The story of Caesar

Dogs were employed in various roles during the First World War serving as mascots, providing companionship and helping boost morale...

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', arriving in February 1916.

Rifleman Tooman was trained as an Ambulance Driver and Caesar was trained as a Red Cross Dog (around 10,000 Red Cross dogs served in World War I).

With his superior sense of smell, he was well suited to locating wounded soldiers in areas where they might have been missed by their human counterparts – he could even differentiate between allied and enemy uniforms so he wouldn’t lead search parties to possibly armed enemies and was further trained not to bark in case he inadvertently gave their locations away!

His harness was equipped with medical supplies like bandages, water and writing materials. If a soldier was lightly injured, he could use the bandages and the dog would guide him back to the trenches. Caesar could also take a piece of a soldier's kit if he were unconscious, to bring back to the rescue party.

After training in Egypt, Caesar embarked for France and The Somme.

Caesar was personally responsible for locating many men who were wounded on the Somme battlefield, many of who would not have survived without the brave bulldog's help.

Like so many other NZ Defence Force personnel, Caesar was killed in action and was found in No Man's Land alongside a soldier who had died with his hand resting on Caesar's head. Caesar was buried with the soldier he had found 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, whom he later married. They hung a portrait of Caesar in their dining room when they returned to New Zealand.

On 27 February 2019 at the National Army Museum, Waiouru a Blue Cross Medal was awarded to 'Ceaser'. He is New Zealand’s first recipient of the Blue Cross Medal, an award for bravery. His name was misspelt originally, so it remains ‘Ceaser’; not ‘Caesar’.

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 courageously and selflessly served in conflicts worldwide. As London's Hyde Park Animals in War Memorial states: ‘They had no choice’

Article Credit: Prasad, Mini. Caesar the Anzac dog. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.