Have you ever heard of Swansea Jack?
He was a black retriever who lived with his owner, William Thomas, near the River Tawe in Wales. In 1931 Jack jumped into the river to save a drowning 12 year old boy. Then, a few weeks later, this time in front of a small crowd, he rescued a swimmer from the docks.
And it was this second rescue that began to propel Jack towards the superhero status he acquired in later life.
His photograph appeared in the local newspaper and he was awarded a silver collar by the local council. And, after more rescues, the Star newspaper in London bestowed on him the title of “Bravest Dog of the Year.” He received a silver cup from the Lord Mayor of London and two bronze medals from The National Canine Defence League (now known as The Dogs Trust).
It is thought that over his lifetime Swansea Jack may have saved 29 lives. Not bad for a seven year career … especially when you have four legs and a relatively unsophisticated brain!
Animals are amazing.
Did you know a snail can sleep for three years at a time? A bat can eat up to a thousand insects in an hour, apparently. And honey bees flap their wings 200 times per second.
It’s funny where research takes you, sometimes. I recently came across the story of St Cuthbert and the otters, recorded in an account by Saint Bede of Jarrow (AD672 - 735).
It seems St Cuthbert enjoyed a nice walk to the seashore after dark, on his own. One night he was followed, however, by a monk who was intrigued to see what St Cuthbert got up to in the dead of night by the sea.
What happened next amazed him so much that it was recorded in the annals.
After wading out into the sea, up to his neck, and singing meditative psalms - a process that lasted until dawn, apparently - St Cuthbert then made his way back to the shore, with sopping wet, cold feet, no doubt. It was then that the two otters appeared. They raced across the beach, rubbed themselves against his feet and dried them with their fur. Cuthbert gave them a blessing and off they went, back home again.
No doubt the otters enjoyed the process as much as St Cuthbert was warmed by it. But animals do have such a capacity to do selfless, wonderful things.
In 2012, David Martin in Surrey was doing some renovations on his house. These involved taking down and repairing a chimney breast. No doubt it is common, when doing such work, to find a dead bird in the chimney. But the pigeon that Mr Martin found was anything but ordinary.
When they looked closer at what was left of the body of the bird, they found attached to one leg a red canister. And inside the canister was a thin piece of paper, which had the words “Pigeon Service” at the top followed by 27 hand-written sections of code.
What, of course, they had discovered was a WW2 pigeon, carrying a secret, coded message from the war in Europe back to Bletchley Park, where it should have been decoded and passed to intelligence services.
Pigeons were regularly used in WW2 by all services to carry messages. They played a vital role in the decoding effort at Bletchley Park, which itself was crucial to eventual Allied success.
At the brilliant Bletchley Park site (bletchleypark.org.uk), there is a display dedicated to animals who have been awarded the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross. The first award was to Winkie, a blue chequered carrier pigeon, who saved a RAF Bomber crew who had ditched in the North Sea in February 1942. She was released by the crew, flew home (some 120 miles) and despite not carrying a message, the base was able to calculate the position of the downed crew and launch a rescue.
Winkie had been found exhausted and covered in oil. She was later awarded the Dickin Medal for “delivering a message under exceptional circumstances”. The whole story can be read here : https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-17138990#:~:text=Seventy%20years%20ago%20a%20carrier,PDSA%20during%20World%20War%20II.
So, when you get annoyed again with your 6 month old Labrador puppy who has chewed another one of your shoes or with your tabby cat’s unstoppable determination to ruin the upholstery of your favourite chair, remember Swansea Jack, Winkie and all the others.
Animals really can be incredible.