Status: Hoax A collie named Rob has long been celebrated as a hero of World War II. He received the Dickin Medal for Gallantry "For service including 20 parachute jumps while serving with Infantry in North Africa and SAS Regiment in Italy." However, Rob's plane-jumping exploits have now been exposed as a hoax.
Quentin "Jimmy" Hughes, a former SAS training officer, exposed the hoax in his recent autobiographical account of the SAS, Who Cares Who Wins? The London Times reports:
Far from doing 20 parachute drops, Rob did little more than act as a companion for Tom Burt, the quartermaster for 2nd SAS. His reputation was concocted when Rob’s owners, who had lent him to the Army Veterinary and Remount Services to help the war effort, wrote asking if they could have their dog back. Burt, who had grown attached to the dog, was upset at the prospect of losing him, so he and Hughes contrived to keep him in the regiment by sending him on a parachute jump. Hughes would then write to the family to say that Rob’s services were indispensable. I had never realized that dogs could make parachute jumps, but Wikipedia reports that the first parachute jumps, back in the late eighteenth century, were done by a dog:
“We had a suitable parachute harness and I phoned through to the RAF and made arrangements for Rob to have a short flight,” Hughes wrote in his memoir. “Unfortunately, quite a strong wind blew up during the flight and the RAF decided it would be dangerous to drop Rob on that day.”
Hughes resolved to write the letter regardless, and thought that would be the end of the matter, but Rob’s owners were so proud that they passed the letter on to the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), which awarded the dog the Dickin Medal for Gallantry — commonly described as the animals’ Victoria Cross.
The parachute was re-invented in 1783 by Sébastien Lenormand in France. Lenormand also coined the name parachute. Two years later, Jean-Pierre Blanchard demonstrated it as a means of safely disembarking from a hot air balloon. While Blanchard's first parachute demonstrations were conducted with a dog as the passenger, he later had the opportunity to try it himself when in 1793 his hot air balloon ruptured and he used a parachute to escape. The BBC also notes that during WWII parachutes were made for pigeons. But if you're imagining pigeons with little harnesses around them, it's not quite like that. The pigeons were first put into containers and then dropped by parachute into France:
Ms Miles [curator of the Nelson museum] said up to 16,000 pigeons were dropped into France by this method, but only just over 1,800 made it back to Britain, as a lot could have perished unfound in their containers. "They were dropped in the hope that people who found them would return them with information. It was a brilliantly simple idea." Many may not have been found, but some could have fallen victim to a counter-attack strategy by the Nazis - a "squadron" of hawks posted at the French coasts to catch any pigeons winging their way across the English Channel.