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The 'hero rat' and other animals honoured for bravery

Emily Cleary
·5-min read
Magawa has cleared 39 landmines in an area the size of 20 football pitches (PDSA)
Magawa has cleared 39 landmines in an area the size of 20 football pitches (PDSA)

A landmine detection rat has been awarded a gold medal for his "lifesaving bravery and devotion to duty".

Magawa, a giant African pouched rat, has discovered 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance since he was trained by charity APOPO which guides rodents to detect landmines and Tuberculosis.

He is the charity's most successful Hero Rat, having cleared more than 141,000 square metres of land - the equivalent of 20 football pitches.

Magawa has been formally recognised for his work and been presented with a miniature PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) Gold Medal, the animal equivalent of the George Cross.

He is the first rat in the charity's 77-year history to receive such an award.

Other hero animals recognised by the charity for their bravery include:

Diesel

Jordan Ash, 25, was woken by his dog Diesel in the early hours in May 2016. Diesel – who was rescued by the Ash family after being abandoned as a pup – was barking, scratching and pulling at the duvet, desperate to wake his owner.

Jordan immediately knew something was seriously wrong, as Diesel’s behaviour was so out of character. He got up to take him downstairs but, on opening his bedroom door, he was met with a wall of flames only six feet away. He raced to wake up his parents, shutting Diesel in his room to keep him safe.

Unable to use the stairs due to the fire, Jordan helped them escape through a small bedroom window over the kitchen roof.

Once they were safe he went back to collect Diesel. At this point he was almost overcome with the smoke and acrid fumes but managed to reach him. He passed Diesel through the open window to his dad and they all climbed down to safety.

Jordan said: “I like to think it was his way of repaying us for rescuing him. Staffies have such a bad reputation but he has the most lovely, placid nature. Diesel undoubtedly saved our lives that night, without him I wouldn’t be standing here today and I will be forever grateful.”

Simon

A ship’s mascot during the Chinese civil war in 1949, Simon was on board the Amethyst when communist fire rocked the ship. In all, the ship sustained more than 50 hits. Nineteen men, including its captain, were killed in the attack; 27 more were wounded, but Simon survived and, though malnorouished, was rescued alive. He is the only cat to have been honoured with the award.

A survivor of 1949's "Yangtse Incident" Simon was awarded the Dickin Medal - the 'animals Victoria Cross' for catching rats and protecting food supplies during the time the Amethyst ship was trapped during the Chinese civil war (PA Images via Getty Images)
A survivor of 1949's "Yangtse Incident" Simon was awarded the Dickin Medal - the 'animals Victoria Cross' for catching rats and protecting food supplies during the time the Amethyst ship was trapped during the Chinese civil war (PA Images via Getty Images)

Ozzy

Police Dog Ozzy received the PDSA Gold Medal for his bravery and life-saving actions disarming an armed assailant threatening to blow up a block of flats.

Before his retirement, nine-year-old PD Ozzy worked for Police Scotland. In 2015, Ozzy and his handler, Police Constable Brian Tennant, were called to an incident at a flat in Falkirk, where a man had assaulted two people at knifepoint. On arrival, they discovered the man had severed a gas pipe and was threatening to blow up the building.

The occupants of the flats were evacuated, leaving PC Tennant and PD Ozzy able to enter the building. The armed assailant charged at them, shouting threats, while attempting to ignite the gas with a lighter.

After warning the assailant, PC Tennant released Ozzy, who tackled the man to the ground, where he was disarmed and arrested.

Police dog Ozzy received the highest commendations for his bravery (PDSA)
Police dog Ozzy received the highest commendations for his bravery (PDSA)

PD Ozzy’s intervention prevented the man from harming himself, potentially others and causing extensive damage to the building.

Duke of Normandy

Allied paratroopers from the 21st Army Group were dropped behind enemy lines days before D-Day. After their mission ran into numerous problems, the only way to get a message back was via a pigeon named Duke of Normandy.

DoN’s journey home – through bullets and bombs – took almost 27 hours. But he delivered critical intelligence to the Allied Command – and saved many lives.

Duke of Normandy received his PDSA Dickin Medal on January 8, 1947.

Grace and Keston

Grace and Keston were awarded the PDSA Order of Merit after both serving a decade with the Metropolitan police. The pair covered all sorts of events, including support during the London riots in 2011. Their award read: “For an exemplary career of tireless devotion and service to society.”

The PDSA commended Met Police horses Grace and Peston for their lengthy service including during the 2011 London riots (PDSA)
The PDSA commended Met Police horses Grace and Keston for their lengthy service including during the 2011 London riots (PDSA)

The gold medal was instituted by PDSA founder, Maria Dickin, with the approval of the War Office and Imperial War Museum, to raise the status of animals and acknowledge the remarkable roles they play in society. It was first awarded to a messenger pigeon named Winkie on 3 December 1943.

The Dickin medal is known as the animals’ Victoria Cross recognising animals that display conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty in the field of military conflict. The medal has been awarded 71 times since 1943. The recipients comprise 34 dogs, 32 pigeons, four horses and one cat.

Mary Bawn, head of press at PDSA, said: “Throughout history, animals serving in the Armed Forces have made an extraordinary difference to the lives of so many, not only the men and women who serve, but also civilians who our military are protecting. Sharing some of these stories is a great way to celebrate the incredible, life-saving role animals have played throughout history, and continue to play today.”

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