The first dog to be awarded the ‘Dickin Medal’ was ‘Bob’, a black and white Labrador/Collie Cross. His owner/handler was Company Quartermaster Sergeant RE Cleggett (how apt, also ‘Bob’), of the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment. During the 1943 North Africa campaign at the battle for Green Hill, they were both on nightly information-gathering forays into enemy held positions. On several separate occasions ’Bob’ the dog silently lay still and refused to move forward. Several minutes of intense silence was broken when enemy soldiers moved or coughed, giving themselves and their positions away just metres ahead. Silently retreating with valuable information regarding location of enemy positions, ‘Bob’ had saved the patrol again.
In Bob Cleggett’s opinion – "It was Bob’s warning that saved one or two members of our patrol from being taken prisoner or perhaps wounded or even being killed."
Bob Cleggett and his dog remained inseparable, going into every action together for the remainder of the North Africa campaign.
Moving on to Sicily for the Italian campaign, Bob Cleggett wrote a letter home saying that the snow and ice in the mountains of Italy were a welcome relief for the dog as the flies in Sicily were very bad. And as the mountain weather deteriorated ‘Bob’ had a customised coat made from an Army greatcoat, which helped keep him warm and camouflaged when out on patrols.
It was during the chill of an Italian winter that Bob Cleggett received notification from the PDSA’s Allied Forces Mascot Club had awarded ‘Bob’ the Dickin Medal for: ‘Magnificent work throughout the whole North African campaign; running messages and doing patrol work. Many lives were saved by his timely warnings.’
Still performing almost continual patrol work, there was no time for any presentation, although a morale-boosting certificate was sent out to the troops.
At the end of the war, VE day, Bob Cleggett and ‘Bob’ were in Austria. The arrangements for getting ‘Bob’ home was undertaken by the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, with Bob Cleggett going on ahead. However, a letter home voicing his misgivings proved sadly correct.
He wrote; "We have not been separated for more than three years and I’m not convinced they have any idea about ‘Bob’ and his ways and I worry that he might get lost."
Never taking well to strangers, ‘Bob’ slipped his leash on Milan Railway Station. Throughout Northern Italy every effort was made to find the dog; leaflets printed and handed out, dropped from planes, published in the Italian press and circulated through all official channels – all to no avail. ‘Bob’ was never seen again.
Several months later in England, the heartbroken Bob Cleggett was presented with his companion’s medal and certificate
‘Bob’s Dickin Gallantry Medal, original collar, his citation and official certificate are presented alongside Bob Cleggett’s Medals and Awards in the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Museum in Maidstone, Kent. Additionally, during restoration work in 2010, a life-size replica of Bob the dog was made and introduced into the display.
‘Bob’s custom-made overcoat has sadly been lost, but I can vividly remember it tacked to the inside door of Dad’s workshop. Made of Army khaki greatcoat material, it was lozenger-shaped with white tapes for tying around the body. Embroidered along each side were the campaigns and countries they had both served in.
As a final addendum; I came across a Reader’s Digest magazine years ago, which related a story told by an Italian train driver in the early 1950’s. Every time he pulled in to Milan Railway Station, the train doors would be opened and a large black and white dog would trot up and down the platform as if it was looking for someone. Not finding whatever it was looking for, it would trot away again. Apparently, this went on for nearly two years after which the dog was not seen again.
Do you have more information about this person? Inform us!