Tag Archives: Animals

By Paul Breen, Office Volunteer  

On the junction of Manor Mews and Cambridge Avenue, just off the Kilburn High Road in London, is the RSPCA Animals War Memorial Dispensary, a building dedicated to those animals that died in The First World War.  

Animals War Memorial Dispensary (UKNIWM 10995 ©English Heritage)

The Animals War Memorial Dispensary is an attractive 19th Century two storey building with shuttered windows to the upper floor and stone tablets either side of the front door. The tablets, which can be read by all who enter the building, record the fact that nearly half a million animals met their deaths during the First World War and that approximately three quarters of a million animals of all descriptions, including hundreds of dogs and carrier pigeons, were treated in France at RSPCA field hospitals.

Above the front door is a large bronze plaque depicting the figure of winged Victory, holding wreaths in each hand, surrounded by pairs of animals including horses, elephants, dogs, oxen, mules, and camels. The plaque was the creation of Frederick Brook Hitch, FRSBS, who was also responsible for the National Submarine War Memorial (1922) on the Victoria Embankment and the statue of Charles Wesley (1939) at the Methodist Chapel in Bristol, as well as a number of other commissions world- wide. His brother, John Oliver Brook Hitch MC, was the architect responsible for the conversion of the building to an animal dispensary.

The dispensary was opened on 10th November 1932 by Frances Evelyn ‘Daisy’ Greville, Countess of Warwick: a well known animal lover, the Countess kept a menagerie of birds and animals on her estate at Easton Lodge near Great Dunmow in Essex.  

Animals War Memorial Dispensary (UKNIWM 10995 ©English Heritage)

In its opening year the dispensary treated over 6,000 animals and still functions today as a busy clinic for sick animals, fulfilling the RSPCA’s founding intention that it act as ‘a memorial that would benefit living animals’. It is now Grade II listed and is a unique building to the memory of animals killed in the First World War. The dedication of the building is made more poignant by the request it makes for us to show kindness and consideration to animals in the present day.

We have previously written about Simon, the ship’s cat on board HMS Amethyst, and the only feline holder of the Dickin medal – the animal’s VC.  However, there is another cat who was decorated for her courage… 

Faith was the tabby and white coloured church cat of St Faith & St Augustine, Watling Street, just to the east of St Paul’s Cathedral.  In September 1940 she became restless and insistent on finding a sheltered place for her single kitten, eventually settling in the basement.  Three days later the rectory was demolished in a bombing raid.  Faith remained guarding her kitten until they were rescued from the rubble of the burning building.

She was later nominated for a PDSA award but did not qualify – as a civilian – for the Dickin medal, so Mrs Dickin caused a special silver medal to be struck and this was awarded in 1945.

Little remained of the church except the tower, the lower part of which was turned into a chapel.  A photograph of Faith with a caption praising the ‘bravest cat in the world‘ and certificates from the PDSA and the Greenwich Village Humane League Inc. of New York were placed in the chapel, but it is not known if they are lost, as the church was closed around 1960 and the tower has been incorporated into St Paul’s Cathedral Choir School.  Faith’s death, peacefully in her sleep, in September 1948 was reported in The Times (1 Oct. 1948 p. 2) and she was buried in the churchyard.

Mrs Day and her cat 'Little One', London 1941This photograph shows another cat from the Second World War, ‘Little One’ and his owner, Mrs Day.  ‘Little One’ is wearing a NARPAC collar.

According to the original Ministry of Information caption, the National Air Raid Precautions for Animals Committee was ‘an animal lover’s voluntary wartime organisation that ensures that, should he stray in blitz or black-out, he will be returned safely to his owner’.

Barbara, a polar bear at the Royal Navy's zoo at Whale Island, greeting old shipmatesThere are calls for a memorial to Voytek, an Iranian bear that fought for the Polish against the Germans and ended up in a Scottish zoo.  Voytek was adopted by Polish forces after being discovered in Iran in 1943.

He was trained to carry heavy mortar rounds and saw action in Monte Cassino, Italy, before being stationed in Scotland with 3,000 Polish troops.  After the war, Voytek became a popular resident of Edinburgh zoo until his death in 1963.

