On a day when we will remember the millions of men and woman who have lost their lives in so many wars, we should also pay tribute to animals that have served, suffered and died alongside them.
Throughout history, man has taken animals to war with him - from Celtic tribal war hounds to Hannibal’s elephants, from trained medieval war horses to carrier pigeons, from mules in the Burmese jungle to IED bomb sniffer dogs in Afghanistan; they have been there, serving faithfully. The British, Commonwealth and Allied forces have enlisted many millions of animals to serve and often die alongside their armies. These animals were chosen for their natural instincts and vast numbers were killed, often suffering agonising deaths from wounds, starvation, thirst, exhaustion, disease and exposure.
Maria Dickin, founder of PDSA – the UK’s leading veterinary charity – instituted the PDSA Dickin Medal in 1943. Aware of the bravery of animals serving alongside Allied Forces during the Second World War, she created the medal to recognise life-saving acts of heroism on the scale of the ‘human’ Victoria Cross. Just last month the medal was awarded to Springer spaniel ‘Theo’ at Wellington Barracks, London. Theo died of a broken heart shortly after his Scots handler Lance Corporal Liam Tasker was shot by insurgents in March last year in Helmand province. Liam, from Tayport, Fife, and Theo detected a record 14 Taliban roadside bombs and weapons caches in five months and are believed to have saved countless lives. It was reported that man and dog were inseparable and Liam's family believe the fit was brought on by the soldier's death. A touching example of the extraordinary bond between human and animal, sentient beings sharing the most intense experiences.
In November 2004 a memorial was unveiled at Brook Gate, Park Lane, on the edge of London’s Hyde Park. The Animals in War Memorial, inspired by Jilly Cooper’s book Animals in War commemorates the millions of conscripted animals that served, suffered and died alongside British, Commonwealth, and American forces in 20th century wars and conflicts.
The Memorial bears two inscriptions: “This monument is dedicated to all the animals that served and died alongside British and Allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time.”
A second, smaller inscription reads: “They had no choice.”
We also remember those casualties hidden from public view: the hundreds of thousands of primates and domesticated animals used for experiments connected with war; their isolation, indignity and agony, unseen and unheard.
OneKind salutes the compassion of our colleagues at Animal Aid, who have issued a purple poppy in memory of the animals, which can be worn alongside the traditional red one. This Remembrance Day, please remember all humans and all creatures great and small and wear your poppies with pride, for them all.