Pur­ple pop­pies are in­spired by Reba

Sunderland Echo - - News - Poppy.kennedy@jpress.co.uk Twit­ter: @re­porter­poppy

A pop­u­lar pup has in­spired pur­ple pop­pies to be laid at a war memo­rial in Sun­der­land to re­mem­ber the four-legged war heroes.

Reba, a fox red Amer­i­can­bred Labrador, has be­come a ‘lit­tle celebrity’ among the res­i­dents in South Hyl­ton.

The nine-year-old pooch has been awarded two war medals for two tours in Afghanistan and has now in­spired a spe­cial trib­ute for the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of the First World War.

Her owner, Chris Mor­ritt, who served as a dog han­dler in the Army, trained with Reba on a course in Amer­ica.

“I brought her back with me in 2011 and we did a few ex­er­cises with her in the UK,” said Chris, 33. “In 2012, we were de­ployed to Afghanistan where we com­pleted a tour to­gether.”

While in Afghanistan, Chris and Reba would go out on pa­trol with in­fantry teams and Reba would be sent ahead to check if there was any­thing sus­pi­cious be­neath the ground’s sur­face.

“In many ways she had the most dan­ger­ous jobs,” said Chris, of South Hyl­ton.

“She let us know if there was any­thing sus­pi­cious.

“She would prac­ti­cally lie on top of the ex­plo­sives when she did find some­thing. Teams who go out with a dog are so ap­pre­cia­tive to have them there. Any­one could have stepped on an ex­plo­sive and could have been killed. An­i­mals are the un­sung heroes of war.”

The dad-of-two re­turned to the UK and Reba stayed on for an­other tour.

Chris said: “In 2014, she was brought back to the UK and she didn’t pass the army as­sess­ment – she was just scared from a few bad ex­pe­ri­ences she’s had out there.”

It meant that Chris and Reba were reunited and the much-loved pooch joined his fam­ily in South Hyl­ton.

“She’s kind of a lit­tle celebrity down here. Ev­ery­body seems to love her,” said Chris. “She’s the only gin­ger dog in the vil­lage so she sticks out. We have a pur­ple poppy on Reba’s col­lar and peo­ple ask what it’s for so I tell them her story.”

Pur­ple pop­pies will be added to the war memo­rial in South Hyl­ton which has been dec­o­rated to mark the cen­te­nary of Ar­mistice Day.

Last year, Chris along with fel­low for­mer sol­dier Darrin Carlise and serv­ing sol­dier Jamie Phenny joined to­gether with the com­mu­nity to re­turn the South Hyl­ton war memo­rial to its for­mer glory. And now, joined by exser­vice­man Ryan Maw, they have ral­lied the com­mu­nity once again to dec­o­rate the memo­rial with an ar­ray of pop­pies.

Darrin, from South Hyl­ton, said: “Ev­ery­one has just come to­gether and dec­o­rated the place, ev­ery­one is say­ing it’s never looked so good.

“This year there’s more and more peo­ple com­ing out of the wood­work, rel­a­tives of sol­diers named on the ceno­taph from as far away as Canada have got in touch.

“It just makes you feel proud to do some­thing for the fallen and the peo­ple who have served and are still serv­ing now.”

Reba at the South Hyl­ton war memo­rial and, inset, with owner Chris Mor­ritt in Afghanistan.

Jamie Phenny, Darrin Neasham Carlisle and Chris Mor­ritt at the memo­rial.

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