How a popular pup with two war medals has inspired purple poppies in Sunderland

Reba at the cenotaph with the purple poppies
Reba at the cenotaph with the purple poppies

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

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

Reba with Chris in Afghanistan

Reba with Chris in Afghanistan

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.”

Reba and Chris Morritt in Afghanistan

Reba and Chris Morritt in Afghanistan

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 lay 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.

Jamie Phenny, Darrin Neasham Carlisle and Chris Morritt at the cenotaph

Jamie Phenny, Darrin Neasham Carlisle and Chris Morritt at the cenotaph

“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.”

Chris's dog Reva

Chris's dog Reva

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 cenotaph 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 cenotaph to its former glory.

And now, joined by ex-serviceman Ryan Maw, they have rallied the community once again to decorate the memorial with an array of poppies and prominent art work.

Coun Karen Wood and Coun Sue Watson have been involved in the decoration

Coun Karen Wood and Coun Sue Watson have been involved in the decoration

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.”

A large painting by artist Wayne Noble, commissioned by the Tansy Centre and South Hylton Residents Association, stands behind the cenotaph showing fields of poppies with the silhouettes of soldiers stood among them.

‘Tommy’ silhouettes have also been placed around the village.

Coun Sue Watson, who lives in South Hylton, said: “We have a march in 2pm in South Hylton every year. We hope it will make more people come out because of the effort that’s been put into it.”

Coun Karen Wood added: “It looks absolutely amazing. It’s the community that have come together and have put in a lot of time and effort.”

Darrin, 50, served in the 2 rifles, Ryan, 25, served in the Coldstream Guards and Jamie, 25, continues to serve with 4 Para.

Darrin added: “It’s bringing the community spirit back to the area. With it being the centenary of the First World War we wanted to do something special.”

Jamie Phenny, Darrin Neasham Carlisle and Chris Morritt

Jamie Phenny, Darrin Neasham Carlisle and Chris Morritt

The cenotaph in South Hylton

The cenotaph in South Hylton