For Anzac weekend we are bringing you a very special story.
Not all war heroes were men or women. Dogs play a huge part in war. Not only the detection dogs of today, but in the past as guards and sentries, messengers, pulling gun carts and hauling ammunition.
Mascots, too, were beloved, adding incalculable benefit to those who cared for them.
Thomas Samuel Tooman was born on June 15, 1886, in Remuera, Auckland to Samuel and Catherine Tooman (nee Cassidy).
Like a lot of men of his generation, when World War One broke out he enlisted, leaving on February 16, as a rifleman with the New Zealand Rifle Brigade.
He had already met the buddy who would define his war service.
Just before he left, he and bulldog Caesar took part in a parade up Auckland’s Queen Street. Watching in the rain was his niece Ida who would get his letters about Caesar. She tied her hair ribbon around Caesar’s neck as she said goodbye.
Caesar was the bulldog mascot of 'A' company, 4th Battalion, New Zealand Rifle Brigade. Trained as a Red Cross dog, he would look for wounded soldiers on the battlefields. Tooman was an ambulance driver.
With their amazing sense of smell, dogs were trained to only look for living soldiers.
Caesar’s first training area was Egypt and he could differentiate between allied and enemy uniforms so they did not lead searchers to possibly armed enemies.
The dogs also learnt to not bark, as they might give their locations away to snipers, and to wear gas masks fitted to their faces to prepare them for possible chemical attack.
The dogs carried medical supplies, like bandages and water and sometimes writing supplies on a harness. 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. Caesar was also trained to take a piece of a soldier's kit if he was unconscious, to bring back to show the rescue party, such as a cap or piece of torn clothing as evidence.
Caesar’s first battlefield was the horror of The Somme.
There were many Red Cross dogs kept at the New Zealand Headquarters. Many soldiers 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.
It was where Tooman and Caesar met the dog’s favourite nurse, Kath Butcher.
The Somme would have been as different from Egypt as it was possible to get. Muddy, barbed wire scattered about and the craters left by shells, it was a hellscape.
Caesar was personally responsible for locating many men who were wounded on the Somme battlefield, many of whom would not have survived without his help.
One night Caesar did not return, and in daylight Tooman went looking for him. He was found, shot through the chest in No Man's Land, presumably by a sniper alongside a New Zealand soldier who had died with his hand resting on Caesar's head. Caesar was buried with the soldier he had found and with others, near the Casualty Clearing Station. His death was reported in New Zealand papers.
Tooman was understandably very upset, but went on. After being severely gassed in battle, he recovered with the help of Kate Edith Butcher, the Volunteer Aid Detachment Nurse who he had met in France and later married. She had been serving as a British Red Cross nurse who fed and made a fuss of Caesar at a nursing station.
They hung a portrait of Caesar in their dining room when they returned to New Zealand.
Tom’s letters to his niece Ida told stories of Caesar and Ida told them to her daughter Patricia Stroud who published the book Caesar the Anzac Dog which can be found online although it is out of print.
But wonderfully there is a recording of the story at the Torpedo Bay Naval Museum: https://navymuseum.co.nz/news/caesar-the-anzac-dog/ (Warning, it will make you cry).
In 2019 the Defence Force named its new working dog facility after Caesar.
Tooman died on November 7, 1956 and is buried in Waikaraka Cemetery in Auckland.
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