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Tribute to the unsung heroes


Double Act: Allen & Endal outside the Imperial War Museum, Manchester

 

Last weekend saw the opening of The Animals’ War exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, Manchester. Louise Warburton went along to find out more.

I was honoured to attend the preview of the Animals’ War exhibition at Manchester’s Imperial War Museum. The event was widely attended and included representatives from Pet Partners and the Kennel Club who are the two main supporters of the exhibition.

The day began with a welcome by Jim Forrester, director of the museum. He paid special thanks to the Kennel Club for their support and hoped everyone would enjoy the day. Taking pride of place in the centre of the room was Endal, well known assistance dog to Gulf War Veteran Allen Parton, who barked right on cue as the room applauded Mr Forrester’s address.

Celebrity vet Steve Leonard opened the exhibition and said he was thrilled to be invited. ‘When I was asked if I wanted to attend, it was a definite yes. Ask any vet school student in the country why they went into the profession and they will all tell you the same thing - simply because they love animals.

‘The close bond between animals and humans was once seen as abnormal by the psychology world - thankfully, they seem to have woken up and realised that this bond is significant and can even be stronger than the bond between two people,’ said Steve.

And so it was onto the exhibition itself. The role of animals in conflict from the First World War to the present day is presented using hands-on activities, photographs, film and sound clips, paintings and memorabilia from the Imperial War Museum collections and private and public lenders from all over the world.

Throughout the museum you are greeted with every animal you can think of from camels and elephants to ferrets and pigeons, all playing a unique role in times of conflict. The exhibition is set out as an A-Z of war time stories. The stories are touching, intriguing and often surprising.
Amongst the stories on show, there is Royal Naval Mascot Judy the Pointer, who is the only animal to have been officially registered as a Japanese prisoner of war, along with her crew in Sumatra following the sinking of their ship. She was liberated in 1945 after three years and awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal, known as the ‘Animals’ Victoria Cross’, the following year.
Emblazoned across the medal is the message ‘We Also Serve’, a reminder that animals can often be forgotten as war heroes.

Then there is Springer Spaniel Buster, a Royal Army Veterinary Corps search dog who discovered a hidden stash of arms, explosives and bomb-making equipment in Iraq in March 2003. Buster was the 60th animal to receive the Dickin Medal and his medal is also on show.

The exhibition is interactive, insightful, informative but most of all fun. An eclectic mix of modern and original it features gas proof kennels and gas masks worn by Shetland Sheepdogs during World War Two.

On the interactive side there's plenty for kids (and adults!) to see and do. There's the opportunity to design your own Dickin Medal as well as touch screen computers enabling you to dress a dog in camouflage and body armour.

Mayor of Trafford, Councillor Bernard Sharp also attended the event and thoroughly enjoyed the day.

‘It’s such an attractive display and a fantastic insight. I think it’s great especially for young people because they will go away from here and want to find out more about what they have learnt. It just has such a wonderful appeal’ said Councillor Sharp.

Sara Wilde, Kennel Club press officer was equally impressed. ‘I love it, it’s really fun and interactive, there's just so much to see and do,’ she said.

Steve Leonard also had nothing but praise for the exhibition. ‘It’s fantastic, it’s really blown my mind, it’s just so touching to see animals treated as heroes, which of course they so often are’.
He paid tribute to popular duo Allen and Endal whom he said were a pleasure to meet. ‘Speaking to Allen, I was nearly in tears when I heard their story. They show just how the bond between people and animals can be made even stronger in the most difficult of times. It’s animals like Endal that are invaluable, their role is so significant they really have the power to turn people’s lives around’, said Steve.

Allen was on hand to speak to the press and give his verdict on the exhibition. ‘It’s particularly special as it’s the 25 year anniversary of the Falklands. And I’m particularly proud to see Endal get his place in history and feature here at the museum’.

Faithful companion Endal was modest as ever, taking it in his stride and staying firmly by Allen’s side throughout the day.

‘It’s been a busy weekend for Endal and I with lots of engagements but it’s been lovely to come up to Manchester,’ explained Allen, whose journey to the city was in fact Endal's 50th flight.
It was then time for the pair to be whisked off to head the first official public tour as the museum opened its doors at 12 o’clock.

My favourite piece in the collection had to be a huge picture which covered almost an entire wall. A touching image of a Labrador being winched out of the World Trade Center wreckage. The dog was one of 300 rescue dogs deployed after 9/11.

Towards the end of the exhibition there is an poignant inscription, ‘For animals, there is no Geneva Convention and no peace treaty - just our mercy’. Ingrid Newkirk, President, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Outside the museum visitors were treated to seeing sniffer dog trials and agility displays. It was also lovely to meet Suki an 18 month old Flatcoat Retriever who has just qualified as a drugs detection dog with the RAF and is soon to be posted in her first official role.

So whether Suki will be the next war hero and earn herself a place in history remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, this is truly a celebration of animals and their role in war which can all too often be overlooked. It is a positive, thought-provoking look at a time of overwhelming death, destruction and despair.

The Animals’ War exhibition runs until January 2008 at the Imperial War Museum North, The Quays, Trafford Wharf Road, Trafford Park, Manchester M17 1TZ. For more information telephone 0161 836 4000 or visit the website www.iwm.org.uk. Admission is free.


A sergeant of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps bandaging the wounded ear of Jasper, 1944.

One of the 300 rescue dogs being brought out of the debris of the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks, New York 2001.