History of animals in war commemorated with service in Wagga's Victory Memorial Gardens

A small blue medallion is pinned to the airforce-issued vest worn by Zephir the German Shepherd.

Known as the K9 Military Service Medal, he was awarded it upon his retirement in 2016, recognising his efforts in protecting the Australian airfield in East Timor.

Australia was the first nation to recognise the contribution of animals to its war efforts, and in 1999 hundreds were posthumously or retrospectively granted the honour.

On Saturday, Zephir and handler Sergeant Melissa Reibel marched in their honour at the National Day for War Animals commemoration.

They were joined by nine riders of the Riverina Light Horse Brigade and up to 80 members of the public in laying purple poppies at the cenotaph.

"I feel privileged to be invited to a service like this in Wagga," Sergeant Reibel said.

"The animals don't get enough recognition for their service, and [Zephir and I] are thrilled to be a part of the commemoration. A lot of people don't realise the footprint animals have had [in war history]."


The bond between military dogs and their handlers was further commemorated nationally with the unveiling of the Circling Into Sleep stature at the Australian War Memorial on Monday.

It is something the Wagga commemoration chapter and Light Horse Memorial Committee are hoping to replicate in years to come.

Currently, they are working to fundraise for a life-size statue honouring the brigade.

"There's a monument in Tassie, one in Toowoomba and another one in Glenn Innes, so there's no reason there couldn't be one in Wagga down the track," said organiser John Ploenges.

"The Light Horse statue is our priority at the moment, and we hope to have that up in the gardens by 2023."

It was the inaugural commemoration service in Wagga, but one that will become a feature point of the military calendar into the future.

"There was a lot of interest just from people walking past, and a lot of them stayed for the ceremony," Mr Ploenges said.

"We had 50 poppies to lay [at the cenotaph] but 20 kids turned up and laid more."

This story Commemorating the involvement of animals in the war effort first appeared on The Daily Advertiser.