The soldier had been entrenched with his platoon under the spread of 3 giant oak tree’s, when the advancing German tank division had overrun them. He had taken a large shard of the tree into his upper right chest and arm, and had been buried in debris. He waited to bleed to death, pain his only companion.
The devastation was complete, most of the Bitish riflemen had been killed. All that remained of the Oak grove was splintered wood’, and twisted, broken limbs. It was now 2 hours since the battle, and the Red Cross Ambulances were just beginning to arrive. SergeantMajor Ian McCaskill of the Forward Medical Search/Recovery Team began to asssess the scene immediately, as he once again began his sad task of recovering all of the casualties. It was now 1942, and he had been at this grim task for 2 years. It never got easier. “We’ll deploy the Search dogs right away, Corporal. We’ll never find every man in this mess without them…” McCaskill shook his head. The nearby Corporal turned on his heel sharply and ran toward the mobile kennel, 50 yards distant.
The waiting canines whined and paced in their small kennels. The acrid smell of gunpowder and diesel fuel told them it was time to work, finding the dead and sometimes the wounded. The surroundings, as always, were chaotic and filled with confusion. Soldiers frantically recovering bodies and equipment, sirens, explosions and sounds of battle in the distance. “Will the dogs need their gas-masks, Sgt. Major?” asked the young Corporal.
Sniffing the air, McCaskill detected no mustard gas…this time. “No Corporal. But good question.” McCaskill was grateful forhandlers that thought of their dogs health in every situation. “Deploy…”
The badly wounded soldier under the broken trees gurgled blood in his throat. He was only partially aware, wandering between life and death. He could hear the Red Cross men searching the rubble around him, grimly uncovering his dead platoon mates. But he was deeply buried under debris and mud and was invisible to human senses. He let out a long, gurgling,sigh, now resigned to death.
The search was now winding down. The dogs had recovered 14 casualties from the pile. All but one man had been recovered. Sadly, better than average success rate for this days work. The dogs truly made a big difference between lost and found. “Okay, lets do one more sweep thru the worst area, just to be sure…” McCaskill ordered his 4 handlers.
One handler and his German Shepherd, Nestor, began the long climb down into the crater filled with wreckage. A point came where the Handler couldn’t move forward because of the densely packed debris, but the German Shepherd insisted on moving ahead, straining the leash of his handler. Their time training and working together, had taught the handler to read his dog well. He reached out to the dogs harness and released the quivering dog. Nestor immediately bolted into the debris pile and disappeared, intent on an interesting scent detected. Normally, on detection of a casualty, Nestor was trained to pull the body free so that his handler could recover the body and tag it for identification. When a living soul was encountered, Nestor would bark until his alarm was answered by his handler or other Red Cross personnel. As the eager dog snaked his way thru the debris, he scented the warm, steely scent of blood. Nestor found the spot, and after barking loudly several times, began to paw at the black soil and sticks that buried his find.
Alerted by the barking, the Handler called for help urgently. “Sargeant/Major!! We have a live find here!! We’ll need shovels and ropes!!! Hurry!”
The exhausted but excited Handler turned to see his dog, covered in mud, tail-wagging, emerge from the debris still sounding his recovery. “Good Boy, Nestor!!! Good Dog!! Good Boy! You’re a hero!” The young man reached into his gully-bag, and pulled out his own small meat ration, and broke it in half, giving half to the tired dog. Nestor wagged his tail, swallowed his reward and lay on the ground as the medical people began to remove the injured soldier he had found.
This is not a story of an actual event. It is my clumsy attempt to tell you the story of an often forgotten group of heroes, the Red Cross Rescue/Recovery dogs. I have gleaned as many facts as possible from my research to write this story accurately, and I believe it accurately depicts the work that these dogs performed, including Cameo’s Great (x 16) Grandsire “V Nestor vom Wiegerfelson”, whose name I have used in the story as our hero.
More on the Red Cross canines in Part 4!!!