry Brigade in Syria in 1942. The smaller photograph of a soldier and mule (National Library of Scotland) was taken on the muddy Western Front during World War I.

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Stamp - Dogs

Dogs

Dogs have also been indispensable, being used to carry messages, ammunition and medical equipment as well as locate wounded men and enemy soldiers. By sniffing out explosives dogs have saved many lives in Afghanistan, where Improvised Explosive Devices are one of the biggest threat to Australian soldiers. One of our most celebrated dogs was Sarbi, a female black Labrador/Newfoundland cross, who was deployed as a Special Forces explosive detection dog to Afghanistan as part of the Australian Army’s Operation Slipper.

The first military dog to go missing in action, Sarbi vanished during the battle of Khas Oruzgan in 2008, not to be found until 14 long months later, in the company of an Afghani man. Sarbi received several honours, including the RSPCA Purple Cross Award, the War Dog Operational Medal and the Canine Service Medal.

The main photograph on the stamp was taken by Corporal Neil Ruskin in Afghanistan in 2008 and shows Sapper Shaun Ward with his explosive ordnance detection dog Ozzy ready to board a helicopter at the site of the new patrol base north of Tarin Kowt. The smaller photograph (AWM WAR/69/0863/VN) was taken in Nui Dat, South Vietnam in 1969.

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Stamp - Horses

Horses

Millions of horses, including thousands sent from Australia, died on the Western Front during World War I. Horses performed essential services by transporting troops and hauling supplies, equipment and ammunition. The Australian-bred horse, the Waler (New South Walers), served during the Indian Mutiny, Boer War and World War I. It was considered to be the finest cavalry horse in the world for its endurance, reliability and hardiness.

Of the more than 136,000 Walers sent with Australian troops in World War I, only one, Sandy, was lucky enough to return home. Sandy was the horse of Major General Sir William Bridges, who was killed at Gallipoli. The mounted troops known as the Australian Light Horse first served in the second Boer War (1899–1902) and a number of units still exist today.

The main photograph (AWM J00450), taken in 1914, shows the original First Light Horse Regiment at Roseberry Park Camp, near Merriwa, NSW, before departure from Australia. The trooper on the right is 71 Trooper William Harry Rankin Woods, 1st Light Horse Regiment who was amongst the first Light Horsemen to die of wounds on 15 May 1915 in Gallipoli, aged 39 years. The small photograph of a pack horse was taken in New Guinea in 1942 (AWM 013395).

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Stamp - Pigeons

Pigeons

Pigeons were used by the Allies during both World Wars, although the Australian Corps of Signals Pigeon Service was not established until World War II. Pigeons were extremely useful when communication was very difficult and limited. Messages enclosed within tubes attached to the pigeon’s leg could be delivered over long distances, with an average speed of around 48 kilometres per hour, through variable weather conditions.

Such was the heroism of these little birds that two Dickin Medals – the animals’ VC – were awarded to Australian pigeons. The first was Blue bar cock No. 139:D/D:43:T Detachment 10 Pigeon Section (Type B) attached to Detachment 55 Port Craft Company, whose flight through driving rain to Madang, New Guinea, on 12 July 1945, saved the crew and vital cargo of an Army boat in danger of foundering during a tropical storm. This intrepid bird covered 64 kilometres in 50 minutes.

The main photograph (AWM 058856) from 1943 shows Corporal C. Coleman of the 5th Australian Pigeon Section, Advanced Land Headquarters Signals, releasing a pigeon after attaching a message in an aluminium container to its leg. The small photograph (AWM 085464) was taken in Queensland in 1945 and shows the carrying method used by the 1st Pigeon Company.

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Stamp - Camel

Camel

Thousands of camels served in the Imperial Camel Corps in the Middle East during World War I. The Imperial Camel Corps was founded in January, 1916 to deal with a revolt in Egypt’s Western Desert, and the first four companies were recruited from Australian infantry battalions recuperating after Gallipoli. It attained its full strength in December that year. Of the four battalions that were eventually formed, the 1st and 3rd were entirely Australian, the 2nd was British, and the 4th was a mix of Australians and New Zealanders.

In May 1918 the Imperial Camel Corps was reduced to a single battalion and was formally disbanded in May, 1919, after the end of the war. Camels were obviously well suited to a desert environment, being hardy and not requiring much water. On average, camels could walk at 4.8 km an hour, or trot at 9.7 km an hour, while carrying a soldier, his equipment and supplies.

The main photograph on the stamp (AWM B02465) was taken in Egypt during World War I and shows a mounted Light Horseman on a fully equipped camel. The smaller photograph (AWM B00195), also from World War I, was taken in Palestine in 1918 and shows unidentified Australian members of the Imperial Camel Corps preparing to mount.

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