Feature by Lizzie Guilfoyle
LONDON’S newest monument, the Animals in War Memorial, honours the millions of conscripted animals that served, suffered and died alongside British, Commonwealth and American forces in 20th century wars and conflicts.
The memorial is situated at Brook Gate, Park Lane, on the edge of London’s Hyde Park and was designed by leading English sculptor, David Backhouse.
As its name suggests, it depicts the many animals that have been used by troops in wartime – horses, mules, dogs, elephants, camels, pigeons and canaries.
None are forgotten, not even the lowly glow worm. For these tiny creatures were used by soldiers in the trenches during the First World War, to help them read their maps in the gloom.
In fact, casualties number in their millions – eight million horses alone are believed to have died during the First World War, from exposure, starvation and disease, while performing their duties, carrying men or pulling loads of equipment and ammunition.
Add to that the hundreds of thousands of carrier pigeons injured as they endeavoured to deliver vital information from the front. One such bird was Mary of Exeter who returned from a mission with a damaged wing and three shotgun pellets in her breast.
For them and countless others like them, this is their memorial. And it comes in the form of a 55ft by 58ft curved Portland stone wall – the symbolic arena of war – upon which the animals are depicted in bas-relief.
Completing the memorial are two life-size, heavily laden, bronze mules that appear to be struggling up steps towards a gap in the wall, beyond which, a bronze horse and dog seemingly gaze into the distance.
The memorial was inspired by Jilly Cooper’s book, Animals in War, and was made possible by a specially set up fund, of which Ms Cooper is co-trustee.
You may also be interested in The Animals’ War at the Imperial War Museum in London.