How A Dog Saved Darwin From Bombing

Oct 19, 2023 0 comments

Throughout history, animals have held significant roles in wars and conflicts. Cavalry horses were deployed to charge the enemy, pigeons conveyed messages from the front lines to headquarters, while mules and donkeys were responsible for transporting weapons and supplies. Dogs have consistently occupied a unique position in human affairs, serving in various capacities such as tracking enemies, detecting weapons and explosives, functioning as patrol or messenger dogs, and, in the case of Gunner, responding to their acute sense of hearing.

The bombing of Darwin. Photo credit: RAN Historical Collection/Wikimedia Commons

In 19 February 1942, the city of Darwin in Northern Territory, Australia, was subjected to a Pearl Harbor kind of attack by Japanese air forces. The Japanese pilots targeted the ships in Darwin Harbour and the RAAF airfield with devastating accuracy in an attempt to prevent the Allies from using them as bases to contest the invasion of Timor and Java during World War II. All that was left after the rampage was the wreckage of the hangers and the mangled steel of the light bombers, and a very frightened black and white kelpie pup with a broken leg.

Leading Aircraftman Percy Westcott found the dog under the ruins of a mess hut at the airbase. Wescott picked up the dog and took him to the field hospital, where a medical officer reportedly insisted that he could not treat a patient without knowing their name and number. Westcott and his friends quickly made up the right enlistment form and named him “Gunner” upon which the doctor set his leg and put it on a plaster. Within a few days Gunner was happily limping around the camp.

It soon became apparent that Gunner had an acute sense of hearing. He could hear the sound of the cook’s knives on steel as they prepared to cut meat, but more importantly, he could hear the sound of approaching aircrafts when they were still more than a hundred miles away.

Percy Westcott and Gunner.

Related: Why The Romans Punished Dogs And Honored Geese

The Japanese continued to revisit Darwin with monotonous regularity, and each time before a raid, Westcott and his friends noticed that Gunner would become agitated and start to whine and jump. In those times, radar technology was primitive and Gunner’s warnings consistently beat the official air raid siren by as much as 20 minutes, enough to scramble defensive fighters into the sky.

Gunner’s hearing was so acute that he could differentiate between the sounds of the engines made by Allied and Japanese aircraft, and only became excited when enemy airplanes approached. Gunner was so reliable that the commanding officer gave Westcott a portable air raid siren to pass on Gunner’s warnings to the base. Only on two occasions did Gunner missed out because they were quick follow-ups to earlier attacks.

Gunner became an integral part of the air force. He slept under Westcott's bunk, showered with the men in the shower block, sat with the men at the outdoor movie pictures, and went up with the pilots during practice take-off and landings.

Fifteen months later, Westcott was transferred to the south, while Gunner stayed behind in Darwin. Nobody knows what happened to Gunner after that.

“I never heard what happened to him in the end,” Westcott said. “I thought I’d go back after the war or see somebody but you know how these things go.”

# A man's very best friend in a nasty situation, The Canberra Times


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