In the immense tragedy of war, some people need something to hold on to during its darkest moments. For a Czech Pilot at the start of WWII, it was a small, emaciated German Shepard puppy. It is a story that almost ended tragically on several occasions. However, the bond between man and dog transcended the fall of nations and the horrors of combat and resulted in the dog earning a Dicken Medal.
It Almost Ended Before it Began
Serving in exile after the Nazis had taken his homeland, Czech airman Vaclav Robert Bozdech was flying with the French Air Force based in Saint-Dizier in early 1940. During a reconnaissance mission, Bozdech and fellow airman Pierre Duval were shot down by anti-aircraft fire and crashed in no-mans land between the French and German lines.
They made their way to an abandoned farmhouse for cover where they discovered the starving puppy. Bozdech fed it melted chocolate and snow which it drank.
The airmen realized they needed to escape while it was still dark. Bozdech left a pan of water and more chocolate behind for the pup and locked the door. As they ran to nearby trees, they could see the flares fired by German soldiers who were looking for them.
As they approached the trees, they could hear the puppy howling in the farmhouse. They agreed they needed to kill the dog to prevent it giving away their position to the enemy. Bozdech went back, picking up a rock on the way with which to kill the puppy. However, when he opened the door, he found he could not do it. Instead, he nestled the puppy in his flight jacket and returned to the wood.
A spectacular act of compassion considering an ill-timed bark could have meant death or capture for the airmen. Fortunately, they were found by French soldiers sent out to search for them. When they returned to their base, Bozdech joined his fellow Czech airmen in exile who played with the puppy. They decided to name it Antis (or Ant for short) after a Czechoslovakian aircraft.
A Long Road Home
The exiled Czechs time in France was cut short when Germany brought the war to the Western front in May of 1940. By mid-June, all the aircraft from Bozdech’s squadron had been destroyed by Nazi bombing, and his unit was disbanded. The Czech airmen decided to head south to Tours and then try to catch a train through Spain to Gibraltar where they hoped to make it to England and continue to fight.
They stole a cart, loaded it with their belongings including Ant, and took turns pulling and pushing it.
They joined the stream of refugees heading South. Ant kept falling off the cart, leading one airman to suggest they should kill the dog. Instead, Bozdech carried him on his shoulders. Before long, all the men were taking turns carrying Ant.
They made their way to a train swamped with people attempting to board. Ant took off to the rear of the train where he stopped and barked at a locked cattle car. Bozdech knocked on the door assuming it was full but when it was opened from inside, they found only one woman and her two daughters. The girls were eating chocolate – no wonder Ant was excited.
Food was scarce on the journey, and feeding Ant was difficult. When the train stopped, Bozdech or one of the others obtained milk from locals who thought they were providing it for a baby. There was no baby; just a hungry dog loved by a group of Czech airmen. They eventually arrived in Gibraltar on June 30, 1940, but they encountered more problems.
Earning a Dicken Medal
The ferry from Gibraltar to the transport ship had a strict no animal policy. Bozdech went on board, leaving Ant behind on the shore. The airman then climbed down a ladder on the outside of the ferry to a swimming platform and called the dog. Ant swam the 100 yards to Bozdech who smuggled him on board the vessel. They hid in the hold for most of the voyage to avoid being detected and endured attacks by U-boats and German Junkers. The crew of the transport ship was happy to have a dog on board, and they finally reached Liverpool, England on July 12.
Once in England, Bozdech joined the 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron, RAF. When their base was bombed in an air raid, Ant assisted in searching for survivors in the rubble despite being injured himself. He also flew with Bozdech on 30 missions over enemy territory although the RAF forbade it. He became a mascot for the squadron.
After the war, Bozdech and Ant returned to Czechoslovakia but, unfortunately, had to flee again when the Communists gained power in 1948. True to form, Ant helped in their escape as he guided them around enemy positions.
In 1949, Ant was awarded the Dicken Medal – the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross. It was created by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals to recognize animals that had served in WWII.
Bozdech became a British citizen, and Ant lived with him until the dog died in 1953. Undoubtedly a great example of a dog as man’s best friend.