Driver - A World War One Hero

Driver wearing Dog TagDriver wearing Dog Tag

Amongst the vast collection in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra is a small dog called 'Driver' whose hide is preserved by taxidermy. It is described as:

'Sydney Silky Terrier, mascot to the 7th Field Company, serving in Egypt and France in the 1st World War, smuggled back to Australia to be re-united with its master in Sydney'.

Driver is shown wearing a nickel-plated collar with two solid metal bands linked by double rows of chain link. The longer of the bands fastens with the metal peg. The shorter band bears a plate which is Driver's oval aluminium identity tag. It is engraved: 'DRIVER 7 COY ENGRS AIF BORN 15/9/15'. Dog tags were worn by all troops and, as hers shows, Driver was officially a 7th Field Company Engineer 7 COY Engineer) member of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). It also shows Driver was born in Sydney on 15 September 1915.

Driver becomes Mascot of the 7th Field Company

When she was just 12 weeks old, Driver was carried aboard the troop ship, 'Suffolk' in Fred Robert's pocket. Fred was one of four Australian Field Company Engineers who sailed for four months to France where they joined the transport section. There Driver's owner became Sergeant Leslie Ernest Ross and Driver became the mascot of the Company.

World War One World War One

During the First World War, horses were an integral part of a complex supply line which provided the British forces on the Western Front with ammunition, food, and equipment. For the next couple of years, while the men were housed by the French villagers, Driver usually slept with the horses in the stables. The stables were whatever crude shelter the soldiers could provide. This was the safest option for this little World War One hero! Driver also liked to sit on her owner's feet, eating anything offered, but she particularly befriended the cook! Whenever the unit moved, Driver travelled in the officers' mess cart. She was often taken on ratting expeditions in the trenches, where she cleverly warned the Australian and allied troops when there were German Aircraft around.  

In 1917 the Germans finally withdrew to the Hindenburg Line. Driver's unit was also moved there to fight. But during this dreadful battle, Driver went missing. She re-joined the unit two days later, footsore, and hungry. She had obviously safely hidden herself until the fighting ceased.

Driver Smuggled back to Australia

At the end of the war, against quarantine regulations, Driver was successfully smuggled back to England. Sergeant Ross then sneaked her onto the troop ship bound for Sydney. During the seven-week journey, the ship's Captain and the officer commanding the troops (the CO) had become aware of Driver's presence. He demanded that the dog be put down before the ship arrived in Australia, even going so far as to say that the dog should be put into the ship's furnace! But the troops threatened to kill anyone who hurt Driver. With members of the ship's crew paid to hide her in their quarters, Driver somehow survived all inspections.

Taxidermy Statue of DriverTaxidermy Statue of Driver

As it was understood that customs officials would be waiting for Sergeant Ross when the ship docked in Sydney, a volunteer was found to smuggle the dog off the ship in Melbourne. The volunteer was provided with a kit bag cut up to make a pocket to fit neatly inside his army greatcoat. When the volunteer disembarked, he carried the coat over his arm and laid it on the pier for the 20-minute kit inspection. During this time, Driver never moved a muscle. Driver was then then forwarded back to Sydney by rail where she lived the rest of her life with the Sergeant's father.

She finally and died on 31 October 1926, aged 11½ years!

References and Further Reading

The material in this story was supplied by the Australian War Memorial


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