Lot Archive


№ 241


8 December 1994

Hammer Price:

The Dickin Medal awarded to the Civil Defence rescue dog 'Peter', for locating persons trapped under blitzed buildings in London during the V1 and V2 rocket attacks in 1945

THE P.D.S.A. DICKIN MEDAL, bronze 'P.D.S.A. For Gallantry We also serve,' the reverse inscribed (Peter, M.A.P. attached to Civil Defence Nov. 1945. AFMC 1023 No 33) with original ribbon and brass hook for suspension from his collar, in case of issue, extremely fine and very rare

The medal is sold with a wealth of original documents and letters, contemporary photographs and newspaper cuttings including:

a. Award certificate for the Dickin Medal For Gallantry, signed by Mrs. M.E. Dickin, 29 November 1945.
b. Royal Air Force Police certificate 'For Loyal and Faithful Service 1939-45', signed by the Provost Marshal, Chief of Royal Air Force Police.
c. Numerous letters from the Ministry of Aircraft Production to Mrs. Stables concerning Peter's work and progress, including 'call up' instructions and official citation for the Dickin medal.
d. Letters from the P.D.S.A. Allied Forces Mascot Club including enrolment letter and others concerning his burial in the Animals Cemetery at the P.D.S.A. Sanatorium in Ilford, a privilege extended to all Dickin Medal winners free of charge.
e. Various letters from Peter's handler, Mr. Archie Knight, The Tail-Waggers' Club, and other receipts and documents.

The Civil Defence Service's remarkable Rescue Dog, Peter, a Scotch Collie of uncertain lineage, was born in 1941 and acquired by his owner Mrs. A.Y. Stables of Birmingham for ‘twenty-five bob’. In his formative years Peter was quite a handful. He fought with other dogs, chewed anything he could get hold of and generally behaved like ‘a four legged gangster'. In June 1944, in response to an appeal by the Ministry of Aircraft Production, Peter's then questionable talents were offered to the Government for war service. His 'call up' came in September and travelling on a third class War Department Railway Warrant he duly reported to the Ministry's Guard Dog School at Staverton Court in Gloucestershire for secret training as a Rescue Dog. Under the watchful eye of his trainer and handler, Mr. Archie Knight, Peter soon revealed a hitherto hidden sagacity and a capacity for learning. Having shown an admirable steadfastness under battle conditions on the assault course and a mastery of life saving techniques, he was accordingly 'passed out' and posted with Mr. Knight to Civil Defence Depot 1, housed in Cranmer Court, Chelsea.

From early 1945 until the cessation of hostilities 'Rescue Dog No 2664/9288 Peter', as he was officially known, served with a team of fifteen dogs attached to London Region Civil Defence Headquarters employed in the location of casualties trapped under debris as the result of Vl and V2 rocket attacks. During the course of this valuable work Peter was credited with 'six definites' and scores of probables'. In the case of the 'probables' (i.e. fatalities) his speed in locating them saved the Heavy Rescue Squads many hours of fruitless digging enabling them to move on to other incidents. However, even an expert team such as Peter and Mr. Knight could be duped. On one occasion while searching through a blitzed building, Peter gave a strong indication and tunnelling was begun. Shortly, a voice uttering a string of curses was heard emanating from the rubble, showing that the casualty was very much alive. The ambulance men stood to and the digging continued apace. But when the last piece of debris was removed the victim was found to be a rather large and irate parrot!

