Animal heroes are honoured
A moving service has paid tribute to many heroic animals who had served humankind during war and peace.
The ceremony, conducted with full military honours, marked the sacrifices made by the UK's wartime heroes of the feathered and furred variety.
Buried at the PDSA's recently restored Ilford Animal Cemetery are a dozen recipients of the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.
They include a ship's cat which protected sailors' food from rats despite suffering shrapnel wounds and a dog who sniffed out survivors from buildings hit in the Blitz.
Pigeons have figured strongly in the roster of animals honoured. The medal has been awarded to 32 of these often maligned birds, more than to any other creature.
These include ‘White Vision’ who flew 25 miles to alert authorities that a warship was in trouble and ‘Mary of Exeter’, who served for five years despite being shot at and attacked by hawks.
The event marked the restoration of the 90-year-old cemetery thanks to a lottery grant to make it more visitor-friendly.
Amongst the gravestones which have been carefully restored is one commemorating Simon, the only cat to receive the medal. He was wounded by shrapnel on board HMS Amethyst in 1949 in shelling which killed 17 crewmembers during a 101-day siege on the River Yangtse.
Lieutenant Commander Stewart Hett, now 81, was on the ship and described how the injured feline kept their spirits up.
‘He helped maintain food stocks which was important for morale and would go around the mess sitting on laps and purring, which was also good for the men,’ he explained.
Central to the ceremony were recent winners of the Dickin Medal, showing that animal heroics are not a thing of the past.
A number of dogs patiently posed for photographers, proudly sporting medals fittingly inscribed with ‘they also served’.
They included black labrador Sadie, an explosives search dog who saved countless lives by sniffing out bombs in Afghanistan and, well-known to OUR DOGS readers, Endal, who has shown endless devotion to his owner Allen Parton who was injured in the Gulf War.
Endal's assistance and companionship have transformed Allen's life.
‘He gets me up in the morning and puts me to bed at night and I wouldn't be with my wife and children without him,’ he said.
Endal was honoured for saving Allen’s in 2001. Allen, who uses a wheelchair, was knocked unconscious in the NEC car park, ironically when he leaving Crufts.
Endal moved him into the recovery position and covered him with a blanket from his wheelchair, refusing to leave his side until he had regained consciousness.
After wreaths were laid and heads bowed for the Last Post bugler, it was time for the final act of commemoration when a number of pigeons were released from their wicker basket into the sky, a moving end to a fitting tribute to the brave animals who have helped human beings in wartime and peacetime.