Honouring creatures great and small

Matilda Dray 24 February 2021
  • History & commemoration

Did you know that 24 February is National Day for War Animals in Australia? On this day we recognise the important roles that animals have played – and continue to play – in war.

Animals have been put to many uses in war. In the context of our Australian forces, dogs have been used for tracking, by horses and donkeys have transported soldiers and equipment, pigeons have carried messages, and animals have provided comfort as mascots and companions.


In 2019, the Honourable Scott Buchholz MP announced in Federal Parliament that 24 February would be Australia's official War Animal Day. Australia joins other countries including the UK and New Zealand in officially recognising the deeds and sacrifices of our war animals serving alongside our troops with their own day of remembrance.


To commemorate all the deeds and sacrifices made by animals in war, the Australian War Animal Memorial Organisation (AWAMO) issued a purple poppy, which can be worn alongside the traditional red one.

AWAMO is a not-for-profit organisation run by volunteers who are dedicated to commemorating military animals and providing ongoing care to retired animals.

 Purple poppies are worn in honour of military animals


Corporal Tegan Bowden works in the RAAF Security and Fire School Air Force Puppies Foster Care Program at RAAF Base Amberley. About 80 pups are born each year in the canine breeding program.

CPL Tegan Bowden with one of the puppies-in-training at RAAF Amberley

From birth, the dogs are exposed to low level stresses up to the age of 12 weeks. At about eight to 12 weeks, the puppies are introduced into the community, to increase their exposure to noises, humans and other animals, before being placed into full-time foster care arrangements at 12 weeks.

At seven to eight months of age, they are returned to the school to begin more intensive training, before being introduced into the ADF in a ground defence support and security capacity.


Late last year, AWAMO CEO and founder Nigel Allsopp funded the New Zealand War Dog Memorial in Michigan, USA. Although COVID meant limited NZ attendance, a small group of ex-military dog handlers from the USA unveiled the memorial on 24 October.

During the opening, US President of the Military Working Dog Memorial Phil Weitlauf described it as an historic day.

“This is a first, three nations coming together – the USA, Australia and New Zealand – sharing the brotherhood of military working dog handlers and honouring our K9 heroes,” Phil said.

The unveiling of the NZ War Dog Memorial in Michigan, USA 


There are hundreds of memorials around Australia and the world honouring our brave animal friends. In fact, if you search the animal category of the Monument Australia website you’ll find around 50 listings of monuments honouring animals that helped us during wartime.

There are memorials dedicated to animals in general, as well as other dedicated to specific animals such as Smoky – a Yorkshire Terrier who worked during WWII and is the first documented therapy dog.

In Maribyrnong in Victoria, a sculpture commemorates Sandy, the only one of Australia’s 169,000 war horses to return home from WWI. There is also a plaque in Caboolture recognising the pigeons that saved many soldiers’ lives in both World Wars.


Last year on 24 February, the Australian War Memorial unveiled a new memorial dedicated to, and created by, military working dogs and their handlers. Military working dogs have served alongside Australia’s defence forces since WWI, and continue to play a vital role in domestic and international operations today.

Unveiled in the Memorial’s Sculpture Garden, the memorial is titled ‘Circling into sleep’ and honours generations of dogs who have served, given their unconditional loyalty and, in many cases, their lives to a common cause. The ashes of Aussie, Military Working Dog 426, were interred within the memorial on 4 December 2019.

Military working dogs and their handlers at the 'Circling into sleep' memorial in CanberraAs a military working dog, Aussie served in Australian domestic and international operations including the Solomon Islands in 2004 and four deployments to Afghanistan with the Explosive Detection Dog Team.

‘Circling into sleep’ was created by renowned artist Steven Holland, with help from an Explosive Detection Dog called Billie and her handler. Billie was trained to walk in a tight circle on a bed of soft clay to create the paw-print track which spirals into the memorial, representing the steps of a dog as it circles into sleep.