A gallant World War 1 charger dubbed “the horse the Germans could not kill” has received the prestigious animal equivalent to the Victoria Cross in recognition of the millions of animals that served during the conflict.
Warrior became the first recipient of the Honorary PDSA Dickin Medal at a special ceremony at London’s Imperial War Museum on Tuesday night.
The medal was bestowed by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), the veterinary charity which runs the world’s most prestigious animal awards programme.
The Dickin Medal is recognised worldwide as the animals’ Victoria Cross, awarded to animals displaying conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with the military.
The Honorary PDSA Dickin Medal was awarded to Warrior to honour all the animals that served in World War 1. Their contribution predates the institution of the PDSA Dickin Medal, and the Honorary PDSA Dickin Medal recognises this.
The medal given to Warrior is the first Honorary PDSA Dickin Medal ever presented in the charity’s 97-year history
Warrior arrived on the Western Front on August 11, 1914, and remained there with General Jack Seely throughout the war.
He was subjected to machinegun attacks by air and survived falling shells at the Battle of the Somme. He was buried under debris and got stuck in the mud at Passchendaele, and was twice trapped under the burning beams of his stables.
Many times he charged towards the enemy, only to witness the men and his fellow cavalry horses cut down by gunfire and shells.
He was an inspiration to the soldiers as they faced their greatest fears in the battle against bayonets, bullets, gas and tanks.
Despite sustaining several injuries, Warrior survived and returned home to the Isle of Wight in 1918, where he lived with the Seely family until his death, aged 33.
Celebrities including Steven Spielberg – director of the Oscar-nominated film War Horse – have shown their support for the special honorary award.
“Warrior is an extraordinary example of the resilience, strength, and profound contribution that horses made to the Great War,” Spielberg said.
“Recognising him with an Honorary PDSA Dickin Medal is a fitting and poignant tribute not only to this remarkable animal, but to all animals that served.”
Other celebrity supporters of this honorary award include Paul O’Grady MBE, Sir Bruce Forsyth and Matt Baker.
PDSA Director General Jan McLoughlin told those gathered for the award ceremony: “Warrior’s gallantry and devotion to duty throughout World War 1 reflects the bravery shown by the millions of horses, dogs, pigeons and other animals engaged in the war.
“That is why he is a worthy recipient of this very special Honorary PDSA Dickin Medal – the first and only of its kind.
“And in this anniversary year of remembrance there can surely be no more fitting way to honour the bravery and sacrifice that millions of noble animals displayed during World War I.”
Commenting on the award, Brough Scott, the grandson of Warrior’s rider, General Jack Seely, said: “It is with great pride and gratitude that I accept this Honorary PDSA Dickin Medal on behalf of Warrior and all the remarkable animals in World War 1.
“Warrior’s story – which I grew up hearing at my mothers’ knee – was lost in time to the wider world. But now he rides again 100 years later, thanks to PDSA.
“My family and I are more than honoured that Warrior has been given this award on behalf of all animals that also served; we are truly humbled. I only wish Jack Seely were here today to witness Warrior receiving the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.”
Gina Koutsika, who heads national and international programmes and projects at the Imperial War Museum, said: “Over 16 million animals served in the First World War. They were used for transport, communication and companionship.
“Our love for animals is something that will never change and many members of the First World War Centenary Partnership are reflecting this in their programming. By honouring Warrior in the centenary year, PDSA have brought to the forefront the story of all animals.”
The PDSA Dickin Medal was instituted by the charity’s founder, Maria Dickin, in 1943. She was inspired to do so by the gallantry displayed by animals on active service in World War 2. To date, 65 medals have been awarded.
The medal is recognised worldwide as the highest award any animal can achieve while serving in military conflict.
The PDSA Dickin Medal is a large, bronze medallion bearing the words “For Gallantry” and “We Also Serve”, all within a laurel wreath. The ribbon is striped green, dark brown and pale blue representing water, earth and air to symbolise the naval, land and air forces. Warrior’s medal also features a bronze “Honorary” bar on the striped ribbon.
Since its introduction it has been awarded to 29 dogs, 32 World War 2 messenger pigeons, three horses (not including Warrior) and one cat.