Alt banner image

A soldier and his dog: Horrie the WW2 dog

Ken Wright reports on how one World War II digger and his canine mate quietly outwitted Canberra officialdom.

This story originally appeared as bonus content in the iPad edition of Issue 19. Click here for more. 

Horrie standing on a fuel can wearing his Corporal’s uniform in Syria, 1941.
Horrie standing on a fuel can wearing his Corporal’s uniform in Syria, 1941.

When Private Jim Moody found the lost and hungry little male terrier puppy wandering the desert, little did he realise just how much heartache they both were to go through. Private Moody was a dispatch rider with the Australian Imperial Force’s 2/1 Machine Gun Battalion stationed in the Ikingi Maryut area of the western desert outside Alexandria in Egypt. The puppy was quickly adopted as the Battalion’s unofficial mascot and travelled everywhere with the men. Egypt, Greece, Crete, Palestine and Syria — then eventually to Australia. ‘Horrie the Wog Dog’, as he was affectionately called, was intelligent, easily trained and effective as a guard dog, warning the troops of approaching enemy aircraft long before they were seen.

On Crete, Horrie became a messenger dog, was wounded in action by a shell splinter and survived the sinking of the Dutch transport ship Costa Rica during the evacuation from Greece on 27 April 1941. Fortunately, Royal Navy destroyers managed to save the entire contingent of more than 2,500 troops who had been on board. When the Japanese overran the Allied defences in Singapore in February 1942, all Australian troops serving in the Middle East were recalled home to defend their own country, as it was feared the Japanese might invade Australia. The British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, demanded the Australian troops stay and defend British interests but the Australian Prime Minister, John Curtin, told Churchill what he could do with his demands, and the Australians set sail for home. Horrie was going, too — unofficially, of course.

Army orders stipulated that no unofficial animals were to be brought into Australia due to stringent quarantine laws. Horrie being so easy to train and Private Moody and his mates being very resourceful, a plan was hatched to smuggle Horrie into the country. Stuff army regulations, Horrie was not going to be abandoned. Other pets were not so lucky.

In a memo to the Director, Veterinary Services and Army Remounts, Ron W Wardle stated that during March and April 1942, 19 Australia-bound troop vessels were found to carry animal mascots — 21 dogs, 17 monkeys, one cat, one rabbit, one parrot, one pigeon, one goose, one duck, three squirrels and one mongoose. All were destroyed on board, but Wardle felt it possible that a small number of animals were surreptitiously landed.

Private Moody’s canvas backpack was modified with wooden slats and discrete air holes that allowed Horrie to hide in it when official inspections were carried out on board ship. Horrie spent most of the voyage to Australia in the soldier’s cabin with a secret knock to tell any volunteer guardian it was safe to open the door. Jim Moody realised that he would not be able to place Horrie in quarantine as the Quarantine Act granted officials the power to seize illegal animals and dispose of them. Smuggling him into the country was the only option. Somehow, Horrie got past official inspection when the transport ship Westpoint docked in Adelaide. Horrie and Jim eventually made their way to Jim Moody’s father’s house in Melbourne.

For the next three years, Horrie lived a good life at the father’s home while Private Moody served in various parts of Australia and New Guinea. After his discharge from the army in February 1945, Jim and Horrie were reunited and began a quiet life together. Sadly, fate, circumstances or plain bad luck began a series of events that would have a tragic yet happy ending for the pair.

In 1945, the renowned Australian author Ion Idriess wrote an excellent book about the adventures of Horrie the Wog-Dog based on Jim Moody’s diaries. This in turn led to a newspaper article on the subject. The Commonwealth Director of Veterinary Hygiene, Ron Wardle, also read the article, and immediately ordered a full investigation into Horrie’s illegal entry. Jim and his faithful companion had in the meantime moved to New South Wales. When officials finally caught up with them, Jim stated Horrie was back in Victoria. No one believed him of course, but Jim needed time to think. Eventually realising there was nothing much he could do about the situation, he agreed to hand over the dog in a weeks’ time.

