ANZAC Day Tribute: Honouring Smoky, the Pioneering Therapy Dog at Stuartholme on Mt Coot-tha

During World War II, a courageous Yorkshire Terrier named Smoky served alongside Australian and American forces with distinction, even though she weighed less than 2kg. Did you know that after the war, Smoky became the very first documented therapy dog for returning soldiers with PTSD at the 42nd General Hospital in Stuartholme on Mt Coot-tha?

A Mascot Turned War Hero

Discovered in a foxhole in New Guinea in 1944, Smoky’s wartime service began in an unlikely fashion. American soldier Bill Wynne purchased the tiny Yorkshire terrier for two Australian pounds, not knowing the profound impact she would eventually have on many lives. 

Initially serving as the mascot for the South West Pacific Area’s (SWPA) 26th Recon Squadron, Smoky quickly rose to prominence. Her tenure as a mascot was short-lived as her role evolved dramatically during a critical phase of the war.

Smoky the Yorkshire Terrier
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

One of Smoky’s most celebrated contributions to the war effort came under dire circumstances. The engineers faced a daunting task: laying communication wires across a 21-meter wide airstrip in the Philippines, a mission fraught with danger, potentially exposing soldiers to enemy fire for days. 

Smoky, with her compact size and agility, presented an unconventional solution. A string was tied to Smoky’s collar, and she was guided through narrow pipes under the airstrip, a feat she accomplished with astonishing speed and precision. This single act, which took mere minutes, not only saved significant time but also protected the lives of the soldiers from potential enemy attacks. 

Smoky’s bravery and intelligence in completing this task were beyond what anyone could have expected from such a small creature, earning her a place in military lore.

Transition to Therapy Dog

The transition to Smoky’s role as a therapy dog began unexpectedly. Whilst serving in the Pacific, Corporal Wynne was struck down with Dengue fever, finding himself bedridden in a hospital tent.

In those moments of illness and isolation, Smoky proved to be more than just a mascot or a war hero; she became a source of comfort and companionship. Nestled beside Mr Wynne, her constant presence and innate ability to sense and alleviate his distress marked the beginning of her journey as a therapeutic aid.

Recognising the profound impact Smoky had on the soldier and observing her effect on other soldiers, military medical personnel began to see the potential of leveraging this bond for therapeutic purposes. When Smoky was introduced to the 42nd General Hospital at Stuartholme, her role was formalised as a therapy dog, the first of her kind documented in history. 

Her work involved visiting soldiers returning from combat, many of whom struggled with the invisible wounds of war, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Smoky’s therapeutic impact was immediate and profound. Her small stature and gentle demeanour made her approachable, providing a sense of calm and comfort to those she interacted with. Soldiers, burdened with the trauma of war, found solace in her presence, a testament to the healing power of non-verbal companionship. Smoky’s work at the hospital highlighted her versatility and adaptability and paved the way for the use of therapy dogs in military and civilian medical facilities worldwide.

Smoky Memorial in Brisbane
Photo Credit: Monument Australia

A Legacy Cemented

Her legacy is particularly significant, considering the period. During the mid-20th century, PTSD was not well understood or treated. 

Smoky’s contributions have been honoured with a sculpture nestled inside a World War Two army helmet at the Australian War Animal Memorial Organisation, dedicated to Smoky and all war animals. Her work as a therapy dog, which lasted 12 years during and after the war, has set a precedent for the use of therapy dogs in aiding soldiers’ recovery.

Smoky’s story has been celebrated internationally with memorials and honours across America, England, Papua New Guinea, and Australia, acknowledging her as the world’s first documented therapy dog. Her legacy, which began on the battlefields of World War II, continues to inspire and influence the role of animals in therapeutic settings.

A Timeline of Service and Legacy

1944: Smoky is discovered in a foxhole in New Guinea and becomes the mascot for the 26th Recon Squadron.

1945: Smoky assists in laying communication wires in the Philippines, showcasing her bravery and intelligence.

July 1944 – 1957: Smoky serves as a therapy dog, first documented at the 233rd Station Hospital in New Guinea, and later at the 42nd General Hospital in Stuartholme, continuing her therapeutic work post-war.

2005: A monument to honour Smoky and her service is unveiled.

2021: Bill Wynne, Smoky’s owner and companion, passes away at the age of 99, leaving behind a story of loyalty, bravery, and the therapeutic power of animals.

Smoky’s journey from a warzone companion to a therapeutic aid for soldiers with PTSD underscores the profound bond between humans and animals, a legacy that endures at Stuartholme on Mt Coot-tha and beyond.

Published 10-April-2024