[WWI] Fwd: [Prop_Planes] In praise of the squadron dog

coyotemagic at comcast.net coyotemagic at comcast.net
Fri Apr 29 18:36:59 EDT 2016

Very nice, Douglas! Thanks for posting. 

----- Original Message -----

From: "Douglas Anderson" <djandersonza at gmail.com> 
To: "World War I Modeling Mailing List" <wwi at wwi-models.org> 
Sent: Friday, April 29, 2016 3:12:00 PM 
Subject: [WWI] Fwd: [Prop_Planes] In praise of the squadron dog 

​Somewhat OT and somewhat ot but with a couple of OT pics and still a good read​ 

In praise of the squadron dog 

April 13, 2016 

By Dave O’Malley 

When I was a child, when dogs were free-range, when days were forever and being inside was prison, I knew a German Shepherd named Sheba. 

Sheba was massive, collarless, dirty with oil from sleeping under a dump truck at night, and frightening to strangers, but she was profoundly and warmly gentle with our group of neighbourhood children. At night, she guarded wrecked truck carcasses and parts heaps in the back lot of Corkery’s Cartage and by day she was free to wander...like we were. She was protective, omnipresent, playful, and she gave us confidence to roam onto neighbouring turf where rival gangs of kids were always looking for a fight. 

Sheba was our talisman, our juju, our good luck charm. We couldn’t start a game without involving her or walk home without calling her to our side. She would crawl into our underground forts and we even constructed an “elevator” to give her access to our treehouse. Dogs and young boys have a bond of understanding that is never spoken about, never analyzed, never strained – only enjoyed. To this day, I think of Sheba and how proud I was to be shadowed by her as I rode my bike down the dirt roads of a timeless Elmvale Acres. I have no memory of what happened to her, just images of her somewhere in the sunlight on those long, loose, and happy days spent in her company. How she met her end is thankfully not in my head, but I know now that her assignment was to protect us, the Smyth Road Boys. 

Every dog has its own cosmic assignment. Some snarling and unhappy German shepherds are to be chained to an engine block in a Pennsylvania junk yard, some bloated spaniels comfort lonely octogenarian spinsters while dining on marshmallows and cashews, some Pekingese change for the better the lives of shut-ins with requited affection, while some pit bulls are slated to bring menace and a degree of unearned security to mullet-headed reprobate dope dealers. 

Every dog has an assignment, every dog has his day. 

While canines have roamed the planet for eons and shared the company and shelter of man over millennia, one powerful latter-day assignment is but a century old – the squadron or hangar dog. It is perhaps the highest calling any dog can have, for he or she will provide anchorage and embrace for those in peril in the air. 

We now know that the appearance of the first squadron or aviation dog dates to the crack of dawn of flight, to Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, where the Wright brothers were still experimenting and preparing their machine for their now-seminal flight. The dog was there, but his name is not recorded; just a nameless black dog accompanying a man and a boy in a photograph of the 1903 Wright Flyer on the launching track. 

The Wright brothers’ flight was only 11 years before the half-decade-long misery and meatgrinder that was the First World War. By that time, the squadron dog was already part of the culture of aviation and, in particular, military aviation. Many a group photo or image of pilots relaxing included a four-legged aviator standing mutely with his or her pilots and ground crews. 

Over years of storyline research on the web and in books for our Vintage Wings of Canada website, I constantly ran across these images of smiling pilots and their dogs. In almost every image, the pilots appeared to be relaxed, confident, positive, and even laughing. It got me to thinking about the role of these hangar hounds, these unit pooches, these squadron dogs. What is their universal appeal for the aviator? You never see dogs hanging around race car drivers or lawyers or locomotive engineers, so why the abundance of pooch ’n’ pilot imagery throughout the history of aviation? 

The connection, I believe, is found in three of the most important factors impacting a combat pilot’s life – youth, fear, and loneliness – a potent mix that finds a semblance of balance and normalcy in a four-legged animal with no animosity. 

To begin with, fighter pilots and bomber crews are, if anything, young. Boys, really, just a couple of years past high school, first dates, harvest time, and field sports. And boys love dogs and dogs, as they do, return that love in a neverending do-loop of unconditional affection. Growing up, they see dogs as companions in adventure, non- judgmental listeners, and surrogates for youthful love. It's just natural. 

