British Columbia

Rags, the WW I hero dog, featured in B.C. biographer's new book

'I've identified at least three or four occasions where Rags not only saved men’s lives, but helped redirect the course of the war for the Allies,' says dog biography writer.

Stray terrier had a talent for finding wounded soldiers on the battlefield

Despite his humble beginnings, Rags was no ordinary dog.

The scruffy, 11-kilogram terrier was found on the streets of Paris in July 1918 by American soldier Sgt. Jimmy Donovan and brought to the soldiers' camp to be a companion.

"It turned out he wanted to do things. He wasn't interested in learning tricks ... but he loved being given a job to do," said Sidney, B.C., author Grant Hayter-Menzies, who has written a book about Rags.

From Stray Dog to World War I Hero: The Paris Terrier Who Joined the First Division was released this month.

Saving soldiers' lives

(Grant Hayter-Menzies)

Hayter-Menzies said Rags had a special talent for searching for wounded or dead soldiers and bringing back a piece of uniform or helmet so someone could rescue the soldier or remove the body.

"Rags just seemed to know how to do this without any training," Hayter-Menzies said.

Hayter-Menzies recounted one occasion where Rags found a dead runner — a U.S. soldier with the extremely dangerous job of carrying messages.

"Rags was able to take the note that had been pinned to the man's battle blouse and he gave it to Donovan," he said. 

"It turned out to be a note from an officer who was surrounded by Germans and needed to get out. The message was successfully delivered, and the men were saved."

Hayter-Menzies said he was able to match up the incidents that Rags participated in with various regimental histories and battlefield memoirs.

"I've identified at least three or four occasions where Rags not only saved men's lives, but helped redirect the course of the war for the Allies," he said.

Rags with Sue Hardenbergh, daughter of Major Hardenbergh, whose family looked after the dog after the war. Rags and Sue are sledding on a hill on Governors Island, New York, in the late 1920s. (Grant Hayter-Menzies)

"Multiply him by thousands of dogs, and horses and pigeons and all the animals that helped, though they had no choice of whether or not they wanted to be there, and we owe them a great deal."

A faithful companion

During the war both Sgt. Donovan and Rags were wounded.

"They were taken off the field on the same stretcher, at the order of Col. Lucius Holbrook. And Holbrook indicated to the orderlies that the dog was to receive exactly the same treatment as the man at the field hospital."

That chain of communication broke when Sgt. Donovan was put on a hospital ship to be taken back to the United States, along with the other wounded.

Pets — thought to carry disease — were absolutely not allowed on board.

But when another officer who knew the story of Rags saw the dog sitting on the docks watching the ship, he managed to sneak him on board.

"I get choked up thinking about that," Hayter-Menzies said.

"His life was in danger every hour he was on that ship. Because had somebody heard him... he would've been chloroformed and thrown over, like they did other pets that were found... hidden."

Hayter-Menzies says Rags went on to live a good, peaceful life in the United States after the war.

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: B.C. writer pens biography about Rags, the four-legged WW1 hero