"Digger" 1914-1918 :: FamilyTreeCircles.com Genealogy
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"Digger" 1914-1918

Journal by janilye

Digger, a dark brown and white bulldog accompanied his owner, Sergeant James Harold Martin, during his service overseas and is said to have served three and a half years with the AIF.

Martin, an electrician from Hindmarsh in South Australia enlisted on 18 September 1914, at the age of 22.
Digger seems to have been a stray dog that attached himself to soldiers training at Broadmeadows and followed them down to the troopships.
Martin adopted him as a mascot and he and Digger sailed from Melbourne on 20 October 1914. Martin served initially with 1 Division Signal Company on Gallipoli, but transferred to 2 Division Signal Company in July 1915.
He remained with the company, attached to the Engineers, during his service on the Western Front in France and Belgium.
Martin returned to Australia on 12 May 1918, according to his medical records he suffered with Rheumatism and was discharged medically unfit.

Digger accompanied him as strict quarantine regulations relating to the arrival of dogs in Australia from overseas did not come into force until June 1918.

Digger had been wounded and gassed at Pozieres in 1916 and needed cod liver oil for his burns.
This was expensive so a picture postcard of Digger, wearing the inscribed silver collar made for him on his return to Australia, with patriotic red, white and blue ribbons attached to it, was produced and the money realised from its sale used to buy the oil.

It is said that the dog was also presented with a free tram and rail pass so that he could accompany Martin.

Digger died, as an old dog, on Empire Day (24 May - year not known) when he was frightened by the celebratory fireworks.
Thinking he was under fire again he attempted to jump the fence but failed and fell back with a burst blood vessel.
Digger managed to crawl back into the house and died on Martin's bed. Martin was in the Prince of Wales Hospital at Randwick, NSW at the time, but he arranged through Mrs J A Little, a volunteer who visited the hospital twice a day to the help the soldiers there, to have Digger's hide tanned. After Martin's death the hide and collars were passed to Mrs Little. Her daughter recalled that the hide was displayed on the floor and that 'nobody put a foot on it.' His head was propped on a stool so that everyone could see him, he has been loved by all'.

Note that the postcard is signed by Sergeant Martin.

James Harold Martin the son of James Sampson MARTIN 1862-1921 and Ada Mary STEARNE 1862-1921, was born on the 21 August 1892 in Hindmarsh, South Australia and died at Daw Park in Adelaide on the 16 December 1963.

Whilst in UK during WW1, James and Digger stayed with a glass and china dealer James Henry LARKINS, his wife Sarah nee Clark and their family of five boys and two girls.

After the war James and digger returned to Australia, Frances Letitia LARKINS 1892-1975. followed on the next ship...

On the 11 June 1920 at Hindmarsh. James and Frances married.
The couple had two children James Ross MARTIN 1921 ? 1997 and Marjorie Joan MARTIN 1926 ? 1986

The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929) Saturday 28 December 1918

DIgger, THE DOG.

'Digger,' a bulldog that left Australia on board the Argyllshire in October, 1914, and is now the only surviving mascot of the original lst Division, has returned to Sydney.
If he could speak he could say that he has been over the top 16 times says the Sydney correspondent of The Melbourne Herald). He was in the landing on Gallipoli, went through Lone Pine, and was in the evacuation.
Afterwards he went to France with the boys, and at Pozieres was wounded and gassed.
He returned to the division again, and out in two winters with it, being gassed again in the Ypres battle.
Men who know him say that as soon as the gas alarm sounded Digger would rush up to, his nearest human comrade and make signs that he wanted his mask fitted.
But he was not a mere show dog. When a man was lying wounded out in front and no one could reach him, Digger would be sent out with artificial foods, and if it was possible for the man to write he would bring a message back.
He bears the marks of his wounds. A hole in the top of the lower jaw, three teeth gone, blind in the right eye, deaf in the left ear. He had to be put under chloroform to have the bullet extracted.

No one company or battalion can ever say that they owned Digger. He belongs to the 1st Division. Sometimes he would be with one battalion, next week with another. Then he would take up with a battery of artillery for a -while.
While convalescent in England he transferred to the flying corps. On one occasion he went up 8,000 ft. with the late Flight-Lieut. Gibba, and has, they say, flown all over England and Scotland. He always was a venturesome dog, but he was invalided home a couple of months ago, and now has to lead a more or less humdrum life.

However, so his present keeper says, he could not be kept in on the day of the news of the Armistice. He caught a train to Sydney to knock around with the boys and,' several days later, had to be bailed out of the Dogs' Home for half a crown. He had the reputation of being a hard drinker 'over the other side.'

His was a common face in the wet canteen and estaminets.

The 1st Division has allowed him to go into the custody of Sgt. J. H. Martin, also a returned Anzac, who since the war has lost a mother, father, two brothers, and a sister? the last three on active service.
It was thought that the dog might be some consolation for him.

National Archives/
Item details for: B2455, MARTIN J H
Australian War Memorial

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by janilye Profile | Research | Contact | Subscribe | Block this user
on 2011-11-18 09:23:56

janilye - 7th generation, Convict stock. Born in New South Wales now living in Victoria, carrying, with pride 'The Birthstain'.

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by linswad on 2011-11-23 19:18:29

Found a couple of articles on Trove about 'Digger', you may have seen them already. Both essentially the same,
Hobart Mercury - Monday 9 December 1918 page 8
Adelaide Advertiser - Saturday 28 December 1918, page 6

Lindsay Swadling

by linswad on 2011-11-23 19:19:41

Sorry, Adelaide Register not Advertiser

by janilye on 2011-11-23 19:25:55

Thank you Lindsay. No I hadn't seen them.
I'm surprised he survived the gassing. Tough dog.

by janilye on 2011-11-23 19:33:03

Oh great article. Thank you. I will add it :)

by 1bobbylee on 2011-11-26 21:22:12

Fantastic story Janilye. Dogs are wonderful... What unconditional Love they give to us. Digger was a brave, rugged, and loyal warrior.

by janilye on 2011-11-27 03:09:53

by janilye on 2011-11-28 07:01:06

by TLBoehm on 2011-12-01 16:53:50

I've had an account here for over a year but haven't been active. Now that the "Blog" idea is coming to the forefront - I am probably hooked and in the boat and posts like this would be why I would frequent this site.
Its more than the dry names,dates and tombstones. There are amazing stories just waiting to be told. This is one of them. I would love to run into something like this during my family research. What a great story - and so well penned.

by 1bobbylee on 2011-12-01 18:35:36

TLBoehm, I have enjoyed reading your writings. Very crisp and informative. Keep them coming. A new delightful voice for FTC.

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