Purple poppies are inspired by Reba
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.