Wednesday, 6 May 2020

VE Allotment Celebration Packet 3: RIP the Rescue Dog

Today when a disaster such as an earthquake occurs, we take search and rescue dogs, sonar and infra-red detectors for granted. But that wasn’t the case in World War Two.

On September 7, 1940, Germany mounted 57 consecutive days of bombing and they also targeted other cities until May of 1941. German planes dropped over 300 tons of bombs on London on the first day alone.

In among a bombed out streets in Poplar in the East End of London, a stray dog was wandering scared, hungry and searching for scraps to survive. His home had been bombed and the whereabouts of his family was unknown. He was lost and alone.

Air Raid Warden Mr.E. King noticed the lost pup and tossed him some food. When he had eaten the food, the dog tagged along after Mr. King. By the time they reached the station, they had become friends and Mr. King’s fellow wardens quickly took to the stray. They named it ‘Rip’ and it had now found a new home and was adopted by the men as the first official mascot of Southill Street Air Raid Patrol.

Almost immediately and with no training, Rip proved he had a talent for finding people buried in rubble. King said at the time “It wasn’t a question of training him. They simply couldn’t stop him.” Rip had become the service’s first unofficial search and rescue dog and an unexpected hero.  

His determination and success in searching for people buried under the rubble of destroyed buildings convinced authorities of the benefit in training dogs in search and rescue and created an official training program.

Rip was undaunted by buildings falling, or by fires and smoke around him. With the dogged determination of a terrier, Rip frantically dug at the pile of bricks, stones, masonry and dirt, wagging his tail and yelping as his way of assuring a victim that help was on the way while human rescuers worked to clear debris. Between 1940 and 1941, Rip located and saved over 100 human lives, and countless animals buried in rubble.

When he wasn’t looking for survivors, Rip followed King on his patrols at night and watched him work his allotment during the day.

The PDSA Dickin Medal for wartime animal heroes was created in 1943. To honour Rip’s bravery and devotion to duty, he was awarded this prestigious medal the animals' Victoria Cross after the war in July of 1945. It was proudly worn on his collar until his death from old age in 1946. He became the first of 12 Dickin Medal recipients to be buried in the PDSA Cemetery in Ilford, Essex. The words on his tombstone express the thanks and love of a grateful nation and read ‘Rip, D.M., “We also serve” – for the dog whose body lies here played his part in the Battle of Britain.’

The author is indebted to the research and archive provided by Mick Lemmerman and the work and archive of the Island History Trust which enabled this untold story to be written.