Veteran’s efforts led to Animals of War Dedication in Ottawa

by Kelly Waterhouse

ELORA – Lloyd Swick has seen war.

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(Photo courtesy of AIWD. Lloyd Swick and Laureen Harper unveil one of the AIWD plagues at Confederation Park in Ottawa).

As a platoon commander with the Calgary Highlanders in the liberation of Holland, rejoining to serve with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Regiment in Korea, Swick dedicated 44 years to military and public service, including United Nations’ Observer duties in India and Pakistan.

But much of his legacy will remain in his efforts to honour a special group of fallen soldiers: the animals of war.

“It was Mahatma Gandhi who said you could tell the moral progress of a nation by how they treat their animals,” Swick said, paraphrasing an idea that helped inspire his part in the creation of the Animals in War Dedication (AIWD) that now stands in Ottawa’s Confederation Park.

“Animals served in so many capacities and helped us in war,” he said.

When Swick comes to Elora to visit his family, from his home in Ottawa, he is a much sought-after public speaker, touring area schools and community groups.

He tells compelling stories of the heroic deeds of animals, from elephants to dolphins, and rabbits to camels, in various wars. Most recently, he was the guest speaker of the Elora Adventure Club, where he explained the creation of the AIWD.

“The genesis of the monument came while I was attending a Remembrance Day ceremony [in 2009] in Ottawa,” Swick said. “The night before I was reading about how the British had put up this beautiful monument dedicated to the animals of wartime; the goats, the sheep, the dogs and horses. It is in Hyde Park.”

He felt it was time for Canada to do the same. In a casual conversation with a stranger at the ceremony, Swick expressed his opinion on the issue of recognizing animals in war. It so happened the stranger was Peter Stoffer, MP for Sackville, Eastern Shore, Nova Scotia.

Aware that the National Capital Commission (NCC) was conducting hearings for proposed commemorations to  enrich the core area of Canada’s capital region, Stoffer encouraged Swick’s idea.

Within days, Swick presented the concept of a dedication to animals in war to the NCC committee. Momentum spread and a volunteer group began the project in 2010.

The project attracted the support of Senator Yonah Martin and Laureen Harper, the prime minister’s wife, who acted as honorary patron. It would take three years to make the AIWD a reality, with the support of corporate and individual donors, and in that time Swick’s research identified the harrowing acts of animals in the World Wars, and in many that followed, including the use of dolphins in the Vietnam and Persian Gulf War, to The Imperial Camel Corps that fought for the Allies in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in the First World War and the Second World War, to elephants used by the Japanese in WWII.

Swick says his first awareness of animals in human wars came from WWI paintings that hung in his public school in Winnipeg.

“I was thinking of a painting by the artist Fortunino Matania, entitled ‘Goodbye Old Friend’ of the wounded horse, whose head was being held by his gunner solider. The gunner had to do the right thing, and shoot his dear friend,” Swick said.

“Within a few months of war breaking out, the two opposing sides were locked in a stalemate of trench warfare. This meant lines of guns pounding each other, pouring forth an endless stream of shells that broke up the ground, destroyed the drainage systems and transformed the countryside for miles around into a treacherous sea of mud and sewage. Men fought waist deep and often drowned, as did their animals, in this muck,” Swick said.

“Notwithstanding this ugly environment, those pounding lines of guns had to be continuously fed, as did the men in the trenches, but the ground was in such a state that only teams of horse and mules could get the much-needed ammunition and supplies to the frontline battle positions.”

He added, “Here is a shocking figure for you. Eight million horses were lost in the ‘war to end all wars,’ called the western front.”

That image had a lasting impact on Swick. Life as a soldier reinforced the reality.

Swick recalls the time he put out a call for cats during his time as a company commander on the front line. He laughs, recalling that decision didn’t go well.

“In the front line you can imagine how you are infested with rats and lice in the bunker,” he said of his time in Korea.

While cats were not well suited to that stressful scene, a famous cat named Simon, aboard the Royal Navy HMS Amethyst, won the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals’ (PDSA) highest commendation, the Maria Dickin Medal, (akin to the Victoria Cross medal for animals).

