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Animal VC goes up for auction

A BRAVERY medal awarded to a pigeon saw action German-occupied France alongside British secret agents during the Second World War and survived against all the odds to bring back vital information is to be sold at auction.

The auction of the Dickin Medal won by the cock bird, named Commando, at Spink on November 4th recalls a wonderfully eccentric - but very effective - aspect of British secret operations against the Nazis.

Commando was awarded the medal, known as the animal Victoria Cross, for making three trips to occupied France with agents of the Special Operations Executive in 1942.

The information that Commando brought back for SOE was so secret that no details could be given in his citation. It was simply described as "valuable".

Many lives were saved by the pigeons who brought back messages in metal canisters strapped to their legs. Two of these are part of the auction in London. Commando's medal, which is being sold by Mr Moon's granddaughter, Valerie Cork, is expected to fetch £5,000 to £7,000.

Commando survived the war to enjoy a well-earned celebrity status. He took part in an exhibition of wartime homing pigeons and was later put to stud to breed future generations of birds with his stamina and tenacity.

Sniffer trained

There have been 60 recipients of the Dickin medal over the years, the most recent being ‘Buster’, a sniffer dog trained by the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, who received the medal in December 2003 for locating a hidden cache of arms, explosives and drugs during service in southern Iraq earlier that year.

He received his medal from Field Marshal Lord Inge, a former Chief of Defence Staff, at a ceremony at the Imperial War Museum in London, accompanied by his trainer and handler, Sgt Danny Morgan.

Buster discovered the cache in April 2003 during a search in the town of Safwan. A sweep of five buildings by troops had produced nothing when the spaniel was called in.

Within minutes, he found guns, grenades, ammunition, bomb-making equipment, explosives, heroin and cocaine hidden in a wall cavity. A number of Iraqis were detained. Lt Col Gerald Dineley, an Army spokesman, said: "Buster succeeded where humans failed."

Returned

Buster was one of more than 20 dogs drafted to the Gulf to help British forces and has just returned to Aldershot after quarantine.

Prior to Buster, the 59th recipient of the award was also a military dog. ‘Sam’ a GSD that disarmed a gunman and held rioters at bay in separate incidents while serving with the British Army in Bosnia-Herzegovina received his award posthumously.

Sam, who died of natural causes aged 10 helped Sgt Carnegie to defuse two flashpoints in 1998 while serving with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps Dog Unit. In the first, a volley of shots rang out as the 1st Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment patrolled Drvar. Troops saw a gunman run into a bar.

In the medal citation, Sgt Carnegie said: "After a chase Sam brought down the suspect and I disarmed him, retrieving a loaded pistol." Six days later, again in Drvar, a mob was besieging a compound where Serbs were taking refuge.

Sgt Carnegie said: "By threatening the mob with our pistols and dogs we forced our way into the compound. We kept the rioters at bay until reinforcements arrived.