On 1 March 2011, Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, along with Theo his sniffer dog, were taking part in a patrol in Helmand province in Afghanistan. In the previous five months, the pair had already uncovered 14 homemade bombs and hoards of weapons – a record for a dog and handler in the conflict.
On that first day of March, as on many other such days, Theo’s task was to be the “front man”, sniffing out any hidden explosive devices or bomb-making equipment.
Suddenly a fire-fight broke out with the Taliban and Liam Tasker was shot dead. After his body was flown back to Camp Bastion, his beloved Theo, who was uninjured in the attack, died also.
Liam’s mother Jane Duffy later said: “I think Theo died of a broken heart - nobody will convince me any different.”
Close bond with Theo
Only one month before his passing, Liam had poignantly described his joy at the close bond he had developed with Theo, a 22-month-old springer spaniel cross.
“I love my job and working together with Theo. He has a great character and never tires. He can’t wait to get out and do his job and will stop at nothing,” he said.
Speaking after the inquest, Jane Duffy said the fact her son and Theo had “worked together and died together” brought her some comfort from knowing they were “somewhere together now”.
Liam Tasker was born on 11 December 1984 in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland. He joined the army in 2001 and was originally a vehicle mechanic. His passion though, was always dogs, which led to his transfer to the Royal Army Veterinary Corps (RAVC) in 2007.
Liam Tasker was deployed to Afghanistan on 8 September 2010 as part of the First Military Working Dog Regiment. Having trained as an arms and explosives search dog handler, he was attached to the 1st Battalion of the far famed Irish Guards Regiment on 19 February 2011.
Following the tragic passing of Liam and Theo, Major Alexander Turner, Officer Commanding No 2 Company, First Battalion Irish Guards, delivered the following tribute:
“Lance Corporal Tasker and his faithful search dog Theo arrived in Number 2 Company to assist us with the hunt for improvised explosive devices – an unseen, arbitrary and lethal threat. The injustice of his passing has devastated us. Lance Corporal Tasker was here to save life, finding explosive devices that kill more farmers than combatants in our area.
“A natural with animals, he had an affection for his dog that truly was a window to his soul. His fortitude and zeal for that perilous task was humbling – it imbued us all with confidence. He used to joke that Theo was impossible to restrain but I would say the same about Lance Corporal Tasker.
“At the most hazardous phase of an advance, he would be at the point of the spear, badgering to get even further forward and work his dog. He met his fate in just such a situation – leading the way that we might be safe. That selfless generosity will resonate among us long after his passing and must serve as a beacon to all. Greater love hath no man.”
The story of Liam and Theo’s heroic exploits moved the nation. When the soldier’s body was flown back to England, crowds lined the streets of Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, to pay their respects. Interestingly, the crowds were swelled by family pets and a dozen police and Prison Service dogs.
Speaking about these moments to The Daily Record in 2016, Liam’s mum said, “When we heard Theo had died after Liam, we asked if they could be brought back together.
“The only way to do it was to have him [Theo] cremated there [in Afghanistan] and come back with Liam.”
In a private ceremony, Tasker’s family was presented with Theo’s ashes, which they placed at Liam’s feet in the coffin. Hence, both dog and his friend were united forever.
At the time of their deaths, Liam was aged 26 and Theo was only 22 months old.
Theo was posthumously awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal for bravery – the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.
In 2018, it was announced that Theo was one of four service dogs chosen for the National Military Working Dog Memorial, which will stand in a pet cemetery in Holywell, Wales.