A MEMORIAL is being unveiled today to the unsung, four-legged heroes of the First World War – 20,000 Airedale Terriers who became vital links in the trenches after they underwent training in Scotland.

And the sculptor who has created the monument, transforming a 30-tonne block of granite into a 22-tonne sculpture, has said it will be his “last big job” after more than five decades using the same skills as stonemasons utilised a century ago. Aberdeenshire-born Bruce Walker, now 73, was trained in carving granite in Aberdeen, which has enabled him to turn his skills to any kind of stone. Late last year, he was commissioned by the Airedale Terrier Club of Scotland to create the memorial to the breed’s wartime exploits.

The dogs were trained at the Barry Buddon camp near Carnoustie before being sent into the wartime theatre, where they initially worked for the Red Cross locating casualties. Until now, there has never been a memorial to them, and Walker’s monument will take pride of place in the Angus village of East Haven.

As preparations were under way yesterday to move the sculpture from his “big shed” on an industrial estate in Kirriemuir, he told The National: “I’ve been doing this for about 60 years using the same methods they used 100 years ago.

“I’ll carry on doing smaller work, but this will be my last big job.

“The block of Aberdeen granite was about 30 tonnes when it came in, but I reckon it must be down to about 22 tonnes now, so it’s still massive.”

The memorial features carvings of the terriers – some carrying their Red Cross panniers, others pigeon baskets – and their soldier handlers, but Walker said that apart from doing a bit of homework, there was no waiting for inspiration.

“I just do it,” he said.

Kevin Hill, from Forfar, has been working with Walker for five years on a craft fellowship through Historic Scotland.

The 41-year-old said his boss was one of the original “Granite Men”.

“My involvement started with an open day and just developed when I was awarded the fellowship,” he said.

“Jim Fiddes wrote a book called The Granite Men, looking at the history of the industry in Aberdeen and Bruce is the last of them using traditional skills.”

The two men were yesterday dusting down the memorial in preparation for its move to its new home at East Haven.

Wendy Turner, secretary of the Airedale Terrier Club of Scotland, said she had been watching progress on the monument.

“I’ve been going along to see how it’s coming along all the time,” she said. “It is a memorial to Airedales – 20,000 of them were used during the First World War and there’s never been a memorial to them.

“So this is especially good being so close to where they were first trained.

“What started off as a 30-tonne block of Aberdeen granite is now a 22-tonne sculpture. Airedales are carved into it along with the pigeon baskets they carried and the red Cross panniers they started off carrying.”

She said dog-lover and Army Lieutenant-Colonel Edwin Hautenville Richardson became interested in training the terriers at Panbride House in the early 1900s after he saw how foreign forces were using them.

“He’d been watching the Russians and the Germans training the Airedales for war and when he came back he started training them here,” she said.

“The Airedales are the king of terriers, they’re not small and with their tenacity and intelligence they were just what he was looking for, they had the power, the brains and the agility he needed.”

The dogs were initially trained for service in the Red Cross, where they were used to identify casualties.

If they found a body that still showed signs of life, they lifted an item such as a cap and took it back to the stretcher-bearers and guided them to where the person was.

“Then the Army got interested and had them trained up for sentry duty, putting messages through the trenches,” said Turner. “They even worked with crates on their backs for carrier pigeons.”

She said locals from East Haven and Barry all joined in to help with their training, and were rewarded with the miniatures of brandy in the first aid boxes. Turner added that the memorial had attracted thousands of pounds in world-wide donations: “As well as local donations, we’ve had contributions coming in from all over the world – from Finland, Australia, the USA, Canada and elsewhere, all from Airedale people.”