Animal Heroes
True stories of  Australia's military dogs, horses, pigeons and mascots  

Animal Heroes, by Anthony Hill, with  colour and black and white photographs. Second Edition published by Penguin/Michael Joseph, Melbourne, 2017, 234 pages.


9 new stories plus updates

Anthony's ABC 'News Breakfast' TV interview

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Writing Animal Heroes  Chapter Notes   New Introduction  References    Teachers' Notes  War Memorial  Horrie Archives 1  Horrie Archives 2


 'Wonderful stories of courage and companionship' ... The Weekly Times


The bond: David Simpson in Afghanistan, with Sarbi resting her head at ease on his knee.

Photo courtesy David Simpson

 Animal Heroes is a collection of 29 short stories in which Anthony Hill remembers just a few of the  many gallant dogs, horses, pigeons, donkeys, pets and mascots who have served with Australia's armed services from The Sudan contingent of 1885 to the present day.

A few of them, such as Simpson's donkey who carried the wounded at Gallipoli, are still remembered. But most have been forgotten – their stories lost in fading newspapers and human memory. Until Anthony restored them as true Animal Heroes.

Among the new stories are two from the colonial wars, including Australia's first official war dog ...the tale of a swearing Cocky in a WW1 convalescent home ... the tracker dog Pedro and his infallible nose for aniseed ... Willy the pig mascot and his magical curry dinner ...the story of the celebrated explosive detection dog Sarbi, missing for 14 months in Afghanistan, as told by her handler David Simpson ... and some of the very small creatures like the flies, fleas and lice that are part of every soldier's life in the field.



A memorial to all animals who have served with Australian forces in war was unveiled at the Australian War Memorial sculpture garden, Canberra, in May 2009. It was a joint project by the AWM and the RSPCA.

Designed by Steven Holland, the evocative centrepiece is a bronze horse's head from Web Gilbert's  Desert Mounted Corps monument, which was badly damaged during the Suez Crisis of 1956.

The head sits on a granite column resting on a base that reflects the shape of an eye ... and of a teardrop. It was opened during the 'A is for Animals' exhibition, to tour Australia, featuring many of the creatures in Animal Heroes.

Animal Heroes – The Stories

No animal ever asked to go to war. Whether it was a noble draught horse pulling the guns in a Flanders quagmire, or a small canary carried in a cage down a mine to test for poison gas, they can do no more than their nature and training permits them.

Inspired  by the story of Horrie the Wog Dog, a small mongrel mascot smuggled home during the Second World War, Animal Heroes honours them all.

  • The Sudan Donkey, our first war trophy
  • Bushie, Australia's first official war dog
  • Driver, the puppy who went to the First World War – and lived to come home again
  • Murphy, the Gallipoli donkey, who became part of Australia's national consciousness
  • Sandy, the only one of the splendid Waler horses ever brought back to Australia
  • Two carrier pigeons of the Second World War awarded the animal's equivalent of the Victoria Cross
  • Horrie the Wog Dog and his very long tale
  • Gunner, the dog whose amazing ears helped defend Darwin from enemy bombers
  • Judy, the little Singapore mutt who gave hope to the women and children imprisoned at Changi
  • Cassius, Tiber, Marcus and their tracker dog mates left behind in Vietnam
  • Sergeant Courage, the eagle mascot, who went AWOL and was "busted", now a WO2
  • Snappa, the promiscuous crocodile, now WO2

Horrie the Wog Dog commands a tank

  • Makai, an American-trained dolphin and his marine mammal companions, alongside whom Australian navy divers worked in Iraq – giving a whole new meaning to the use of animals in war
  • Simpson and his donkey pals the SAS used in Afghanistan
  • Boris, the sniffer dog, who saved an orphan girl in East Timor
  • Sarbi, Australia's most decorated explosive detection dog



Some  of their stories are sad. Some are funny. But all of them ennoble humanity whose cause they served.

For more info

For more information go to the background article Writing Animal Heroes in which Anthony tells what inspired him to write the book and the respect he hopes everyone will feel for the  animals who have served our nation's forces. Look at the many wonderful photographs of Animal Heroes at the Australian War Memorial > collections > animals. This page also has a complete set of Chapter Notes to Animal Heroes with the References and Further Reading guide. Official records on Horrie can be seen online at the National Archives of Australia> Recordsearch > Guest > Horrie 1945

Animal Heroes Q&A

Why did you write Animal Heroes?

At the launch of my book Young Digger, a friend told me the secret story of Horrie the Wog Dog, another war mascot smuggled home, this time by Private Jim Moody, pictured (right) with Horrie and Sergeant Roy Brooker.

Ion Idriess published Horrie's story in 1945, amid real public anger when it was thought the quarantine authorities had destroyed Horrie. This new ending was such a "twist to the tail" I knew it had to be written. 

I confirmed the story with Jim's family and mates, and decided to include it with a series of stories about animals who have served with Australian  military forces.

How are animals used in war?

From time immemorial people have taken animals to war. Cavalry horses were used to charge the enemy. Pigeons carried messages from the front back  to headquarters. Mules and donkeys transported weapons and supplies.

Dogs have always had a special place in human affairs. They have been trained to track enemies, to sniff for weapons and explosives, and used as patrol or messenger dogs.

During the First World War, dogs were even taught to be ambulance assistants, carrying medical supplies and bandages to the wounded, as this French postcard shows from 1914.

Are animals still used in war?

Yes indeed. Although armies  are highly mechanised, explosive detection dogs, tracker dogs and guard dogs still have an important place in military life. They have special abilities with scent and hearing that cannot  be replaced.

In Afghanistan Australian SAS forces used donkeys to carry supplies into the mountains. And in Iraq, Australian navy divers worked alongside bottle-nosed dolphins trained by the US military to check for possible underwater mines.

Until recently, quarantine fears meant that most of the animals taken overseas by Australian forces never came back.

Of the 135,000 horses who left Australia during the First World War, the only one who came home was Sandy, the favourite charger of the first AIF commander, General Bridges. None of the 11 black Labrador tracker dogs taken to Vietnam returned – something which still grieves the men and women who knew them.

The good news is that today the war dogs taken overseas do come back – like Boris who served in East Timor, pictured here with his handler Lee Doyle. When Boris retired he became Lee's family pet. And Vale Boris! After a wonderful 16 years, he died in early 2009.

And there's more good news. Australian military dogs now qualify for the world's first canine service medals. Those who serve overseas receive the War Dog Operational Medal with Clasps, and those who serve for five years at home get the Canine Service Medal

Recognised at last! True Animal Heroes!