Sir Derek Jacobi and Jilly Cooper CBE were among those who took part in the Trust’s annual remembrance service at the Animals in War Memorial, Hyde Park.
The Animals in War Memorial in London’s Park Lane was officially opened in 2004 by HRH the Princess Royal. The monument is a powerful and moving tribute to all the animals that served, suffered and died alongside the British, Commonwealth and Allied forces in the wars and conflicts of the 20th century.
Each year, on the Friday nearest to Remembrance Sunday, Petplan Charitable Trust organises a service, inviting representatives from animal charities all over the UK to come and pay their respects. On the morning of 8th November 2019 dogs, horses, mules, donkeys and humans gathered once again.
Just before 11am, three members of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, led by Capt Robert Perera, rode up and took their places at the side of the memorial. At 11.00 am all those present fell silent as one minute’s silence was held.
Capt Perera then read a poem called “A Soldier’s Kiss”, and then the rest of the speakers, standing on the steps in front of the memorial, began.
First to speak was Dr Hilda Kean, an academic and historian and author of “The Great Cat and Dog Massacre”. Dr Kean told us about the tragedy which occurred in the UK at the very beginning of WW2 when it is estimated that as many as 750,000 dogs and cats were euthanized over fears that there wouldn’t be enough food. She also gave examples of the many heart-warming stories of how pets helped their owners, in so many ways, during the war – from simply giving comfort to alerting them to imminent dangers.
Dogs Trust had organised a primary school poetry competition, and the two young winners read with great composure. Anab Omar from Stark Fields Primary School, Enfield read No Man’s Land and Isla Gardner from Cropredy School, Banbury read Jobs of War Dogs.
Next to speak was Gordon Corera, a BBC correspondent and author of Pigeon Secret Service, who told those present about some of the fascinating and heroic acts undertaken by pigeons during WWII. These included delivering messages from behind enemy lines and taking messages from stranded soldiers and sailors to alert their colleagues to their plight.
Two children from Redhill Preparatory School in Pembrokeshire then read their work. They had been chosen by their teachers after they and their classmates were given a project to write about Finn, a police dog who was stabbed whilst pursuing a suspect with his handler PC David Wardell. The Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill, which came into force earlier this year, will prevent those who attack or injure service animals from claiming self-defence. The law is named after Finn and is known as Finn’s Law.
Jilly Cooper, CBE was the final speaker. Jilly is one of the original trustees who worked tirelessly to raise the money for the memorial to be built, and she spoke about the continuing courage and bravery of animals in the 21st Century. She told of a dog which, during the tragedy of 9/11, refused to leave its owner’s side as he walked down 90 floors of one of the Twin Towers on staircases filled with thick, black smoke. They both escaped.
All the organisations present then laid wreaths and paid their respects. The event concluded with short reading by Sir Derek Jacobi, finishing with the words: “We will remember them”.
All images kind courtesy Wayne Jones Photography