Animal heroes to be honoured at cemetery restoration
10 Dec 07
Some of the world's most heroic animals including many who have served with the armed forces are to be honoured as part of a ceremony to mark the restoration of an illustrious cemetery in East London.
Mary of Exeter, recognised for five years of service carrying top secret messages during WWII
Recipients of the PDSA Dickin Medal will be afforded full military honours during the event on Thursday 13 December 2007 at the charity's Ilford Animal Cemetery. The cemetery hosts graves belonging to a dozen recipients of the award Medal, which is named after the charity's founder, Maria Dickin CBE, and recognised worldwide as the animals' Victoria Cross.
It has been bestowed 62 times. The animal recipients have saved thousands of lives during war and terrorist attack since its inception in 1943. They include a dog who shielded his human comrades from a grenade blast, a pigeon who saved an Italian village from being bombed, a cat who kept sailors from starving despite being badly injured by shelling and three dogs honoured for their part in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington.
Veterans who have served with some of the Medal recipients will take part in a march-past, accompanied by colours representing some of the regiments of the animals. There will also be a fly-past by pigeons to commemorate the particular contribution of the winged PDSA Dickin Medal recipients.
Rob left his life on a farm in Ellesmere, Shropshire, to become a distinguished 'Para-dog'
PDSA Director General, Marilyn Rydström, said the completion of restoration work offered an opportunity to remember the animals' contributions:
"Many lives were saved as a result of the courage and dedication to duty of the animals buried at Ilford. Sadly, over the years, the animal graves at the cemetery had weathered and broken.
"So we decided to embark on the restoration project as a mark of respect for the PDSA Dickin Medal recipients and the 3,000 other military animals and family pets buried there. We are very grateful for a grant from the Big Lottery Fund's People's Millions which made the work possible."
The most recent military recipient of the Dickin Medal is eight year old black Labrador, Sadie, who is expected to attend Thursday's ceremony. Sadie is a Royal Army Veterinary Corps (RAVC) arms and explosives search dog. Sadie received the Dickin Medal for her exploits in Afghanistan. Speaking at the time Sadie's handler, Lance Corporal Karen Yardley, said:
Front row L-R: Lt E N Denison, Sgt Standish, Gander, Riflemen Porterfield, Levesque, Metallic and Royer
"I'm thrilled Sadie has won the Dicken medal for bravery, she's a lovely dog and I'm very proud of her."
Simon – the only cat to be awarded PDSA Dickin Medal – is among those animals buried at the Ilford cemetery – which has been dubbed 'Arlington for animals', after the famous Virginia graveyard for America's war dead. The restoration has taken almost a year and was made possible thanks to a £50,000 grant from the Big Lottery Fund's People's Millions.
Among PDSA Dickin Medal recipients are:
- Simon, the cat who braved shrapnel wounds to prevent rats over-running food stores on board HMS Amethyst during a 101-day siege on the River Yangtse in 1949, after shelling killed 17 crew members.
- Gander, a Newfoundland dog, who was killed intercepting a grenade aimed at wounded Canadian soldiers during a battle with Japanese troops in 1941.
- Mary of Exeter, recognised for five years of service carrying top secret messages during the Second World War. In that time she was wounded three times, had part of her wing shot off and was badly injured when attacked by hawks maintained by German forces at Calais to bring down Allied carrier pigeons. She is the only winged PDSA Dickin Medal recipient buried at Ilford.
- Rob, left his life on a farm in Ellesmere, Shropshire, behind to take part in landings during the North African campaign with an infantry unit. Having proved proficient at guard and patrol work, he was recruited by the SAS for a series of undercover operations in Italy. He became a distinguished 'Para-dog', making more than 20 parachute descents, some of which were on missions still classified as 'Top Secret'. He received his Dickin Medal in January 1945 and was demobbed, returning to the Bayne family farm a local hero. He was buried in the grounds with a headstone to mark his final resting place.
- GI Joe, a celebrated American pigeon, who not only received the PDSA Dickin Medal but was also recognised by the US Congress for preventing troops and villagers in Italy from becoming victims of so-called 'friendly fire'.
Work at Ilford will be rounded off next year with the opening of a special Garden of Remembrance designed by Bob Flowerdew of BBC Radio 4's Gardener's Question Time.