Heroic dog Chips who met Churchill posthumously awarded animal equivalent of VC

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A “heroic” US Army dog who met wartime prime minister Winston Churchill during his military duties in the Second World War has been posthumously awarded the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.

Chips, a Husky, German Shepherd-cross, was recognised with a PDSA Dickin Medal for protecting the lives of his platoon during beach landings when the British and Americans invaded Sicily in July 1943.

During the US-led mission, called Operation Husky, as Chips and his platoon landed on the shore at dawn they immediately came under fire from a machine gun nest.

But, as the soldiers headed for cover, Chips escaped from his lead and ran towards the line of fire which appeared to be coming out of a hut.

Chips will be posthumously awarded the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross
Chips was posthumously awarded the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross (PDSA)

His handler, Private John Rowell, and the rest of the platoon watched as Chips entered the shack and the firing stopped.

One of the enemy soldiers then appeared with the dog at his throat, and Chips also grabbed the machine gun by the barrel and pulled it off its mount – enabling them to push forward. Chips suffered scalp wounds and powder burns as a result.

PDSA director general Jan McLoughlin said Chips is a “very deserving, heroic dog” who was recruited from family life in 1942, trained up and then deployed during the Second World War and “undoubtedly” saved military lives.

“It has taken over seven decades but Chips can now finally take his place in the history books as one of the most heroic dogs to serve with the US Army,” she said.

US military working dog Ayron, who received the award on behalf of Chips, with Chips' former owner John Wren
US military working dog Ayron with Chips’ former owner John Wren (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

As well as his efforts on the battlefield, Chips served as sentry at the Casablanca Conference in Morocco in January 1943 when the Allies were still fighting to clear the Germans from North Africa.

This is where Mr Churchill and US president Franklin D Roosevelt mapped out the Allies’ strategy for the next phase of the war, and is where Chips met both leaders as he undertook his protection duties.

Lieutenant Colonel Alan Throop, of the US Army, said Chips, soon after his heroic actions, was recommended for a distinguished service cross, and a silver star and purple heart were also later approved.

“But because at the time it wasn’t US military policy to allow animals to get awards, it was rescinded,” he told the Press Association.

“It is important that Chips is recognised for his actions now, so many decades later, for his gallantry.”

Chips protected his platoon during beach landings in July 1943
Chips protected his platoon during beach landings in July 1943 (PDSA)

Lt Col Throop, who is based in the UK at Northwood Headquarters, said it was a “privilege” to represent Chips and the US Army at the ceremony, and that military dogs continue to play a “vital role” today.

The medal was first introduced in 1943 by Maria Dickin, the founder of the UK’s leading veterinary charity the PDSA, and is a large bronze medallion bearing the words “for gallantry” and “we also serve”.

It was awarded at the Churchill War Rooms in London on Monday, during the 75th anniversary of the Casablanca Conference, and was worn on behalf of Chips by US Air Force dog Ayron, who is based at RAF Lakenheath.

John Wren, whose father donated Chips to the war effort, was aged just four when the family dog returned home, a day he said he can remember “vividly”.

The 76-year-old, who made the trip from his home in Long Island, New York, especially for the medal presentation, said Chips was a big dog, and that he remembers once being pulled on a sledge by him.

A veteran of the Vietnam War, Mr Wren said the Dickin Medal “means a lot” to him and his family, and added: “He is finally getting good recognition of his efforts.

“If you look at what he did, it was pretty unbelievable.”

The Dickin Medal is the highest award any animal in the world can achieve while serving in military conflict, with Chips becoming the 70th recipient.

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