Last week saw the 70th anniversary of D-Day, on June 6, 1944. Newspapers and airwaves were filled with stories from that momentous event and with images of the surviving participants, now stooped with age and weighed down with their medals and their memories.
French President, Francois Hollande hosted world leaders, ranging from the Queen of England and Barack Obama to Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin. There were all there to mark the moment the liberation of Europe finally began, when brave young men raced into a storm of German bullets and gave their lives for freedom.
But there was one section of the invasion force that was overlooked by all those present. Monty may have got a mention, but that was only the General. There was no reference to his namesake or to Bing, or Ranee for that matter.
If you’re finding this a little hard to follow and suspect that I am barking mad, that’s understandable because those names refer to three of our canine friends who leapt into the unknown on D-Day and helped bring Hitler to heel.
In his book, 13 – Lucky for Some: The History Of The 13th (Lancashire) Parachute Battalion, Andrew Woolhouse tells how these ‘paradogs’ become true dogs of war.
Bing was one of them. Trained to sniff out mines, he also learned how to leap from planes thousands of feet high and even to attack sentries.
Lance Corporal Ken Bailey ran the War Dog Training School in Hertfordshire where the dogs were taught how to sniff out TNT and cordite, as well as how to keep low when bullets were bring fired all around them.
They also had to become accustomed to sitting patiently for hours on noisy transport aircraft taking them to their drop zones.
A parachute that had originally been designed to drop bicycles from aircraft was fitted to the dogs. Getting them to jump into the wide blue yonder was not so difficult. They were deprived of food and drink before the jump. Their handler would then lure them from the plane with tasty chunks of meat.
Bailey kept note of the training progress. On April 2, 1944, he wrote:
‘After my chute developed, I turned to face the line of flight; the dog [Ranee] was 30 yards away and slightly above. The chute had opened and was oscillating slightly. Ranee looked somewhat bewildered but showed no sign of fear. I called out and she immediately turned in my direction and wagged her tail vigorously.
‘The dog touched down 80 feet before I landed. She was completely relaxed, making no attempt to anticipate or resist the landing, rolled over once, scrambled to her feet and stood looking round.’
On D-Day, Bing’s jump didn’t go so well. Like many paratroopers, he landed in a tree where, injured by shrapnel from German mortars, he hung for two hours before being rescued.
But Bing and the other dogs were soon doing what they did best, sniffing out mines, and thereby saving lives.
‘They would sniff excitedly over it for a few seconds and then sit down looking back at the handler with a quaint mixture of smugness and expectancy,’ Bailey wrote.
Unfortunately, Monty was severely wounded on D-Day, while Ranee was disappeared soon after landing and was never seen again.
Bing survived the war, and went on to receive the Dicken Medal, Britain’s highest honour for animals. After the war he returned to his original owner, Betty French, and lived a happy life until dying of natural causes in 1955.
Bing’s story is even told in the children’s book, The Amazing Adventures of Bing the Parachuting Dog, written by Gil Boyd, who was himself a former paratrooper.
A life-sized model of the dog can be found in the Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces Museum in Duxford… standing proud and wearing his parachute.
D-Day was a remarkable event, in some ways even more so now that we know of Bing, France’s four-legged liberator who leapt into history.