meaning and origin of ‘Dickin Medal’

The name Dickin, in full Dickin Medal, designates a medal awarded to an animal in recognition of an act of bravery, typically one performed during a time of military conflict by an animal attached to the armed forces.

This medal was named after the English animal welfare pioneer Maria Elisabeth Dickin (1870-1951), who founded the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) in 1917.

The earliest occurrence of Dickin Medal that I have found is from the Manchester Evening News (Manchester, Lancashire, England) of Thursday 22nd July 1943:

Medals Made for the Saving of Animals’ Lives

So far in this war there have been fewer tales of brave deeds performed by animals in saving human life—probably because this is a mechanical age. But there have been instances of courage, endurance, and fidelity amongst animals while serving with our Forces, and they are not to go unrewarded.
Medals have been struck for such deeds and are offered by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. Candidates must be members of the Allied Forces Mascot Club—open to any animal or bird in the Services.
They are eligible if attached to any Allied ship, airfield, gun-site, balloon barrage, or Civil Defence branch, or with any naval, military, or R.A.F. unit.
The medal for animal gallantry will be known as the Dickin Medal, after the name of Mrs. M. E. Dickin, founder of the P.D.S.A during the last war.

On Thursday 17th February 1944, several British newspapers reported on the first recipients of the Dickin Medal—the following, for example, is from The Evening News and Southern Daily Mail (Portsmouth, Hampshire, England):

Pigeons’ Role In Saving The Lives Of Wrecked Air Crews

The remarkable exploits of three R.A.F. pigeons whose courage against great odds, resulted in saving the lives of air crews, have led to these birds being the first to receive the Dickin Medal for gallantry, a special award given by the P.D.S.A. Allied Forces Mascot Club to animals and birds who have distinguished themselves during the present war. The medal receives its name from Mrs M. E. Dickin, O.B.E, the founder and Hon. Director of the P.D.S.A.
The Air Ministry gives the following details about the pigeons.
The first, Winkie fell into the oil covered sea after her aircraft partially broke up on the impact of “ditching.” She struggled clear with 120 miles of sea to cover before reaching land, and with only 1½ hours of wintry daylight remaining. This meant that she would have to fly at least an hour of darkness with feathers wet and clogged with oil. She arrived at her loft soon after dawn, still smeared with oil, and completely exhausted. As a result the search then proceeding unsuccessfully was re-directed and the “ditched” crew picked up.
The second pigeon, No. 1263, had a similar experience to Winkie, inasmuch as it got two duckings before getting clear of the dinghy, but had the advantage of a warmer clime.
The third pigeon, White Vision, made perhaps the most remarkable performance of the three. She brought the first news of a missing flying boat through a thick mist (visibility 100 yards) and a 25 m.p.h. head wind in the chill wet storm weather of the equinox in northern waters. The conditions were such that no aircraft were permitted to take-off to search. White Vision persisted, seeking among the fog-bound northern islands for her loft, for eight hours and 40 minutes before she reached it, barely 60 miles from her starting point. It was as a result of her message that the crew were picked up.

The following photograph and caption are from The Illustrated London News (London, England) of Saturday 26th February 1944:

Dickin Medal - The Illustrated London News (London, England) - 26 February 1944

The remarkable exploits of three R.A.F. pigeons, whose courage against great odds resulted in saving the lives of air crews, has led to these birds being the first to receive the Dickin Medal, a special award given by the P.D.S.A. Allied Forces Mascot Club. “Winkie” fell into the oil-covered sea, struggled clear, and flew 120 miles to her base, where she arrived exhausted. The search for the crew was then successfully redirected.

The following is an extract from And then the claws came out… How battle has turned beastly throughout history, published in The Guardian (London and Manchester, England) of Saturday 19th April 2003:

Birds In the second world war, more Dickin medals (the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross) were awarded to carrier pigeons than any other species. Canaries are in use in Iraq to give advance warning of chemical attacks. Essentially, the canary sits in a cage waiting to die. “To be honest,” said an MOD spokesman, “there’s not a lot of training involved.”
Cats The previously unremarkable war record of the domestic cat was changed forever by Able Seacat Simon, who spent three months stranded with the survivors of the HMS Amethyst, which came under attack in the Chinese civil conflict in 1949. Simon received the Dickin medal for “conspicuous gallantry” in catching rats and “lending the ship an air of domesticity in a situation that was otherwise very trying”.

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