Secondly, combat airmen were facing repeated peaks of ungodly stress, horrific personal losses, endless deprivation, and, in what has to be an understatement, an uncertain future. These strains and bombardments on their psyches caused extreme degradation to their confidence and overall mental state. The squadron dog provided momentary release from these responsibilities and, in the same way that, today, dogs are used to help comfort, ground ,and bring relief to patients with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and depression, aircrew found solace in a dog and a link to a real world without the stresses they faced. 

Thirdly, and most importantly, most combat groundcrew and aircrew, despite the bravado and squadron camaraderie, were profoundly lonely. They longed for mail from home, their mothers and girlfriends, a home-cooked meal, high school buddies, and some semblance of the way it was before they found themselves in their predicament. While stories abound of pub-fuelled exploits with Navy, Army, and Air Force Institute girls and London “birds”, the great majority of these young men spent their months and years of hardship without the simple blessing of affection. Mothers were not there to stroke their hair. Fathers were not there to lay a hand upon their shoulders. Sweethearts were not there to fold them in their arms. It is a known phenomenon that one sure way to feel the warmth of affection is to give affection. Enter the scrawny, floppy, slobbering, squadron puppy whose affection meter (sometimes called a tail) is always pinned at “Happy to See You”. 

The squadron dog had an important role in squadron life and some dogs were given official status as “Squadron Mascot” such as the spaniel Straddle of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 422 Squadron or the Vietnam “Thud” [F-105 Thunderchief] drivers’ legendary Roscoe, of the United States Air Force’s 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron. But the vast majority of these welcome creatures were simply the stray puppy or the starving cur that haunted the chow line or the flightline. I have always wondered what happened to these dogs as the unit got transferred or the war wound down or their masters failed to return from a mission. I know that in many cases of the death or capture of the pilot or crewman who owned the dog, the little guy would have been adopted by a fellow airman. In rare cases, the dog immigrated to Canada upon the return of the squadron. The vast majority, unfortunately, were victims of the war. 

I have this maudlin image in my head of the fate of most of these lovely dogs, especially those adopted in-theatre. I see the desert of North Africa. The last aircraft is fading into the haze, trucks filled with equipment and ground crew are raising a cloud of dust in the low light of a late afternoon as they too fade into the distance. I feel a growing silence. I see the detritus of war blowing and flapping in the desultory breeze, flies buzzing over middens of cans and boxes. I see heat rising from the desert floor and a single whimpering dog, standing, looking...waiting. War is hell, even for dogs. The Squadron Dog...long may the little guy live! 

This article originally appeared on the Vintage Wings of Canada website and was reposted on the RCAF website. 


Straddle, the RCAF’s 422 Squadron mascot, takes the co-pilot’s seat in a Short Sunderland flying boat. 422 flew the massive Sunderlands on coastal and submarine patrols, and Straddle was known to actually go on those patrols. The pilot is Flight Lieutenant Lloyd Detwiller. (PHOTO: Vintage Wings of Canada) 

The earliest photographs of the squadron dog date to before the First World War, but it was conflict itself that created the need for young men to have requited love of the canine variety. These two Royal Flying Corps lads are delighted to show off their almost cartoon-like Jack Russell before setting out on a mission over German lines. (PHOTO: Vintage Wings of Canada) 

Two pilots and the squadron dog of the Royal Air Force’s 103 Squadron pose with their massive single-engined de Havilland DH.9 bomber at Ronchin, France, after the war. The dog was no doubt considerably more reliable than the notorious Liberty engines that powered the aircraft. Squadron hounds have roamed the ramps of military airfields as long as there have been pilots to feed them. (PHOTO: Vintage Wings of Canada) 

Famed First World War American ace Eddie Rickenbacker stands with Spad, the 94th Aero Squadron’s mascot. Spad was named after a type of biplane fighter aircraft, the SPAD S.VII, that the 94th flew during the war. (PHOTO: Auburn University Libraries) 