In 1949 during the Yangtse Incident, the feline not only helped control the rats on the ship, despite being injured by a shell, but also raised the morale of the men on board.

Swick adds birds were important for communication in wartime.

“Canada had a carrier pigeon win the Dickin medal for its D-Day accomplishment of carrying the message as to our troop’s locations after the first day of fighting,” Swick said. “Our bomber command carried cages of pigeon to indicate their position if shot down. It is reported that the pigeons were the most reliable form of communication during WWI, perhaps because once aloft they were immune to gas attacks.”

Canaries were not as lucky, but their loss of life saved many a soldier from poisonous gases.

“In World War I there was as much fighting below the ground as there was above,” Swick said, explaining that fume concentrations were life threatening.

“Canaries in cages were used. If the birds died, we knew the concentration of gas was too high for humans.”

But Swick also explains how lesser-known animals played a vital role in war too, like the African pouch rat, so small that it fit in a soldier’s pocket and was quick to locate enemy artillery, such as shells.

“They were much better than dogs,” Swick said, based on their speed and size. “We mixed ammunition powder and feed to train them.”

Even the tiniest of creatures served a purpose.

“Glow worms would be put into jars at night so soldiers could see their maps,” Swick said.

From his efforts with the United Nations, Swick recalls how donkeys and mules helped him climb the mountains, literally pulling him at times, to achieve the heights required for the difficult terrain between Pakistan and India. These animals were important in all wars.

“Ninety per cent of the ammunition used at Passchendaele was delivered by mule trains,” Swick said.

From his time as a solder, Swick speaks to the invaluable service of dogs.

“If anything [in Korea], we relied on security dogs, German shepherds, to warn when an enemy would be near. Their sense of smell could warn of any potential danger,” he said, noting their hearing was also instrumental in protecting soldiers and capturing the enemy.

Yet a dog offered so much more, Swick said.

“For those service personnel far from home, lonely, frightened, under constant threat of death, deprived of family and friends, a dog can unstintingly receive and return affection,” Swick said. “Dogs are a testament to the extraordinary affection that animals share with humankind.”

Swick tells the story of Canada’s favorite war dog mascot, Gander, a Newfoundland dog that was the mascot of the Royal Rifles of Canada. Gander was awarded the Dickin medal for “acts of conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in wartime,” for saving the lives of Canadian infantry men during the Battle of Lye Mun on Hong Kong Island in December 1941.

Twice, Gander’s attacks halted the enemy’s advance and protected groups of wounded soldiers. In his final act of bravery, the dog picked up a grenade and removed it from the trenches, ultimately losing his life to spare those of his fellow soldiers.

Part of the AIWD includes a bronze statue of a German Shepherd wearing his saddlebag loaded with water, medical supplies and messages on his back.

“This was so realistic that at the time of the unveiling, a German shepherd dog came up and sat right alongside the dog,” Swick said.

The unveiling of the Animals in War Dedication took place on Nov. 3, 2012, which was subsequently proclaimed War Animals Day in Ottawa. The Confederation Park monument includes a series of bas relief plaques, as well as the dog statue, created by artist David Clendining.

The plaques depict ways in which animals were involved in war around the world, with descriptions of the facts and figures about the various animals, their sacrifice and dedication to their human comrades. One panel is a bronze replication of the Matania painting that influenced Swick initially.

“This wouldn’t have been possible without support from the people on my team and from citizens across Canada,” Swick said, adding he received phone calls and letters, donations and support from individuals from coast to coast.

For Swick, it is the voices of the soldiers who cannot speak about the value of their animal comrades that made this monument an important, rewarding cause.

“If they had a voice they would tell you how attached they were to their animals; depended upon them for food, fire support and evacuation of the wounded; how their animals also suffered fear, pain, cold, gassing and shock, and that they wanted their animals to be remembered just like Britain, Belgium, Australia and other countries have recognized their indebtedness to the war animals,” Swick said.

“And now is the time for Canada to do the same.”

The Animals in War Dedication is located in Ottawa’s Confederation Park. For more information visit www.aiwdedication.ca.

To learn more about the Maria Dickin Award visit www.pdsa.org.uk.