Animals at war: Sgt Stubby the dog, Cher Ami the pigeon, and Sid and Seigfried Slug

Sgt Stubby with his medals
Sgt Stubby with his medals

SGT STUBBY was the little dog that was to become the most decorated dog of the first world war.

In 1917, a stray pitbull-type dog walked into an army training session at Yale Field in Connecticut, USA. A corporal by the name of John Robert Conroy decided to adopt the little fellow, naming him Stubby on account of his little stubby tail. America entered the war that same year and Conroy smuggled him into France with his regiment, the 102nd, 26th Infantry Division.



Apparently Stubby had learnt how to march with the soldiers on the drill field, and had even been taught to salute. When Conroy’s commanding officer discovered the illicit mutt, Conroy gave the order ‘Present Arms’, to which Stubby stood 
on hind legs and saluted the officer. From that moment on he was officially the mascot of 
‘The Yankee Division’ and off to war he went.

He was given especially-made ‘dog tags’ and along with his regiment, was soon in the horror of battle.

He was wounded in the leg by shrapnel and nearly died in a mustard gas attack. Far from rolling over and dying, he recovered and became a gas detector for his men! His sense of smell warned of impending gas attacks. He would run up and down the trenches barking, and biting the men until they put on their gas masks. Stubby would then run off and hide until the gas had cleared.

His hearing was so acute he could hear the whistling of incoming shells before the troops could, and would bark a warning. He could distinguish between English and German speakers, and could smell the difference. Running up and down the trenches he would bark, then bite the sentry, in order to warn of approaching German, bratwurst-scented troops.

Sgt Stubby with General 'Black Jack' Pershing

Sgt Stubby with General 'Black Jack' Pershing

The little dog’s acute sense of hearing saved many a wounded Doughboy from ‘No-Mans Land’. Because he could differentiate between English and German, he would lead the English speaker back to the allied lines, or if the wounded man was too badly wounded, he would stay and bark for help.

In April 1918, during the second Battle of the Marne, Stubby was severely injured by a grenade, receiving shrapnel wounds to his chest and front legs. He was operated on and his life saved. When he had recovered, he returned to the front line and was with his regiment when it liberated the town of Chateau Thierry.

The women of the town were so taken with the little dog’s exploits that they made him a chamois jacket. They decorated it with his name, and flags of the allied nations. Following that, the Americans made him an infantryman’s jacket to which his medals were attached. Stubby’s medals included; the Purple Heart, the Medal of Verdun, the Republic of France Grande War Medal, as well as his various campaign medals

There is no ‘official’ record of his promotion to ‘Sergeant’. However it is believed to have occurred in the September of 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne campaign. While patrolling his trenches, Stubby discovered a camouflaged German spy who was recording American trench emplacements. Smelling the enemy, he attacked the man, biting him in the leg. When the German made a run for it, Stubby launched himself, and latched on to the soldier’s buttocks. He didn’t let go until the Americans came running to investigate the bloodcurdling screams.

Ironically, promotion to sergeant meant Stubby outranked his owner, as John Conroy was still a corporal. Not only that, Sergeant Stubby received yet another medal. This time it was the Iron Cross that had been removed from the German with the bite-marked buttocks!

Sgt Stubby was smuggled back into America where he became a national hero. He campaigned for American War Bonds, and was allowed to stay in five-star hotels, despite their ‘no dogs’ policies. He was presented at The White House twice, and introduced to no less than three American presidents. He was made a member of the American Legion, offered free food for life by the YMCA, and in 1921, General ‘Black Jack’ Pershing pinned a unique ‘Dog Hero Gold Medal’ on to his military jacket.

In 1926 Sgt. Stubby went to the big kennel in the sky. He was believed to be about ten years old. His preserved remains are on display, along with a record of his exploits, at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Good dog, Stubby!

‘Cher Ami’.

Communication was then, as it is now, a key factor in any battle. In the first world war the humble pigeon became a vital part of the communication chain, and the most famous of all carrier pigeons was one called, ‘Cher Ami’ (Dear Friend). The bird, originally thought to have been male, had been donated by British ‘pigeon fanciers’ to the American Signals Corp.

‘Friendly fire’ was then, as it is now, a regrettable part of many a battle. On October 3, 1918, about 500 men of the 77th Division, forever to be known as ‘The Lost Battalion’, found themselves trapped behind enemy lines – 197 were killed in action and over the next few days, about 150 went missing or were taken prisoner.

Runners had either been shot, captured or simply got lost in the Argonne forest. The remaining 194 men, commanded by Major Charles White Whittlesey, were in a desperate state, low on food, water and ammunition.

To make matters worse, 
a carrier pigeon message 
sent by them gave the wrong 

American gunners began to rain shells down on to the beleaguered troops of the 77th. Their remaining pigeons, carrying a variety of desperate messages, were blasted out of the sky by German bullets.

‘Cher Ami’ was their last hope. Whittlesey placed his note into the pigeon’s leg canister,

The message read, ‘We are along the road parallell 276.4. Our artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heavens sake stop it’. The pigeon was released and was almost immediately shot down. Cher Ami had been hit in the breast, blinded in one eye, and had a leg almost severed, held on by a just thin piece of tendon.

Despite her injuries, she flew again, covering the 25 miles to her loft in just over an hour. The message was read, and the bombardment ceased.

On the October 8, the remaining men of The Lost Battalion were rescued. Cher Ami was operated on, but the surgeons couldn’t save her shattered leg.

In its place she was fitted 
with a wooden leg. The same General ‘Black Jack’ Pershing oversaw the pigeon’s ‘ticket home’ to the USA.

The little bird died of her wounds on the June 13, 1919, but not before she had been awarded the French Croix de Guerre with Oak Leaf Cluster, for earlier delivering 12 vital messages at Verdun.

Cher Ami’s remains are 
also on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Sid and Siegfried Slug

European glow worms (Lampyris Noctiluca) were collected by the hundred and contained in glass jars. Because of their quite considerable 
bio-luminescence (light!) qualities, they were used in order to read maps etc in the gloom of the trenches.

However, it was the humble garden slug that was to prove to be an actual lifesaver for both British and German troops. For years scientists had been trying to find an early warning detection system for poison gas. Everything from flies, to fleas to birds and other animals had been experimented with, but to no avail.

Then Dr Paul Bartsch of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington USA, decided to conduct,’ slug trials’.

In Dr Bartsch’s own words: “It was demonstrated that he (Sid?) could show the presence of mustard gas in a solution of one part in 12 million parts of air. He could even do more, for upon closer inspection it was found that by means of the slug’s reaction it was possible to determine the actual proportion of gas in the air.

Since one part of mustard gas in four million parts of air marked the danger point in man, there was tremendous leeway which gave ample opportunity 
to sound a signal for putting 
on masks.”

Sulphur mustard, ‘mustard gas’, when coming into contact with moisture, produces hydrochloric acid.

The gas/acid would burn the delicate lung membranes of any air-breathing creature. But, Sid the slug, on detecting the stuff would instantly react by basically, closing it’s ‘mouth’!

By the simple expedient of using an old shoebox containing a slug on a damp sponge, thousands, if not tens of thousands of lives were saved.