An undated photograph of The Red Baron (Captain Baron Manfred von Richthofen, centre), other German pilots of the First World War, and Moritz, the dog about whom von Richthofen wrote in his diary: “The most beautiful being in all creation is the genuine Danish hound, my little lap-dog, my Moritz. I bought him in Ostend from a brave Belgian for five marks. His mother was a beautiful animal and one of his fathers also was pure-bred. I am convinced of that. I could select one of the litter and I chose the prettiest... He has a silly peculiarity. He likes to accompany the flying machines at the start. Frequently the normal death of a flying-man’s dog is death from the propeller. One day he rushed in front of a flying-machine which had been started. The aeroplane caught him up and a beautiful propeller was smashed to bits. Moritz howled terribly and a measure which I had hitherto omitted was taken. I had always refused to have his ears cut. One of his ears was cut off by the propeller. A long ear and a short ear do not go well together.” (PHOTO: Imperial War Museum TEXT: Vintage Wings of Canada) 

Flying Officer Hugh Constant Godefroy of the RCAF’s 401 Fighter Squadron sits on the wing of his Spitfire with his Alsatian pup, Smitty, on December 4, 1942. Flying Officer Godefroy is from Toronto. (PHOTO: PL-15020, DND Archives) 

In this October 21, 1942 photograph, Nickey, a Russian wolfhound who was the mascot of the RCAF’s 410 Night Fighter Squadron overseas, is pictured with Squadron Leader G. H. Elms, of Whitby, Ontario. Squadron Leader Elms deployed with No. 110 City of Toronto Squadron early in 1940. (PHOTO: PL-10974, DND Archives) 

It’s not clear who’s pinning who in this wrestling match between Skipper, an RCAF bomber squadron’s mascot, and Sergeant Ab Carter, from Orillia, Ontario, but it’s a good way to relax and tune out the war on September 21, 1942 in England. (PHOTO: PL-10801, DND Archives) 

Nightfighter Pilot Officer Stewart Richards from Toronto, Ontario, a member of an RCAF squadron overseas, takes a boot from squadron dog Tony on October 21, 1942. The boot belonged to a German pilot who was shot down by the squadron and taken prisoner. Tony has just about chewed through the top. (PHOTO: PL-10969, DND Archives) 

Just back in England from an August 24, 1944 bombing run over Kiel, Germany, Warrant Officers Jim MacLeod (left) from Galt, Ontario and George Ives from New Toronto, Ontario subdue Thunderbird Squadron’s mascots, who are displaying an elaborate disregard for each other. (PHOTO: PL-31946, DND Archives) 

Admiration Dog, the oddly-named mascot of their wing, sits between Lieutenant J.J. Schneider of St. Louis, Missouri and Captain J.B. Hannon of Omaha, Nebraska on the wing of their F-51 Mustang at an airfield in Korea on January 15, 1951. (PHOTO: AP/Jim Pringle) 

Members of Royal Australian Air Force No. 31 (Beaufighter) Squadron, Flight Lieutenant G. A. Greenwood (left) and Sergeant B. Agnew, hold the squadron mascots, a joey (young kangaroo) and an unnamed dog at Coomalie Creek in Northern Territory, Australia. Though the joey is cute as a button and the Aussie-est of pets, it would never behave itself in a squadron parade. The dog’s the one who will always stay close to home and always return the pilots’ affection. (PHOTO: Vintage Wings of Canada) 

Norwegian pilot Erik Haabjørn in April 1942 with his squadron mascot, Spit, at RAF Catterick in North Yorkshire, England. (PHOTO: Ole Friele Backer) 

At Imphal, India in 1944, pilots of the Royal Indian Air Force’s No.1 Squadron “Tigers” gather for a photograph with squadron dog, Bonzo. The commanding officer, Squadron Leader Arjan Singh, sits in the driver's seat. (PHOTO: Vintage Wings of Canada) 

A small aircraft needs a small dog. Somewhere in France, little Soupée sits on the nose of a Stinson L-5 Sentinel army cooperation aircraft nicknamed “Mary”. (PHOTO: Vintage Wings of Canada) 

Air Force or Fleet Air Arm, a squadron dog is a must in a group photo. Here, members of the Royal Navy’s 886 Naval Air Squadron and their mascot, Piglet, form up for a photo. (PHOTO: Vintage Wings of Canada) 

The author’s best friend in the world, William Wallace Braveheart Kirkpatrick O’Malley, relaxes with his tennis ball under the wing of the Spitfire in the Vintage Wings of Canada hangar. Wallace has been known to leave gifts for the maintenance staff if he is not walked outside every few hours. (PHOTO: Peter “What’s-that-on-my-shoe?” Handley) 


Posted by: Jeff Rankin-Lowe < siriusproductions at sympatico.ca > 

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