LtCol. Edwin H. Richardson War Dog Camp Inspection Report

In July of 1918, LtCol. Edwin H. Richardson was asked to provide and inspection report of the dog training facilities in France. Below are the exerpts of his report that describe in detail the discipline, bravery and value of these gallant Wardogs.

 

My Offical Report

 

I give the official record of this first day's inspection:


"Visited the commanding officer of D.D. Signals, Second Army. Discussed with him the full organization of the Messenger Dog Service. He showed us the reports, which had just been received on the use of messenger dogs during the last offensive, especially a letter from the Brigadier of the 92nd Brigade, giving all details of the use made of the Messenger Dog Service.


With Officer In Command of Messenger Dog Service proceeded to II Corps. Met there A.D. Signals and Office in command of Messenger Dog Service, II Corps.


Made a complete round of all dogs at No. 1 Section Kennel. Received most favourable report from II Corps as to the general running of the Messenger Dog Service, II Corps Area.


Proceeded to No. 2 Section Kennel. Made complete round of all dogs now in this section Kennel. It was in this kennel, that the dogs were used so successfully by the 32nd Division. A few dogs required to be send back to the Central Kennel for further training, but on the whole all dogs in Nos. 1 and 2 Section Kennels would appear to be working in a most satisfactory manner."


Have received a few reports, which show the pride and interest taken by the men (keepers / handlers) in the work of their charges (dogs):


Keeper MacLeod states: "When the 29th Division came in, and relieved the 31st, there was a small advance made then; the dogs did great work, that was in Nieppe Forest Sector.


The G.O.C., 88th Brigade, wrote out, and had a note typed of which I got a copy, giving great praise to dogs 83, 94, and 65. The first two were Jock and Bruno, and the other Champion.


That was the first official praise we had from anyone. Then came another small advance, which proved the mettle of three more dogs, Whitefoot, Paddy, and Mop. The first two dogs were badly gassed, but carried on. They were three weeks in hospital after they came out of the line, but during the gas bombardment, they never failed to give the greatest satisfaction. Once again, there was a slight advance made, in which two dogs, Bruce and Blue Boy, were to the fore. Bruce came four different times from the front lines to Brigade Headquarters, with messages, which were of great importance.


Keeper Reid says: "The two dogs I took out are doing well, I should say exceptionally well. I have not the least hesitation in saying there is not a brace of better dogs in this or any other country as messenger dogs. Boxer, the Airedale, is running like an engine. The lurcher bitch, Flash beats him on his week's running by twenty minutes, which is not a lot considering the breeds. The General of the -------- Division said, that the Airedale was the best dog he had seen."


Keeper Dixon later reports on Boxer: "A staunch, reliable dog, ran steadily, and never let me down. Best time, three miles in ten minutes. On one occasion, he went over the top with the Kents. Released at 5 a.m., with important message. He jumped at me at 5:25 a.m. A tip-top performance, about four miles. A great dog!"


Kennel Section 1


There were about thirty six dogs at this section of various breeds. They were in excellent condition, and I was glad to hear from their officers in charge and from the keepers that they were doing well.


The keepers, whom I had personally trained in the school at Shoeburyness were glad to see me and my visit encouraged them in their difficult task. Many of them had, when the first drafts went out, great obstruction to contend with in the management of their charges. The important nature, which later on was recognized of the work the dogs were able to do, was not immediately realized.


Commanding officers of those battalions to whom they were first sent very often made light of the dogs, or else ignored them, or worse still rather cynically set them to tasks under impossible conditions. I feel deeply grateful to those officers, who had sufficient perspicacity to grant the man and dogs a fair trail wherever they were and to make allowances for difficulties in working, which later were over come.


Definite orders from headquarters were after a time formulated, governing the reception and disposal of these valuable animals and the men, who were responsible for them, so that respect was soon inculcated and was retained, when it was found what could be accomplished by their aid.


