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Lest we forget, Remembrance day 2020 ...

Anna Webb – Broadcaster, Author, has studied natural nutrition and therapies with the College of Integrated Veterinary Therapies (CIVT). She lives in London and is owned by Prudence a Miniature Bull Terrier and Mr Binks, a re-homed English Toy Terrier.

‘Lest We Forget”

This year Remembrance Sunday will be like none other being held in accordance to government guidance and social distancing rules.

The Royal British Legion is encouraging that people respect the sentiments of the day, including a two-minute silence, but at home at 11 am on Sunday 8th November.

I’ll really miss the annual service at The Animals in War Memorial at Brook Gate on Park Lane.

Lest we forgot the thousands of animals who served in the British Armed Allied Forces, many paying the ultimate price for our freedom.

Every year a service commemorating the animals takes place at the memorial. With members of the armed forces attending. Along with members of the public we all proudly wear purple poppies.

Designed by English sculptor David Backhouse, the stunning sculpture was unveiled by Princess Anne in 2004.

Summing up its relevance, one of the inscriptions reads:

Many and various animals were employed to support British and Allied Forces in wars and campaigns over the centuries and as a result millions died. 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.

The bravery of dogs, horses, pigeons and one cat has been commemorated by the PDSA’s Dickin Medal since 1943.

It’s significance to acknowledge the outstanding acts of bravery by animals serving with the Armed Forces or Civil Defence units in any theatre of war throughout the world. It has become recognised as the animal’s ‘Victoria Cross.’

The PDSA Dickin Medal is a large, bronze medallion bearing the words “For Gallantry” and “We Also Serve” all within a laurel wreath. The ribbon is striped green, dark brown and sky blue representing water, earth and air to symbolise the naval, land and air forces.

The highest honour any animal can receive, the Medal stands as testament to the Diligent, Resolute, Fearless and Relentless qualities shown by animals in action.

The Medal has been awarded 71 times since 1943 plus one Honorary PDSA Dickin Medal which was awarded in 2014. The recipients comprise 34 dogs, 32 pigeons, four horses and one cat.

Back in 2018 the PDSA celebrated 75 years of the Dickin Medal. Remembering those animals awarded the accolade post-humously at the Imperial War Museum in south London.

For this landmark occasion animal representatives were invited, including a Metropolitan Police Horse, named Upstart, (after a horse awarded the Dickin Medal). A Pigeon and Belgian Malinois, named Mali, a retired British military working dog, who is the only living recipient of the award.

Not forgetting the only cat ever awarded the Dickin Medal, named Simon.

Bearing a striking resemblance to my cat Gremlin, the PDSA chose Gremlin for the role through his agent Urban Paws.

Simon was born in 1947 in Hong Kong. As a stray he was brought on board the HMS Amethyst as the ship’s mascot. But soon built his reputation and fame as a world class ‘ratter’ keeping the ship’s rodent population in check.

Simon was awarded the Dickin Medal in 1949 after serving aboard HMS Amethyst during the Yangtse Incident; he had continued to kill rats despite being wounded by a shell blast.

Having made it back to Surrey, he died in quarantine after complications to a virus thought to have been exacerbated by his war wounds.

Gremlin took the 75th Anniversary photocall almost in his stride. Wearing a replica Dickin Medal pinned to his harness, he was ready to be filmed for BBC Breakfast.

But for the grand photocall Gremlin was directed to be as close to Upstart the Police Horse as possible.

Gremlin had never seen a horse before. And I don’t think Upstart had been so close to a cat before. I held Gremlin in case he became spooked whilst he held Upstart in a fixed gaze. A few nerves flew around as Upstart made it clear he wasn’t impressed.

Otherwise the morning went smoothly, Gremlin soaking up all the attention, despite being called Simon all morning!

What was most uncanny is that on returning home, Gremlin rushed outside, only to return in minutes proudly holding a rat in his mouth! Something he’d never done before or since!

But it’s a reminder that we must never forget the bravery of all the animals, both then and now.

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