In the great tragedy of war, one often needs to find something on which to hold in the darkest moments. For a Czech Pilot at the start of World War 2, that would be a small German Shepherd puppy he found nearly emaciated and nursed back to health on chocolate and melted snow. It is a story that almost ended tragically on multiple occasions, but the bond built between this man and dog would transcend the fall of nations and the horrors of combat.
It would end with this German Shepherd flying along on missions to fight the Germans and the canine earning a Dicken Medal.
It Almost Ended Before it Began
Serving in exile after his homeland was taken by the Nazis, Czech airmen Vaclav Robert Bozdech was flying with the French Air Force out of an airbase in Saint-Dizier in early 1940. During a reconnaissance mission over the German front lines, Bozdech and fellow airman Pierre Duval were shot down by anti-aircraft fire and crashed somewhere between the French and German lines.
They made their way to a farm house for cover where they discovered an emaciated German Shepherd puppy. In an act of compassion, Bozdech fed it melted chocolate and snow in an attempt to nurse it back to health.
As they waited for the cover of night to escape, Bozdech left a pan of water and more chocolate behind for the pup and locked the door. However, as they exited the farm house, they could see the lights of the German search parties attempting to find them.
Meanwhile, the puppy began to bark and howl at the thought of being left behind. It was agreed that they needed to kill the dog in order to prevent him from giving up their position to the Germans. Bozdech went back looking for a rock or the most humane way to kill the puppy. However, when he got back, he found he couldn’t do it. Instead, he nestled the puppy in his flight jacket, and they made for France under the cover of night.
A spectacular act of compassion considering an ill-timed bark could mean death or capture for them all. But fortune would be with them as they were found by a French party sent out to search for them. When he returned, he joined his fellow Czech airmen in exile, and they all decided to name the puppy Ant after an aircraft back in Czechoslovakia.
A Long Road Home
The exiled Czechs time in France would be cut short when Germany brought the war to the Western front in May of 1940. By mid-June, all of the aircraft from Bozdech’s squadron had been destroyed and within a few days, his unit was disbanded. They decided to head south for Tours in order to catch a train through Spain that would get them to Gibraltar where they hoped to make it to England and continue the fight.
They were able to secure a pony-drawn carriage minus the pony where they would stack all their belongings as the men took turns pulling and pushing.
As they made their way into the stream of refugees heading South, Ant kept falling off the carriage that led one to suggest they should kill Ant. But Bozdech had been down this road before and rather than kill Ant, he carried him on his shoulders. It wasn’t long before all the men were taking turns carrying Ant.
They made their way to a train swamped with people attempting to board. It is reported that Ant took off to the rear of the train towards a locked cattle car. As Bozdech tried to get it open, the door suddenly swung open on its own. Inside were a woman and her two daughters who were eating chocolate of all things. Clearly Ant’s favorite.
While the girls happily shared some chocolate with Ant, food would be scarce, and this made keeping Ant fed difficult. During stops on the train, Bozdech and other men would run out and tell locals they had a baby to feed who happily supplied them with a bottle of milk. There was no baby; just a hungry German Shepherd loved by a group of Czech airmen. They made it to Gibraltar on June 30th, 1940 and found boarding the ferry to England more difficult than they thought.
Getting Back Into the Fight and Earning a Dicken Medal
The ferry out of Gibraltar had a strict no animal policy that brought a great deal of concern to Bozdech. Unable to board, he trusted Ants instincts and left him behind for but a moment. Once on board, Bozdech went down to a swimming platform and called out for Ant.
Sure enough, before you knew it, a German Shepherd came swimming over 100 yards to board the vessel. They hid in the hull most of the time to avoid being detected and endured U-boat attack, air attack, and a transfer to another vessel before finally making it to England.
Once in England, Bozdech would join the No. 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron RAF. When the base was bombed on multiple occasions, Ant would assist in searching for survivors in the rubble. And despite the fact that RAF regulations would rule against it, Ant would take to the air with Bozdech and flew approximately 30 missions over enemy territory.
After the war, Bozdech and Ant would return to Czechoslovakia where they would, unfortunately, have to flee again when the Communist came to power in 1948. True to form, Ant would help them escape as he guided them around enemy positions.
In 1949, Ant was awarded the Dicken Medal, which was created by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals to recognize those animals who served with distinction in war. And while that might seem silly to some, don’t tell that to Bozdech.
Eventually, time would catch up with Ant, and he would die in 1953 living side by side with the Czech pilot who once went back with a rock to kill him as a puppy.
If Dog really is man’s best friend and you won’t find a better demonstration of that than Bozdech and Ant, who fought a war together after an impromptu meeting between enemy lines.