During World War II in Australia, there was a dog whose hearing was so acute that it could warn airforce personnel of incoming Japanese planes 20 minutes before they arrived, and before they showed up on radar. “Gunner” could also differentiate the sounds of allied and enemy aircraft.
The small six-month old black and white male kelpie was found whimpering, having suffered a broken front leg, under a destroyed mess hut at Darwin Air Force base on 19 February 1942, following the first wave of Japanese attacks on Darwin Airforce personnel took him to a field hospital, but the doctor insisted he couldn’t fix a “man” with a broken leg without knowing his name and serial number. The doctor repaired and plastered his leg after the airforce personnel replied that his name was “Gunner” and his number was “0000”. Gunner entered the airforce on that day.
Leading Aircraftman Percy Westcott, one of the two airmen who found Gunner, took ownership of him and became his master and handler. At first, the dog was badly shaken after the bombing, but being only six months old he quickly responded to the men’s attention. About a week after, Gunner first demonstrated his remarkable hearing skills. While the men were working on the airfield, Gunner became agitated and started to whine and jump. Not long afterwards, the sound of approaching aeroplane engines was heard by the airmen. A few minutes later a wave of Japanese raiders appeared in the skies above Darwin and began bombing and strafing the town.
Two days later, Gunner began whimpering and jumping again and not long afterwards came another air attack. This set the pattern for the months that followed. Long before the sirens sounded, Gunner would get agitated and head for shelter. Gunner’s hearing was so acute he was able to warn airforce personnel of approaching Japanese aircraft up to 20 minutes before they arrived and before they showed up on the radar. Gunner never performed when he heard the allied planes taking off or landing; only when he heard enemy aircraft as he could differentiate the sounds of allied from enemy aircraft. Gunner was so reliable that Wing Commander McFarlane gave approval for Westcott to sound a portable air raid siren whenever Gunner’s whining or jumping alerted him. Before long, there were a number of stray dogs roaming the base. McFarlane gave the order that all dogs be shot, with the exception of Gunner.
Gunner became such a part of the airforce that he slept under Westcott’s bunk, showered with the men in the shower block, sat with the men at the outdoor movie pictures, and went up with the pilots during practice take-off and landings. When Westcott was posted to Melbourne 18 months later, Gunner stayed in Darwin, looked after by the RAAF butcher. Gunner’s fate is undocumented.