It was a most unusual way to join the US Army. But then again, he was a most unusual recruit.
|Sergeant Stubby: battle-worn but still alive|
Stubby sauntered onto the Connecticut training ground of the 102nd Infantry Division, wagged his tail and signalled his desire to serve in the First World War. It was the beginning of a long and illustrious canine career that would see him serving in no fewer than 17 battles.
Stubby was a brindle puppy with a short tail. Homeless and apparently ownerless, he was adopted by Private J Robert Conroy and began training with the 102nd Infantry’s 26 Yankee Division.
|Proudly wearing his medals|
He proved quick to learn. Within weeks he knew all the bugle calls and drills and had even learned to salute his superiors, placing his right paw on his right eyebrow.
The time soon came for the Infantry Division to sail for France. Stubby ought to have been left behind, but Private Conroy smuggled him aboard the SS Minnesota. He was kept hidden in a coal bin until the ship was far out at sea; he was then brought out and introduced to the sailors who were amused by his canine salutes.
When the ship arrived in France, Private Conroy smuggled him ashore. His commanding officer was minded to have the dog sent back on board, but he changed his mind when Stubby gave him a full military salute.
|Stubby served at Chemin des Dunes|
The Yankee Division headed for the front lines at Chemin des Dunes, near Soissons, in the first week of February, 1918: Stubby was allowed to accompany them as the division’s official mascot.
He soon became used to the sound of exploding weapons and heavy artillery, for he was under constant fire for over a month.
His first injury came not from gunfire but from poison gas. He was rushed to a field hospital and given emergency treatment.
|Stubby saved men from blindness and asphyxiation|
The injury left him sensitive to even minute traces of gas in the atmosphere. When the Infantry Division was the target of an early morning gas attack, the men’s lives were at great risk for most of them were asleep. But Stubby recognised the smell and ran through the trench barking and biting the soldiers in order to wake them. In doing so, he saved many from certain death.
Stubby also proved extraordinarily talented at finding wounded soldiers who lay in no man’s land between the trenches of the opposing armies. He would stand by the body, barking loudly until doctors were able to rescue the wounded person.
On one occasion, while serving in the Argonne, Stubby stumbled across a German soldier-spy who was in the process of mapping the layout of the Allied trenches. He understood what the man was doing and began barking wildly.
|Poison gas attack: almost killed Stubby|
The German realised that his cover had been blown and started to run back to his own trenches. But Stubby chased after the man, gnawing his legs and causing the soldier to fall to the ground.
He pressed home his attack until American troops arrived and captured the spy.
Stubby’s heroism in the face of extreme danger caused a sensation: he was immediately promoted to the rank of sergeant by the commander of the 102nd Infantry.
A few months later, Sergeant Stubby was badly injured during a grenade attack, receiving a large amount of shrapnel in his chest and leg. He was rushed to a field hospital for emergency surgery then taken to a Red Cross Hospital for additional treatment.
|Chateau Thierry: Stubby was there|
When he was well enough to wander through the wards, he visited wounded soldiers, boosting their morale.
By the end of the war, Stubby had served in 17 battles and four major offensives. He played an important role in liberating Chateau Thierry: the women of the town were so grateful that they made him a special chamois coat on which he could pin his many medals.
His military decorations included (among many others) three service stripes, the French Battle of Verdun medal, New Haven World War I Veterans Medal, Republic of France Grande War Medal and the Chateau Thierry campaign medal.
|Stubby meets General Pershing|
He was also made a life member of the American Legion, the Red Cross and the YMCA.
When, in 1921, the Humane Education Society awarded him with a gold medal, it was presented by General John Pershing.
After the war, Stubby became a national celebrity, attending military parades up and down the country. He even got to meet three presidents - Wilson, Harding and Coolidge.
In 1926, he died peacefully in Private Conroy’s arms. Brave, and also lucky, he was the most decorated dog of the First World War. He was also the only dog to be promoted to the rank of sergeant through combat.
His remains were stuffed, preserved and put on display in the Smithsonian. They remain there to this day.
My latest book, Wolfram: The Boy Who Went to War is available here, price £11.40. The American edition will be published in October.
'Idiosyncratic and utterly fascinating... an extraordinary tale of hardship, horror and amazing good fortune' James Delingpole, The Daily Mail
'Engaging, page-turning and thought-provoking... a fascinating subject' Victoria Hislop