On 3 May 1918, Australians Corporal M Roach and Private R Conway of C Company, 13 Battalion AIF were in an advanced post in trenches outside Villers-Bretonneux in France. They enticed a German war messenger dog called Roff into their lines. Roff had a message on its collar when it was captured by the Australians, which was quickly removed and sent to headquarters for translation, but the dog then escaped.
Roff was recaptured shortly afterward by D Company. The message he carried was from a German platoon commander in the front-line, complaining that his men were tired and not had food for 48 hours. D Company commander had folded it back and written; ‘Weber has been in longer than you, and he does not complain. We will send you food tonight. Give Roff any further messages. He does not complain.’
Roff renamed as ‘Digger’ remained with the Australian unit as a mascot from May to September 1918, attached to the Quartermasters Stores. A set of harness and an improvised cart was made for him by the section, and he used to carry stores for the staff.
He was sent to England with a view to having him transferred to Sydney. He was placed in quarantine at the Bitterne Manor Farm Quarantine Kennels in Southhampton, England on 19 September 1918 where he was cared for by Mr W A Della Gana, the Veterinary Officer for the Commonwealth of Australia. It was soon discovered that regulations forbade the importation of dogs to Australia and Roff remained at the kennels. He developed a big abscess on the side of his neck in September 1919, which apparently healed, but he developed a swelling on each side of the throat and became extremely thin.
Sadly, Roff/Digger died on the night of 14-15 October 1919. A couple of days later it was decided to have him stuffed and mounted by Roland Ward Ltd, Taxidermist at a cost of eight pounds. The mounting was completed on 26 November 1919 and he was sent to Australia where was displayed at the War Museum in Sydney during the 1920s.
You can see Roff the war messenger dog at the War Memorial Museum in Canberra.