Read more from BBC News

This photo is actually Barbara, a polar bear at the Royal Navy’s zoo at Whale Island, greeting old shipmates.  Rescued as a cub from drifting ice off Greenland, Barbara was for some time the ship’s mascot during the Second World War, until she became too large for the mess decks of a light cruiser and was moved to a new home on Whale Island.

While there are currently no war memorials to bears (although there are memorials to horses, donkeys, dogs, pigeons, a monkey, a cat, camels and a thrush, among others) there is one memorial that features a life-size sculpture of a polar bear.  This is the 49th Infantry Division memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, Staffordshire.  The Polar Bear became the emblem of the division, chosen when they were stationed in Iceland during the Second World War.

An unusual memorial service took place yesterday at the PDSA animal cemetery in Ilford, Essex, which is the burial place of twelve recipients of the Dickin Medal (the animal’s Victoria Cross).   Among them are Simon, ship’s cat on HMS Amethyst during the Yangtze Incident, whom we’ve written about before.  Read more about Dickin Medal winner, Simon

The service was attended by living Dickin Medal winners, such as Sadie, a black labrador explosives search dog who worked in Afghanistan.  The cemetery itself has recently been refurbished with the help of a lottery fund grant.

Read more about the service from BBC NEWS

We currently list 23 war memorials to animals in the UK.

Browse list of animal war memorials

Richard, one of our volunteers, has been looking into war memorials to cats.


Animals such as horses and elephants have been pressed into military service since classical times, and also used have been dogs, camels, oxen, mules, donkeys, pigeons and various other ‘humble beasts ‘.

Of the animal memorials on the UKNIWM database, those to horses, as might have been expected, lead by a short head over all other species put together. Cats by comparison do not feature large in military history, although there is a relief of one on the Animals in War memorial in London. One reason is that the territorial nature of these enigmatic creatures does not lend itself to life with an army on the move: the English nurse Elsie Knocker had a cat in the front line in Belgium in the First World War, but they stayed in the same place, while the tabby Crimean Tom, rescued from the ruins of Sevastapol and brought to England does not seem to have joined the military. Attempts by the American military in Vietnam to use the ability of cats to see in the dark were a predictable failure owing to their inclination to follow their own concerns rather than anyone else’s.

Diesel and Garfield, ship's cats, HMS BelfastAlthough cats generally are not keen on water, they have made ships their territory for centuries, and in times of conflict their service with the Royal Navy was especially valuable both for their ancient role of rodent control and as a contributor to the morale of the crews. However in 1975 because of fears about rabies the Admiralty banned cats on RN vessels, although some were allowed to continue their service ashore.

The most notable naval cat was Simon, wounded several times during the Yangtse Incident in 1949, while serving on HMS Amethyst. He became the only feline recipient of the Dickin Medal (the animals’ VC), but died before it could be bestowed, weakened by his injuries, while in quarantine at Hackbridge later in the year. In April the following year Lieutenant Geoffrey Weston, RN, unveiled a tablet  at the PDSA Veterinary Centre, Plymouth, with a relief of a cat’s head and the following inscription.


Lt Weston had himself been wounded in the Incident and had commanded the vessel following the death of its Captain until the arrival of Commander Kerans, who effected its escape to freedom. Simon was buried at the PDSA Animal Cemetery at Ilford (recently awarded a National  Lottery grant of £49000 for refurbishment) and his headstone has a similar inscription. 

Recently it has been found that there is another memorial to Simon at the China Fleet Country Club at Saltash in Cornwall.

72 different wars and conflicts are marked by memorials on our database and you can now browse this list. 

Click to browse by War

The First World War produced the most memorials (37,028) but you can also browse memorials with dedications to First World War Civilians (71 memorials).

Why not have a look at some of the more unusual conflicts, like the Austrian Succession, the Maori Wars or the Suez emergency and crisis.

Some do not mark a specific conflict, but rather a type, such as memorials to animals, blessed villages or VC and GC Winners.