Guarding his territory and gazing out over the platforms where he roamed so freely more than a century ago, Station Jim stands to attention in his glass case on Platform 5 of Slough railway station. Commuters pass him in their hundreds every day, some taking the time to read the remarkable inscription that rests by his paws.
Jim first came to Slough as a puppy in 1894 and was soon trained to perform his duties as a canine collector on behalf of the Great Western Railway Widows and Orphans Fund. He was taught to bark gratefully whenever a coin, usually a penny or halfpenny, was placed in the wallet attached to him by a harness. In addition to this, Jim learnt a great many other tricks in order to amuse patrons and encourage their benevolence. It was said that he could beg, play dead and sometimes even posed with a pipe in his mouth and a cap on his head. Occasionally taking a trip himself, Jim would board a train and end up at Paddington or in nearby Windsor and even once travelled as far afield as Leamington Spa.
Possessing an exceptionally gentle temperament, there was no recollection of Jim ever biting or baring his teeth at anyone. In fact, he became a treasured part of many people’s journeys and was especially popular with children. So loved was Jim, that when he died suddenly only two years after he arrived in Slough, having suffered from ill health since he was a puppy, the heartbroken station staff and countless locals donated money to him for the last time. These contributions were used to preserve Jim’s body and pay for the case where he sits to this day, keeping watch over his beloved station and still bringing smiles to traveller’s faces.
Yet Jim is not alone; in the Bluebell Railway Museum, also encased in glass, stands London Jack, another charity collection dog who persuaded visitors to Waterloo station to part with their money for the care of orphans. Other canine collectors who are similarly continuing their good works include Brighton Bob, Wimbledon Nell and Chelmsford Brenda.
During the Victorian era, it had become fashionable for animals to encourage charitable donations, and there was a recognition that people were often more likely to respond favourably to a charming canine than any human request. The last recorded canine station collector is thought to have been Laddie, an Airedale terrier who ceased collecting at Waterloo in 1956.
Twenty years after Jim arrived in Slough came the outbreak of the Great War. Noted for being the first military personnel to realise the potential of dogs in wartime was Lt Col Edwin Hautenville Richardson, who had been working with the animals since 1898. In 1916, Richardson set up the British War Dog School at Shoeburyness in Essex. Different breeds were ascribed different tasks and dogs were trained to perform three important duties, namely as messengers, sentinels and guard dogs; they were recruited from rescue centres like Battersea Dog’s Home and some were even pets who had been volunteered by their owners. One dog arrived at Shoeburyness with a note attached to his collar that read, ‘My husband has gone, my son has gone, please take my dog to bring this cruel war to an end.’
By 1917, so great was the demand for highly trained dogs that the British War Dog School expanded and was moved to Matley Ridge, near Lyndhurst, where it would remain until after the war. Paying tribute the vast number of animals he had trained and grown to love, Lt Col Richardson remarked, ‘The skill, courage and tenacity of these dogs has been amazing. During heavy barrages, when all other communications have been cut, the messenger dogs have made their way, and in many cases have brought messages of vital importance.’ It is thought that up to 7,500 dogs were killed during the conflict, most of them sadly forgotten, unlike Station Jim.