Major Waley was the officer responsible for putting these organizing disposals into practice in France. A central station was formed at Etaples for the reception of the dogs and their keepers on arrival from England; and for a resting place from their periods of duty at the Front. From here they were issued in batches of usually thirty-six dogs, with one keeper to every three dogs, and they were ordered to those parts of the line where an attack was impending. Major Waley maintained the organization of the service in a very excellent manner.


One of the great difficulties in the Messenger Dog Service is to enforce the most important rule, that when the dogs are taken forward from their keepers by the troops to whom they are attached, they must on no account be petted or fed when they are at the Front. All these animals being especially picked for their intelligence it was not to be wondered at that the dog loving British officers and men rather "spread themselves" in kind attention to the visitors. This, of course, was extremely bad from the training point of view, as it detached the dog's mind from its keeper and its dinner at the base.


It was therefore most important, that no dogs should be kept more than twelve hours in the line, but that it should be released before that time had elapsed. This regulation is to ensure that it should not become too hungry. Twelve hours is, of course, quite a reasonable time for a dog to go without food, as they were all well fed before going up to the line.


Of course, as a matter of fact, they were often released long before that time, but it was found necessary to emphasize this and to prevent them being fed at the Front. It was only when the importance of the work which the dogs were able to do began to be realized and it was lifted out of the rut of a rather amused and condescending tolerance, that general officers, officers and men combined to observe in every way, in their own interest, the rules which governed these canine soldiers in their arduous work.


The next day we went further down the line to a sector, where the dogs were running with the 9th and 32nd Divisions, operating between Bailleul and Merville. Some of them were going up the line with some of the Seaforths.


The officers of the battalion were very satisfied with the dogs and spoke highly of them, and when I arrived several of my old pupils were complacently awaiting to be release with important dispatches and were seated beside some weary officers in torn kilts in a broken down dugout. The Germans were just across the way and with the use of a glass, I could see right into their position.


Next day, we went to battalions of the Light Durham and the Yorkshire Light Infantry, which were holding a section of the line near Aire in detached posts. I was greatly welcomed and received reports on the dogs.


Our next visit of inspection led us a considerable distance down the line to an Australian division. When we arrived they were engaged in retaking a position at Corbie and had before successfully circled the Germans from Villers Bretonneux, an action of great importance, as this place was the key to amiens, and the enemy's plan of cutting the British and French armies in two by the capture of this last named town was thus foiled. The dogs did fine work here, and I received a number of highly satisfactory reports. Very often all communication had failed entirely in the heavy shelling and gas attacks and the way was kept open by these swift running dogs.


General Gouraud


I remember being greatly pleased at hearing that General Gouraud had asked to see us, having a great veneration for this fine soldier, who proved to be one of France's greatest generals. We were tired and dirty after a 250 mile journey, but the opportunity of a conversation with a man like this was not one to be lost. His opinion on messenger dogs was emphatic, and a remark being made by us as to the obstacles of the training, he replied, "What matter it! Commuication in the field is so difficult along ordinary lines in times of war, that even if only one dog out of four gets through, I am satisfied."



Army Headquarters Kennels


There were nearly 800 dogs in our camp, and the officers in charge were well chosen, being, many of them, Masters of Hounds and gentlemen, who understood the training and management of dogs in civilian life. One of them, told me that at his Chateau, which lay in the route of a famous German General's Army on its march to Paris, he kept some very fine pointers, which he was afraid might fall into the hands of the enemy.


Much as I should have liked to remain longer in France, I was unable to do so, as everywhere I found a need for more messenger dogs. So that my presence at the Training School in England was imperative.


On my return, I found the camp at Shoeburyness busy packing up for our new ground in Hampshire.


It was now thought advisable to stir up the public to the fact that dogs were being trained to assist soldiers and that the canine supply was decreasing in numbers.


Stannard Russell, of the Weekly Dispatch, visited the school and wrote: "Reinforcements are needed for the gallant British Army of Dogs, which are doing wonderful work as messengers in the great battle now raging in Flanders.


