Guide to fallen beasts
IAN COLLINS Animals have been our faithful friends in peace and war – and Ian Collins now savours a capital guide to the beastly fallen.
When moving into the Barbican I was handed a copy of the house magazine in which someone had penned a page-long obituary to his cat (pets are officially banned here, but no matter). It reduced me to unexpected tears.
A widowed friend of mine was left in sudden tears of laughter by a condolence letter which began: “I know just how you're feeling, because my beloved dog died last week.”
On reflection, my friend thinks the claim to fellow feeling perfectly justified. Who and what and how we love is entirely personal - and yet it all amounts to much the same thing.
One of the joys of life in England is the vast library of slim volumes now produced by Shire books. The latest guiding tome, Animal Graves and Memorials, by Jan Toms (£6.99), has a dogged appeal in every sense.
A great battery of war monuments has been raised in London in recent years and, very properly, since 2004, the company includes a memorial to the millions of animals killed in human conflicts.
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Two mules, a stallion and a dog stand before a curving, broken wall of Portland stone with a carved relief of the beastly fallen from elephants to carrier pigeons. Even the service of glow-worms in lighting the trenches of world war one is poignantly acknowledged.
A separate tribute to the Camel Corps, playing a part in both world conflicts, is to be found in gardens to the east of Embankment Tube station.
After the first world war the Peace Pledge Union donated a house in Kilburn's Cambridge Avenue to the RSPCA to use as a veterinary clinic in memory of the slaughter among fur and feather. Two plaques above the door read: “This tablet records the deaths in enemy action, disease or accident of 484,222 horses, mules and bullocks and many hundreds of dogs, carrier pigeons and other creatures on the Front during the Great war. In France alone 725,216 sick and wounded animals were treated in the veterinary hospitals provided by the RSPCA.”
“This building is dedicated as a memorial to the countless thousands of God's humble creatures who suffered and perished in the Great War 1914-18, knowing nothing of the cause, looking forward to no final victory. Filled only with love, faith and loyalty, they endured much and died for us. May we all remember them with gratitude and in the future commemorate their suffering and death by showing kindness and consideration to living animals.”
One animal was to be commemorated for surviving the Blitz. Faith, a stray tabby cat taken in by Father Ross of the City church of St Faith and St Augustine, Watling Street, gave birth to a single black-and-white tom kitten, Panda, in August 1940.
On September 6 she made three attempts to move to the cool, dark sanctuary of the church basement - and finally was allowed to remain there, for what turned out to be the first of the Luftwaffe's devastating raids on London.
Soon afterwards 400 people were killed in one attack, eight City churches were hit - and St Faith and St Augustine was razed save for its tower. Moments before the roof collapsed, Faith and Panda were pulled clear.
Father Ross displayed Faith's photo on the jagged tower with a dedication to “the bravest cat in the world”. As a civilian cat Faith was deemed ineligible for a People's Dispensary for Sick Animals award, until Maria Dickin had a special silver medal cast “for steadfast courage in the Battle of London, September 9th 1940”.
The award ceremony was conducted in the ruined church in October 1945, with Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher in attendance. Faith died five years later, a veteran of 14, on a rug by the fire.
Princess Alexandra, wife of the future Edward VII, was always passionate about animals, and all the more so amid the isolation caused by her husband's infidelities and her own deafness. In the garden of their London home, Marlborough House, lie buried dogs Muff, Tiffany and Joss, as well as Benny, a pet rabbit. While other furry companions of the princess, queen and dowager are buried at Sandringham, her dog Togo - a gift from the Empress of Japan - was the most-mourned of all. His Marlborough House tomb carries this tragic epitaph: “My darling little Togo… my constant companion for twelve years. The joy and pleasure of my life, died May 25th 1914.”
Between 1880 and 1915 some 300 aristocratic pets were sewn into canvas bags and interred in the garden of Hyde Park's gatekeeper, a Mr Windridge.
What became the Hyde Park Pets' Cemetery probably began when Prince, a mutt belonging to the Duchess of Cambridge, was run over outside the lodge. Kaiser, a German-born Spitz, also the victim of a traffic accident, followed in 1886.
Other miniature tombstones pay tribute to Topper, a fox terrier and Metropolitan police dog which was part of the park patrol, and Prinnie, a dachshund belonging to Colonel Montefiore.
The cemetery is closed but a visit can be requested in advance from the Park Ranger (020 7298 2100).
It seems altogether appropriate that Battersea, setting for the landmark dogs' home, should have been the site of a bronze statue unveiled by the National Antivivisection Society in 1902. Above a fountain on the Latchmere Estate, the statue recalled an unnamed terrier, referred to as Brown Dog, who suffered prolonged experimentation at University College.
Jan Toms writes: “The statue became a focus for opponents of vivisection and more than £5,000 was collected in support of Brown Dog. When the succeeding council decided to take his statue down there followed protests bigger than any until the Poll Tax demonstrations of the 1980s. An armed guard was placed on the statue but under cover of darkness it was thrown into the Thames.”
Brown Dog was not to be forgotten, however. In 1985 a new image by Nicola Hicks was raised in a quiet spot near to the Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park.
Dr Johnson's cat, Hodge, sits forever in bronze outside the wordsmith's house in Gough Square, Fleet Street, while mayor Dick Whittington is accompanied by the inevitable mog in the carving on the wall of the Guildhall Gallery.
There's now a model of Paddington Bear at the station from which Michael Bond's creation took his name, on arrival from darkest Peru. And in London Zoo a sculpture of Winnipeg (1914-1934) recalls the Canadian bear inspiring AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh - a happier memory than that recorded in the statue of Guy the Gorilla, the saddest creature I ever saw.
Strawberry Hill - Horace Walpole's gothic confection beside the Thames - is closed for restoration at the moment.
But until those dazzling doors reopen let us console ourselves with the poetic power of Thomas Gray's tribute to Selima, the Walpole pet puss - Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes. t
t Staying on the subject of pets, you might like to take a detour from the animal memorial trail to visit the Imperial War Museum (tube: Lambeth North) where The Animals' War exhibition runs from now until April 22, 2007.