launched at this years Crufts
Photo by W Moores OUR DOGS
British sculptor, David Backhouse (left) shows his design for the memorial to authoress
Jilly Cooper and KC Chairman Mr Peter James
in 1983, Jilly Cooper, she of the seriously raunchy novels,
wrote a book called Animals In War. Although Jilly has been
best known in the last fifteen years for her purple prose
she made her original mark as a journalist. She is also a
great dog lover and her work for the National Canine Defence
League continues to be greatly appreciated.
In fact, it was this connection that led Dr. Christopher Dowling of the Imperial War Museum to ask her to write a book about the role animals have played in war to co-incide with an exhibition on the same subject that the Museum was planning to stage. She says that it was a watershed - for the first time, like the clown being asked to play Hamlet, she was being taken seriously as a writer. Now the book as been re-published in a new edition - but more of that later.
Few people realise how important animals have been in wartime. Those of us who write about the development of pedigree dogs casually refer to the mastiff dogs being bred for fighting without realising that this is just one, very small facet of the totality. Horses, of course have been one of the most important animals used in war time and millions (yes - millions) were used (and killed) just in the two world wars. It is difficult for us to appreciate this for our images of the Blitzkrieg is mainly of tanks and lorries thundering through Belgium and France. However, these were only the forward troops. The hard work was done by horses (and mules and donkeys) following behind. In addition, in other theatres of the conflict, camels and elephants were also used to support armies as they spread deep into conquered territory.
We almost laugh, now, at the image of the homing pigeon being used to take messages from the front but pigeons were a vital part of the communications network, even being taken on board aeroplanes and released if the craft was short down. When the homing pigeon returned to base the home team could estimate approximately where the plane went down be calculating the flight time, ensuring a better chance of rescuing the crew. And GI Joe, an American pigeon, saved a hundred British lives in Italy by informing the local headquarters that a particular village had been recaptured just a few moments before it was to be bombarded by British field guns.
And of course, dogs! From the trenches to the jungle, dogs were used in dozens of ways to search for the wounded, protecting troops, scenting mines, laying telegraph wire, transporting ammunition as well as carrying messages. In fact, by the beginning of the first World War, the Germans had 6,000 dogs ready for active service and most other European countries had military dog training facilities. Britain, in contrast, had but one: dog that is - not a training facility! However, by 1916, because so many despatch riders were being killed at the front, a well known dog trainer, Lt. Col E H Richardson finally convinced the War Office that using dogs would not only save lives but would be faster too. For the whole fascinating story you should read the book, for what started as a messenger service expanded into the whole range of skills that we now take for granted in civilian life through human support and working dogs.
are many tales of incredible courage of both dogs and handlers
and the PDSA created the Dicken Medal (named after Mrs. Dicken,
the founder of the PDSA) to commemorate their contribution.
Engraved with the words For Gallantry, We also Serve
the medal is the animals VC and is only awarded for exceptional
bravery. The stories of animals that have been awarded the Dicken
Medal are amazing. On several occasions it has been won by Patrol
dogs who were trained to lead small parties of soldiers into
no mans land, sniff out the enemy and give
silent warning and direct to the patrol. Bob, a cross-bred Collie,
won a Dicken medal at Green Hill in North Africa. With his white
patches camouflaged with dark paint he led a night patrol into
enemy lines. Suddenly he froze in his tracks. The patrol waited,
then, hearing nothing, ignored the dogs warning and decided
to push on. Bob stood his ground and a few seconds later he
enemy was sighted - much closer than anyone had imagined. Bob
saved the patrol from almost certain capture and perhaps, death,
for they were able to retreat safely - taking valuable information
Judy, a beautiful brown and white Pointer was the mascot of several ships in the Pacific and was captured by the Japanese in 1942 and interned in a prison camp at Medan. She became the camps guard dog, warning of approaching danger in the shape of crocodiles, poisonous snakes and even tigers. However, she fell foul of the camp commandant and was smuggled out of the camp in a rice sack. When, after more adventures (including the birth of nine puppies and a further sentence of death from the Japanese) she returned to Britain, her story was splashed all over the papers and she emerged from quarantine in a blaze of glory.
On the Home front dogs like Rip, a little mongrel mascot of the ARP, who was himself found homeless and starving in a bombed out building in London, spent the rest of the war helping discover and rescue other casualties.
Animals at War is a wonderful read, passionate, tragic and moving but with its lighter moments too. Do read it. But it was published eighteen years ago - why, you cry, has it been reprinted.
Good question and there is a very good answer. Would you believe that for all our professed love of animals, Britain is the only country in the Commonwealth not to have a memorial to animals that have given their lives in war. That omission is about to be rectified. The Animals in War Memorial Fund has been launched which will build a beautiful monument on the central traffic island at Brook Gate on Park Lane, London. It will be a constant reminder of the debt we owe our animal allies.
Petplan sponsored a major reception at the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane last year and they have already lent administrative support to the fund which has The Princess Royal as Patron and the Duke of Wellington as Vice-patron. Now, the public launch has been made at Crufts where Jilly and Major General Peter Davies explained the concept to a packed reception and introduced the well known artist Sean Ahearne who has donated two of his pictures to the appeal that are to be auctioned on the Internet.
The memorial itself has been designed by the British sculptor, David Backhouse. It will be fifty-eight feet across and consist of a curved centrepiece of Portland Stone. Two heavily laden mules are seen struggling towards the wall with a horse and a dog standing on the other side depicting the arduous journey from conflict to peace.
You can get more details of the Fund and the Memorial from Animals in War Memorial Fund, 72, Wilton Road, London SW1V 1DE or telephone 020 7233 6599 (www.animalsinwar.org).
The book, Animals in War, is published by Corgi Books (ISBN 0 552 99091 4)