Dogs of war: Artist pays tribute to canine military heroes

Explosive detection dog Storm served in Afghanistan and saved many lives during his two years of service. (ABC South East SA: Kate Hill )
Canine companions returnedThe story epitomises the relationship such soldiers and handlers had with their dogs, according to Johnson. Photo:
Tales of bravery meant that terrier Horrie became a household name in Australia at the end of World War II. Adopting Ruffy six months ago, the affable Airedale has become her new studio companion as Johnson has delved into the noble and tragic stories behind each dog of war.”It is definitely a from the heart exhibition,” she said.”No two dogs are the same. On Sunday, the handlers of Vietnam tracker dogs — Caesar, Trajan and Tiber — will be at the gallery to see their beloved comrades immortalised. Photo:
One of Anne’s paintings, inspired by the ‘Lest we Forget’ flag of the WWI British Army Royal Navy. “Just the love and trust between a dog and their handler. The one with the saddlebags stayed with the living soldiers and the other one with the cross went back to find the medic and the handler and then bring them back to the wounded.”Recognising canine heroesWorking with the Australian Defence Force Trackers and War Dogs Association to source images and research the stories, Johnson said she often had to put down her paintbrush, when a story became too much for her.”I found myself getting quite emotional. Twenty-one portraits of brave and faithful canines which have served in military conflicts spanning from World War I right up to Afghanistan will feature at Penola’s Local Images gallery, along with their stories of bravery, heroics and sometimes untimely deaths.The dog portrait artist, in South Australia’s south-east, said it was her beloved Airedales, Skipton, Toby and Ruffy, which sparked her interest in the military role the breed played in World War I. I just love the expression in their eyes, the texture in their coat. They are all just so different.” “He had an ear for aeroplanes and as soon as he could hear the German planes coming, he ran for the bunkers,” Johnson said.”Everyone learned that as soon as Horrie ran, they had to run quick too.”Adored by the soldiers, Horrie was injured by shrapnel during an evacuation and also survived the sinking of a ship.When the battalion returned to Australia, Moody smuggled the dog back in, but quarantine officials demanded the dog be handed over, much to the public’s disgust.”Only in latter years have we found out that Jim substituted another dog for Horrie and he was secreted away to live on a farm out at Corryong,” Johnson said.Just this year, a sculpture of WWII’s most famous canine was erected in a memorial garden in the small Victorian town. Some of the stories are so sad, but also really strong stories of heroics,” she said. Letting go of the collection of portraits will be bittersweet for Johnson, whose beloved Airedale Toby died several months after she began painting. “I just like painting dogs, I don’t want to paint anything else,” she said. (ABC South East SA: Kate Hill )
“You look into their stories and I came across the role of Airedales in World War I as the preferred breed for the British Army,” she said.Acting as messengers, carriers of food and ammunition and as “ratters” to keep the vermin from taking over the trenches, two of Johnson’s portraits feature the famous Red Cross dogs, which would work in pairs on the battlefield.”One would have saddle bags with first aid equipment and water and the other would have a red cross,” she said.”They were trained to ignore the dead and find the living. (ABC South East SA: Kate Hill )
Johnson said the exhibition was designed to also be a historical journey to educate visitors about the roles dogs played in conflicts across the world — whether it was messenger roles, explosive detection or trackers.”Some I picked because of the stories and some I picked because the images were just irresistible,” she said.”Sometimes the dogs just jumped out at me, just needing to be recognised.”One of these was a plucky little white dog named Horrie, who became a household name in Australia at the end of World War II.Half-starved terrier Horrie was found by Australian soldier Jim Moody in the Egyptian desert in 1941 and became the mascot of the 2/1st Machine Gun Battalion. The law was changed in 1993, meaning that Australian Defence Force dogs serving overseas can return to Australia to live out their remaining time with their handlers. They just want to please,” she said.Sadly, the old adage, “you don’t leave mates behind” had to be broken during many conflicts, when Australian quarantine laws prevented the dogs from being brought back in the country. The Coonawarra Penola Returned Service League will also unveil a commemorative plaque in Penola’s main park, dedicating the many animals who died in conflict, the first such animal memorial in the Limestone Coast. There might be a few tears at the opening of Anne Johnson’s new exhibition — Remembering War Dogs — on Sunday, and not just her own.
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(ABC South East SA: Kate Hill) ABC South East SA


Kate Hill


November 03, 2016 12:18:12

Anne Johnson’s love of Airedales inspired a series of paintings on famous war dogs.