Moody responded officially to Wardle on 2 March 1945. In his letter he pleaded for leniency for Horrie, explaining that a vet in Tel Aviv had checked the dog for any disease before coming back to Australia. Horrie was given a clean bill of health and had been disease free for the past three years. It was also pointed out that Horrie was offered as a fundraiser for the Red Cross. Jim Moody was prepared to accept any financial penalty the Division of Veterinary Hygiene saw fit to impose on him for his action. Moody’s letter concluded with:

‘I feel sure this appeal will meet with the fair and just British spirit in which I believe and have volunteered to fight for during the past five years.’

Naturally Moody desperately wanted to keep his little mate, but Wardle couldn’t have cared less. The law was the law and justice must be seen to be done. When the week was up, Horrie was handed over to quarantine officials on 9 March and was officially put down with a dose of cyanide at 4pm on 12 March 1945. There was no need to kill Horrie, which was evident from the Quarantine Department’s own laws. Officialdom could have easily recommended he be placed in quarantine for a further period to make doubly sure that, even after three years in the country, he was disease free. Bluntly put, Horrie was made an example to deter others trying the same thing.

In a letter to an army colleague, Wardle wrote, ‘As you will fully appreciate, the dog was of course, by this time of no risk of being infected with rabies, but action was taken in order to uphold the control under the Quarantine Act.’

Once the public learned of Horrie’s death, a storm of protest erupted. Wardle became the most hated man in Australia at the time. Letters of abuse and threats were sent to government offices. The Prime Minister was petitioned, government officials were verbally abused on the streets, and questions were asked in Parliament. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) called for the act to be changed so that all animals brought into Australia be quarantined then released to their owners if found free of disease.

Wardle and his department received the most hate mail. Selected extracts from four of the letters which are on file at the National Archives of Australia demonstrate the public’s vitriol:

‘By the murder of the AIF dog Horrie in quarantine, a challenge has been thrown down by an arrogant, stupid and power drunk official of the Commonwealth, against the Sovereign rights of the people of Australia. It is an affront to the morale and honour of the AIF and I hope the AIF, RAAF, RAN, and AMF will immediately call for the punishment of the sadistic official irrespective of what rank he holds and also for the prompt repeal of the too drastic quarantine regulations and thus prevent our returning soldiers throwing their mascots and pets overboard to prevent them being callously taken from them and destroyed.’ — J B Steel. March 1945.

‘Dog murderer! Please do us a big favour and on your way home today, buy yourself a dose of arsenic or something that makes a slow death.’ The Dog Lovers of the World [No date].

‘Our dear boys are away fighting and these brave lads had love to spare for a poor little pup in the face of their own dangers and thought they were bringing him home to this fair land we all boast of where they would be welcomed with open arms. Instead, nothing but dictators, cowards and brutality greeted them. It seems the coward that shot the dog did not put his cartridges to better use. May God bless the dear boy in the loss of a faithful friend.’ — A soldier’s mother [No date].

‘I hope it will not be long until you get what’s coming to you and I also hope it will be the same death as what that little dog had but a bit more lingering to give you plenty of pain. I hope and pray that when your day comes I will have the pleasure to put you to sleep in the same way as that little mate died.’ — TS, an old sailor. Chatswood 28 March 1945.

The RSPCA wrote to the Attorney-General on 11 April 1945 expressing their members’ displeasure at the Government’s bureaucratic inflexibility regarding Horrie’s execution. The President, K G Williams, wrote in part, ‘My society has received innumerable letters and messages of protest against the destruction of the dog, and my Council joins with the members in regretting the fact that the dog was destroyed, even though, apparently, a clean bill of health had been given to it and it has been in the country a long period in excess of the incubation period for rabies.’

Labor MP Alan Fraser raised the subject in Federal Parliament: “As the dog was admitted to be entirely disease free and as the Quarantine Act far from requiring its destruction, specifically provides that an animal free from disease may be returned to its owner who can be penalised, I fail to see what reason moved the Quarantine department to insist on its destruction.” Sadly, all the huff and puff and grand rhetoric were all too late. Horrie was dead and that was that. Or was it?

Everything was not as it seemed.

Join our mailing list