BookPick: The Animal Victoria Cross

Animal VCNearly seventy animals to date have won the Dickin Medal, the highest award for animal bravery. Many of their inspiring stories are told in a delightful book, The Animal Victoria Cross.

The Animal Victoria Cross, as it came to be called, was the brain-child of animal lover Maria Dickin. Its official name is the Dickin Medal and it is awarded to animals who display outstanding loyalty, bravery and courage.

Dogs, horses, pigeons and one cat, Simon, have been honoured.

The story of Simon has special resonance to me as I am both a cat adorer and ex-Navy. Simon was the ship’s cat aboard HMS Amethyst which was bombarded by shore batteries as she sailed up the Yangtze river in 1949. Simon, although wounded, heroically protected the ship’s meagre supplies by catching rats and boosted the morale of the crew during the months the ship and crew remained trapped by the communists. Finally, they made a successful daring escape bid but sadly when they returned to England Simon died in quarantine. He was only four years old and is buried in the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) cemetery in Ilford. A Union Jack was draped over his little coffin as the gallant little animal was laid to rest.

The majority of Dickin Medal awards have been related to war service and the conflicts include the Second World War, Korea, Iraq, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. The Al-Qaeda attack on the Twin Towers as well as the Blitz saw great courage exhibited by animals such as Rip, the dog who saved many lives. In addition to British animals, there are American, Canadian, Australian and Egyptian winners of this unique award.

This book will be treasured by animal lovers everywhere. It’s ideal to dip into, perhaps with a familiar furry friend at your feet…


The Animal Victoria Crossby Peter Hawthorne, Published by Pen & Sword. ISBN 178159042 7

6 Comments on “BookPick: The Animal Victoria Cross

  1. I have had the honor and privilege to support the U.S. Military Working Dog Program for the last 14 years. I can tell you these 4-legged soldiers are nothing short of amazing. Out there, catching the bad guys, alongside their equally brave handlers. I will definitely check out this book!

  2. Thank you for recommending this book. I didn’t know about this medal. The story of Simon the cat is very touching.I wonder if he was treated for his wounds, at all, while in quarantine?

    • He was treated for his wounds aboard Amethyst – the official reason for his dying in quarantine was the stress of the incident and an infection but I believe he missed the comradeship of all his sailor friends at sea…

  3. Remembering the K-9 service, especially where I served during Vietnam, but during every nations’ struggle for freedom – a lot of dogs who gave their all for us – and never made it home. No medals, just memories – deep in the heart, where it really counts. – WKD

  4. …further…some trivia about the movie:
    HMS Amethyst was brought out of storage to participate in the film. As the Amethyst’s main engines were no longer operational, HMS Magpie stood in for the shots of the ship moving.

    HMS Teazer stood in for both HMS Consort and HMS Concord.

    Although the real HMS Amethyst was used at the start of filming, a special effects explosion was made too big and blew a hole in the hull, flooding the engine room. Amethyst was sent to the breakers and HMS Magpie was used for the rest of the film. HMS Amethyst sustained more damage during filming than during the actual battle.

    The River Orwell, which runs between Felixstowe and Harwich, in Suffolk, England doubled as the Yangtze River during the making of this film.

    The technical adviser was Commander John Simon Kerans, the British Naval Attaché “who commanded H.M.S. Amethyst during much of the period of the story, and whose exceptional help is gratefully acknowledged” as the credits put it; he is portrayed by Richard Todd. He had been awarded the DSO Distinguished Service Order (“for distinguished services during active operations against the enemy”) for his part in the Amethyst incident, and soon after helping on the film served a term in the House of Commons after being elected Conservative Member of Parliament for The Hartlepools district from 1959 to 1964.
    Source IMDb

  5. Regarding the saga of the Amethyst: A movie of the escape of the Amethyst was made in 1957 called “Yangtse Incident: The Story of H.M.S. Amethyst”. It was released here in the U.S. as “Battle Hell (Battle Hell). B&W, it starred Richard Todd. Very stirring background music…”Tannhäuser” by Wagner as I recall.

    I have an old VHS copy of the movie around here somewhere.

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