One of the most beloved items in the Auckland War Memorial Museum's collections belonged not to a serviceperson, but to a canine hero.
Dogs were employed in various roles during the First World War, and almost all nations involved had use for these loyal and selfless animals. They served as mascots to particular units, providing companionship and helping boost morale. There were also practical reasons why they were utilised. Dogs could cover ground on almost any terrain and were dependable message carriers, faster than any human runner, and more discreet. They were also used as guards and sentries and also for scouting missions, as their keen sense of smell could allow them to signal possible enemy approaches and hideouts much more accurately than their human counterparts. Some were pack dogs, who pulled guns along on carts and carried machine guns and ammunition. Dogs also played a huge part in search and rescue, and this is what Caesar would be trained for.
Caesar was the bulldog mascot of 'A' company, 4th Battalion, New Zealand Rifle Brigade.
Caesar and his handler, Rifleman Thomas Samuel Tooman (s/n 26/918) took part in the Battalion's parade up Auckland's Queen Street in 1916 before they embarked for Egypt on H.M.N.Z.T. 43, the 'Mokoia' which arrived in Egypt in February 1916. Caesar was wearing his studded leather collar which is in the museum collections, Caesar is also spelled incorrectly on the name badge! His name, spelled correctly, was also printed prominently in the 'Mokoian', the troopship magazine of the voyage, in the list of crew aboard.
Upon arriving in Egypt, Rifleman Tooman was assigned to train as an Ambulance Driver as he was a motor-driver by trade back in New Zealand. Caesar was trained as a Red Cross Dog . It has been estimated that there were 10,000 Red Cross dogs who served in the First World War.
Caesar, like other Red Cross dogs, was trained to find wounded soldiers on the battle fields. They were trained to only look for living soldiers, and left the dead. Dogs, with their superior sense of smell were well suited to locating soldiers in areas where they might have been missed by their human counterparts. The training area he first encountered in Egypt was filled with obstacles to simulate the possible battle conditions the dogs might face. Amazingly, dogs were trained to differentiate between allied and enemy uniforms , so as not to lead search parties to possibly armed enemies and could respond to an array of hand signals. They were also exposed to the sounds of trucks and guns, the idea being that eventually these sounds would not be as frightening to the animals. They also learnt to not bark as they might give their locations away to snipers. They even had gas masks fitted to their faces to prepare them for possible chemical attack.
The dogs had harnesses which were equipped with medical supplies like bandages, water and also writing materials. If a soldier was lightly injured, he could use the bandages to patch himself up and the dog would guide him back to the trenches and if unable to move but conscious, he could write of anything that that might hamper the rescuers, such as enemies nearby or unexploded shells. Caesar was also trained to take a piece of a soldiers kit if he was unconscious, to bring back to show the rescue party, such as a cap or piece of torn clothing as evidence.
After intensive training, Caesar left Egypt and embarked for France and would later head for a scene of utter devastation: The Somme. This was one of many costly battles that New Zealanders were involved in, during the Western Front Campaign. There were many Red Cross dogs kept at the New Zealand Headquarters and there were also human members of the Red Cross. Many were utilised as stretcher bearers. Injured soldiers would be sent to the nearest Casualty Clearing Station, where doctors and nurses would be on hand to help patch them up as best they could.
The Somme was a world away from Egypt, muddy, barbed wire scattered about and full of craters left by shells, it was difficult terrain. Especially for a dog with short legs, like a bulldog!
Caesar was personally responsible for locating many men who were wounded on the Somme battlefield, many of who would not have survived with out the brave bulldogs help.
Caesar was killed in action and was found in No Man's Land, shot presumably by a sniper alongside a soldier who had died with his hand resting on Caesar's head. Most likely, Caesar had come across the wounded man and they had died together.
Caesar was buried with the soldier he had found and with others, near the Casualty Clearing Station. Rifleman Tooman was understandably very upset, but went on. After being severely gassed in battle, he recovered with the help of Kath, a Volunteer Aid Detachment Nurse who he had met in France, who he later married. They hung a portrait of Caesar in their dining room back when they retuned to New Zealand.
Lest we forget the great contribution that Caesar and other animals played in the story of the First World War, and may we remember all the animals that have served in conflicts around the world. As London's Hyde Park Animals in War Memorial states:
"They had no choice"
Special thanks to Patricia Stroud, the author of 'Caesar the ANZAC dog' for her help with writing this piece and for providing the photos of Caesar from her family's collection.
Cite this article
Caesar the Anzac dog. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 29 November 2016. Updated: 26 April 2018.