One of Peter's finest performances took place on 23 March when arriving at a bomb site at 9:20 am. he proceeded to give positive indications in a designated area. 'He was then transferred', according to an official account, 'to another area where equally good results were obtained.' The Rescue parties were continually calling for the assistance of Peter but it was not possible to deal with every one immediately. After nine hours continuous working, during which time Peter had never once refused to do all his handler asked of him, he was relieved by the dogs from another C.D. group. After a six hour rest he returned to the incident when he worked hard for another two hours without rest, giving further definite indications. There is no doubt that the prompt and accurate information given by Peter to his handler resulted in at least three persons being rescued alive by the Rescue Squads.' A confidential report on Peter's work written by Archie Knight in early April gives further evidence of Peter's determination. 'I think one of his finest jobs was on Monday. We were called 20 hours after the incident, and after several hours of heavy rain. 3 bodies were missing, and he very quickly indicated in a most unlikely spot, but he was right, and they uncovered a man and a woman both on the same spot. After all that rain had packed the debris tightly, I thought this a most praiseworthy effort. The next day we were called to another job. There were so many calls for Peter, who is well known in this district, that I worked him ten hours and he never once refused to give all he had. All his marks revealed casualties. The next day we returned, and he worked like a hero again, until after 6 hours, I refused to ask any more of him. I hated to work him like this but I also hated to refuse the rescue parties who were asking for him. He was really played out, but he worked like a Trojan.'

In May, Peter again distinguished himself when, attending the scene of one of the last rocket attacks of the war, he was responsible for saving the life of a small boy. However, Peter was no mere canine automaton. On arriving at one site right at the very end of the war, he and fellow Chelsea C.D. Dog Taylor sat down and refused to show any interest in the proceedings. Their handlers being somewhat perplexed tried them at various points but without success. Finally thinking that Peter and Taylor must be ill, their respective handlers withdrew them. Neither Archie Knight nor Taylor's handler, Mr. W.T. Rowe, could find any explanation for this isolated incident of non co-operation. Then Rowe hit upon the fact that for the last three days enemy action had prevented the delivery of the dogs' meat ration and consequently they had had to put up with biscuits. As far as Peter and Taylor were concerned, no meat, it seemed, meant no work.

Following VE day, Peter was temporarily retained by the Ministry and in June was chosen to lead the Civil Defence stand down parade in Hyde Park during which he was presented to the King and Queen, and Princess Elizabeth. By all accounts Peter thoroughly enjoyed the experience, especially meeting the Queen, who, being of Scots descent like himself, had a special word for him. Peter's interest in the Queen's fox fur was such that the King remarked 'He must think its rabbit, my dear.' In July, Peter went on a Mountain Rescue course in the Lake District and thereafter gave demonstrations of that discipline back at Staverton Court. His 'demob' finally came through at the end of July and he returned home to resume rabbit chasing activities.

Finally on 12 November, word reached Peter's home from the Allied Forces Mascot Club that he was to receive the official recognition which he richly deserved and that his award of the P.D.S.A. Dickin Medal had been approved by the Selection Committee in consideration of his service during the Blitz. Also the Tail-Wagger's Club of Great Britain further honoured Peter (Tail-Wagger No. 785378) by inscribing his name on their Roll of Club Heroes and by presenting him with their 'For Valour' badge. On the 29th, Peter was invested with the Dickin Medal by Sir James Ross of the Air Ministry at the United Charities Fair in Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane.

Peter whose rare service to humanity included saving the lives of six people breathed his last in November 1952 at the Peoples' Dispensary for Sick Animals in Nottingham He was buried in the Animals' Cemetery in Ilford, a Union flag draped over his small coffin and obituaries were published in several newspapers.

The Dickin Medal for Gallantry was awarded on 53 occasions between 1942 and 1949. Popularly recognised as 'The Animal V.C.' it was won most often by Messenger Pigeons, no less than 31, with 19 awards to Dogs, 3 to Horses and 1 only to a Cat. The following awards have been sold at auction in recent years and the prices achieved will therefore help as a guide for the example now offered which is sold without reserve:

Mercury (Pigeon), Christies, April 1983 - £5,000

Simon (Cat, Posthumous), Spink, September 1993 - £21,000

Ruhr Express (Pigeon), Buckland Dix & Wood, April 1994 - £5,800

Antis (Alsatian Dog), Sotheby May 1994 - £16,000