features / interviews

In the Line of Duty: Building a Memorial to the Unsung Canine Heroes of WW1

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Published by Positively Scottish.

They are the forgotten heroes of the Great War, thousands of dedicated individuals who more than played their part on the front line.

But now a crowdfunding campaign is under way to provide a permanent memorial to the Airedale Terriers near the Scottish base where their training began, at East Haven in Angus.

During the First World War, the dogs were used by the British Red Cross and by the Army to locate injured soldiers on the battlefields, for sentry work, to carry messages through the trenches, and to carry first aid supplies and carrier pigeons on crates on their backs.

Wendy Turner, secretary of the Airedale Terrier Club of Scotland Breed Rescue, is leading the crowdfunding to raise £50,000 for a monument, ideally to be unveiled to coincide with the centenary of the end of the war in 2018.

Wendy says: ‘The crowdfunding campaign only started in April and it’s up to over £2000 already. Angus Council said they would match the figure when it reached £1,250 which helps give us a boost. In the meantime, I’m trying to get grants from here, there and everywhere.’

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The story behind the campaign began in the early 1900s when Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Hautenville Richardson and his wife, Blanche Bannon, bought Panbride House, a manor house between Carnoustie and East Haven. Both were avid dog trainers.

Wendy says: ‘They looked at small terriers and collies and other breeds but they settled on the Airedale Terriers because of the temperament and the sheer tenacity of the breed.’

Originally, the couple trained four Airedales who were given to the Glasgow Police, two stationed at Maryhill and two at Queen’s Park. These Airedales become the first official police dogs in Scotland and the UK.

At the beginning of the First World War, when word began to spread about the Airedales’ intelligence, obedience and energetic nature, the British Red Cross approached Edwin and Blanche to ask if they could train dogs to locate wounded soldiers and to carry their medical supplies on the battlefield.

Wendy says: ‘Once they were trained for that, the British Army obviously had their eye on them, thinking that they could use these dogs, too. So they asked Lieutenant Richardson and his wife to start training Airedales to carry messages through the trenches, do sentry work, and to carry the carrier pigeons in cages on their backs because the pigeons were used to send messages back and forth during the war.’

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The British Army were so pleased with the Airedales’ resourcefulness, aptitude and bravery in war zones that they opened a purpose-built war dog school in Shoeburyness in Essex. Edwin and Blanche then moved into the training school to continue their work.

Wendy says: ‘Our aim is to have a monument built where it all started in Angus because I think it’s a piece of history that’s kind of been forgotten about. When I started researching, I found some contacts in historical societies who I thought would know all about Airedales, but I couldn’t find anyone who knew much about it at all.’

When she began to dig into the history of the Airedales as war dogs, Wendy eventually sourced contact details for someone who pointed her in the direction of Panbride House and this piece of information set her on the right track.

Discovering the history of the Airedales and the sacrifices they made alongside soldiers, in the line of duty, Wendy was inspired to start the campaign to honour these tremendously loyal and intelligent dogs.

Wendy says: ‘I’ve applied for several grants. Our aim is £50,000 as it costs £40,000 alone just for the sculptor and the granite. And the rest of it goes to getting the 30 tonnes of granite moved, pathways put in, getting a plinth and other expenses. I feel like I’m spending my life on a computer at the moment trying to organise it all!’

‘We’re hoping to have sculptor Bruce Walker from Kirriemuir create the monument. It’s his artist’s impression on our website. He’s the only sculptor in Scotland who specialises in granite sculpture. And we really wanted Scottish granite from Aberdeen. We felt that was important because it’s a story that starts here in Scotland.’

You can find out more and donate to the Airedale Monument Fund, here.

What do you think of this story? Let me know in the comment section below.

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