LOWDOWN Winter 2012 page 31
ANIMALS IN WAR MONUMENT
BY RUSSELL OWEN
I have always attended a Remembrance Service, or if working, observed the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
This year though, I persuaded Zoë that we should go to the Animals in War Monument at Brook Gate in London’s Park Lane. This monument pays tribute to all the animals that have been killed in past wars and military campaigns, remembering ‘they had no choice’.
Our plan was to take Rupert and Lionel with us to lay a purple poppy on behalf of the South East Branch BHC. The purple poppy was created by the charity, Animal Aid, to be worn along side the traditional red poppy to commemorate the numerous animal victims of war.
Zoë and I both know someone who has been killed, and others who have been seriously injured, during recent tours of duty in the Middle East. Our eldest son, Kyle, is a serving member of our forces and has been to both Iraq and Afghanistan. His mate is a dog handler who has also been to Afghanistan searching for mines and roadside bombs (I.E.Ds); thankfully both returning home unarmed. It is only recently that dog handlers have been allowed to bring their dogs home from war-zones. Before, their dogs were left behind.
So, on the day before this year’s Remembrance Sunday we went into Eastbourne to buy some purple poppies for ourselves and the ‘boys’ - the Kit Wilson Animal Charity Shop sells these. We then went to the station to get our tickets. Currently, the train operator’s policy is that dogs travel free - but they have never met our two Basset Hounds! To our knowledge, they have never before been on a train, so this could go one of two ways, but we resolved to take advantage of this policy before it changes.
Now, with our poppies and travel tickets we were ready for the next day.
However, throughout that evening Zoë tried to persuade me to leave the hounds at home. But I had a mission, and Rupert and Lionel were going - they had no choice.
The alarm went off at 6.00am the next day and as the train was to leave at 7.35 we didn’t have much time. Rupert was still asleep and Lionel was snoring his head off on the couch. As we all know, a Basset will only budge when a Basset wants to budge - we have no choice. Luckily, they did budge. So, with supplies packed and leads on we get in the car and hurry to the station.
We arrive at 7.35, but it takes us fifteen minutes Basset-style (noses down, tails up, taking the least direct route) to get to the train. Luckily, the departure had been delayed and we boarded it with only seconds to spare.
The ‘boys’ walked about as though they owned the railway, and then settled down for the one and a half hour journey to London. And they stayed settled all the way, remembering they had no choice.
Zoë couldn’t believe it! I’m grateful. If it hadn’t gone well I would be hearing about it for months. At least the dogs travel free policy was not under threat for another day.
We got off the train at Victoria Station, but it took us ten minutes to get along the platform as everyone wanted to say, “Hello” to the hounds - and they lapped it up. In the main concourse, workers left their shops to greet them; foreign visitors asked, “Are they Biegals?” (Presumably, Beagles); “No”, I reply, “Straight boys”. This created by some puzzled looks, but one or two understood - so it wasn’t completely wasted.
By 10.00am we hit the streets - it was a mile and a half walk to the Animals in War Memorial.
The ‘boys’ had a real spring in their step and it took only twenty-five minutes to get there - a Guinness World Record for a Basset Hound?
Upon arrival, a crowd of around eighty people and some twenty dogs was gathered.
Orders of service were handed out and two priests conducted a very moving ceremony which celebrated and remembered all the animals that had suffered and lost their lives in conflicts. They had ‘no voice and no choice’, but were owed a debt for the important role they played right alongside soldiers on the battlefront.
Not only did they work are at their duties, but they were sources of comfort and companionship to the fighting troops.
Bonds of love were formed which we
can understand, albeit in peaceful times in a warm, comfortable home - not under fire in a tent, or trench, in some distant, muddy field in winter!
During the service, we fixed our purple poppies to the Memorial and read the cards on the wreaths which had be laid - Animal Aid, RSPCA, Blue Cross, The Jockey Club.
Perhaps, next year, they could be joined by one from the SEB BHC.
After the service we had a chance to meet the other people, talked about our hounds and why we were there. We also listened to their stories.
Then it was into Hyde Park for hot drinks for us, and water and biscuits for the ‘boys’. After which, it was off-lead time - Rupert and Lionel played the Nose through the Fallen Leaves Game and the Get the Squirrels back in the Trees Game. Generally showing-off and drawing attention to themselves in front of an amused audience.
After thirty minutes of this it was on with the leads and a walk back to Victoria Station and hopefully getting to the train without too much further attention. This we managed, the ‘boys’ soon asleep, flat-out on the carriage floor. Throughout the day they had both behaved impeccably - it was their choice.
It had been a great day out. The hounds had really loved it, as had I.
Zoë said, “We must do this again”.
WORDS BY RUSSELL OWEN
(Ed. Russell, very many thanks for this lovely piece. Sadly, Russell’s camera was suitably dewy-eyed on this occasion and the photographs are a little out of blurred.
The Animals at War Memorial was designed by the sculptor, David Blackhouse and unveiled in 2004. It is a 16.8 metre x 17.7 metre curved wall in Portland stone - representing war - with heavily burdened bronze mules painfully walking towards a gap in the structure. Beyond this gap a horse and a dog are happily escaping into the green, Elysian-like, open spaces of Hyde Park.
Russell’s echoed words, ‘They had no choice’, are inscribed on the face of the monument. On the reverse is, ‘From the pigeon to the elephant, they all played a vital role in every region of the world in the cause of human freedom. Their contribution must never be forgotten’. All very touching.
It would seem fitting to adopt Russell’s idea of the Branch placing a purple poppy wreath on the monument in 2013. What does everyone think?)
I AM DELIGHTED TO ANNOUNCE THAT THIS ARTICLE WINS FOR RUSSELL OWEN THE 2012 WINNIE’S WHEELBARROW TROPHY.