Remembering the animals at war
In Great Britain, Remembrance (or Armistice Day) is observed by a tribute of silence on the 11th hour, on the 11th day, of the 11th month, when hostilities of the Great War ended. The Great War was followed by the Second World War - a conflict that resulted in the deaths of up to 60 million people.
The ‘Animals in War’ Memorial in London’s Hyde Park is inscribed with the words ‘They had no choice,’ yet they unreservedly applied their strength, perseverance, loyalty and intelligence in a way that influenced the course and success of the British and Allied war effort.
The dog's innate qualities of intelligence and devotion were valued and used by the forces in conflicts throughout the century. Among their many duties, these faithful animals ran messages, laid telegraph wires, detected mines, dug out bomb victims and acted as guard or patrol dogs. Many battled on despite horrific wounds and in terrifying circumstances to the limit of their endurance, showing indomitable courage and supreme loyalty to their handlers.
More than 100,000 pigeons served Britain in the First World War and 200,000 in World War II. They performed heroically and saved thousands of lives by carrying vital messages, sometimes over long distances, when other methods of communication were impossible. Flying at the rate of a mile a minute from the front line, from behind enemy lines or from ships or aeroplanes, these gallant birds would struggle on through all weathers, even when severely wounded and exhausted, in order to carry their vital messages home.
Horses, Mules and Donkeys
Eight million horses and countless mules and donkeys died in the First World War. They were used to transport ammunition and supplies to the front and many died, not only from the horrors of shellfire but also in terrible weather and appalling conditions. Mules were found to have tremendous stamina in extreme climates and over the most difficult terrain, serving courageously in the freezing mud on the Western Front and later at Monte Cassino in World War II. Equally they toiled unflinchingly in the oppressive heat of Burma, Eritrea and Tunisia. There are many inspiring and often tragic stories of the great devotion and loyalty shown between horses, mules and donkeys and their masters during some of the bloodiest conflicts of the 20th century.
The Dickin Medal
The PDSA Dickin Medal was instituted in 1943 in the United Kingdom by Maria Dickin to honour the work of animals in World War II. It is a bronze medallion, bearing the words "For Gallantry" and "We Also Serve" within a laurel wreath, carried on a ribbon of striped green, dark brown, and pale blue. It is awarded to animals that have4displayed "conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units". The award is commonly referred to as "the animals' Victoria Cross". Maria Dickin was the founder of the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), a British veterinary charity. She established the award for any animal displaying conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty whilst serving with British Empire armed forces or civil emergency services. The medal was awarded 54 times between 1943 and 1949 –bto 32 pigeons, 18 dogs, 3 horses, and a ship's cat – to acknowledge actions of gallantry or devotion during the Second World War and subsequent conflicts. The awarding of the medal was revived in 2000. In December 2007, 12 former recipients buried at the PDSA Animal Cemetery in Ilford, Essex, were afforded full military honours.