THE THOUSANDS of animals who played their part alongside human soldiers in times of war were finally honoured last week with a memorial dedicated to their memory and their invaluable contribution to two the Allied effort in two World Wars.
Last week in Park Lane, Mayfair, the Princess Royal unveiled the first permanent tribute to the dogs, horses, cats, pigeons - even elephants – and many others on whose skills the British have depended in times of conflict.
Carrying the inscription "They had no choice", the huge memorial, designed by David Backhouse, comprises a carved Portland stone wall alongside sculptures of two mules carrying battle equipment, a stallion and a dog.
Jilly Cooper, the novelist and vice-president of the Animals in War Memorial Fund, watched as a flock of racing pigeons were released as part of the ceremony. "We never said thank you to them. They died in their millions. They carried our food and our weapons and they were phenomenal," she said.
Eight million horses are believed to have died in the First World War, most from exposure, disease or starvation while carrying men, ammunition and equipment.
Hundreds of thousands of "mile-a-minute" carrier pigeons delivered crucial dispatches from the front, many suffering bad injuries.Among them was the famed Mary of Exeter, who returned from one mission with a damaged wing and three shotgun pellets in her breast.
Even the lowly glow worm by whose light trench soldiers during the Great War were able to read their maps and letters, are represented in the sculpture.
"In the Blitz, dogs used to wake up their owners and take them to the shelters when they heard the sirens," added Miss Cooper, who, together with Brig Andrew Parker Bowles, helped with the fund-raising.
"And, in the First World War horses would neigh when they heard enemy fire but would do nothing when they heard their own fighters going overhead. It's their sixth sense."
The ceremony was watched by war veterans, as well as Buster, one of 60 animals to have the PDSA Dickin Medal - the animal world's equivalent of the Victoria Cross.
A seven-year-old Army Springer spaniel, he broke a resistance cell in Safwan, southern Iraq, when he found a hidden cache of weapons.
His presence honoured the sacrifice of the many dogs who ripped their paws raw sweeping minefields, helping to lay vital telegraph lines or sniffing out survivors. Some, like Rob the "Para-Dog" even made parachute jumps.