They are saving the lives of our soldiers and doing their bit to keep that unbroken line intact by getting safely through ground swept with the enemy shell fire to Headquarters with urgent messages, sometimes when there is no chance of our brave runners surviving the journey.


I saw Britain's new army of dogs in training at a certain spot in England yesterday. Their commander was Major Richardson, whose Airedales and bloodhounds in happier days, were known all over the world. He has been placed in charge of the training of these animals, and by patience, skill and kindness, has been obtaining remarkable results.


A company of dogs who have just completed their training and are ready for the next call from the front, were drawn up with their keepers for inspection. There were all the sounds of war. Shells from batteries at practice were screaming overhead, and army motor lorries passed to and fro. The dogs are trained to the constant sound of the guns and very soon learn to take no heed of them.


There were long lines of kennels with their occupants perched on the top watching the inspection with great interest, and barking their loudest. It was a sight that would have made Mr. George Moore sit down and write another powerful diatribe straight away. Many breeds were represented. Sheep dogs, lurchers, collies, retrievers, drovers' dogs, but no terriers smaller than Airedales."


" 'The breed does not matter so much,' said the major, 'it is brains that we want. Sheep dogs, any cross of sheep dogs or lurchers are perhaps the best of all, but we want all kinds of open air dogs. It does not take long to find the brainy ones, but most of the recruits pass the test.' The training is in full swing.


"The drill yesterday began with an obstacle race by a squad well advanced in training. Across the road were placed a barbed wire fence and afew yards further on a hurdle, and beyond that a barrier made of branches of trees. The dogs were taken about a mile up the road and then released. There was a great race for home. The bigger dogs leapt clear of all the obstructions; the smaller ones wriggled their way through; but two wily sheep dogs, strictly in accordance with the rules of the game preferred to leap a ditch and make a detour, arriving home as quickly as the others.


Novices who go astray in these and other test are never never punished. They are caught by the keepers and gently led back for another try.


Then the next test for the dogs was passing through a thick cloud of smoke. They were released only a few yards away from a burning heap of straw, and all, without a pause, dashed straight through the smoke and reached their destination with much barking and tail wagging.


And so most of the efforts of the battlefield were produced. The most trying test of all was running toward a number of infantry lying on the ground, who fired off blank cartridges at point blank range.


When the signal was given the whole crowd of dogs charged straight into the fire and in a flash were through the ranks of the 'enemy.' There was a great outburst of applause from all the dogs, that were looking on enviously at the heroic spectacle, and Masher, the Major's dog, better known as the Field Marshal, came forward with a few words of approval. Although only a 'Grade 3' dog, and on home service, Masher has acquired a position of peculiar privilege, and in spite of his diminutiveness, he is treated with awe by all the recruits who pass through this camp.


The dogs are trained to ignore the fire of guns of all calibers, and they are accustomed to the explosion of hand grenades near them. Major Richardson explains that there are many reasons why these animals are indispensable at the front in the present conditions of warfare. Once a dog knows his destination he will get there at all costs. Pigeons cannot be sent in a fog or in the dark. Dogs will go in all weathers and at all times.


During a very heavy bombardment by the enemy the casualties among the runners, especially when they have to cross much open country exposed to snipers, machine gun fire, or a heavy barrage, are heavy, and sometimes none succeed in getting through. A runner has sometimes taken two or three hours to do a journey from the trenches, which a dog has done in half an hour or less.


All the heroes of the Dog Messenger Service at the front are anonymous. Officially they are known only by the numbers on the collars, but the names of some of them have inevitably become famous among the troops.


In addition to the demand for messenger dogs, animals are also wanted as watchdogs. They play an important part on some parts of the front, and more especially the more distant theatres of the war. They should be mastiffs, bull mastiffs, Great Danes, Newfoundlands, St. Bernards, or any large, savage cross bred. Owners can render a service to the country by sending their dogs."


This concludes my report.

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