Many people may not realize that during wartime, cats served as companions and kept ships free of vermin. In addition to the contributions of cats, mules carried artillery, horses transported troops and hauled field guns, pigeons delivered crucial messages and dogs have served as messengers, medical assistants, bomb detectors and search and rescue workers.
Leading up to Remembrance Day, we want to honour both the veterans and the animals who bravely served by their side. Around the world, countries celebrate these brave animals differently.
Instituted in 1943 by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) founder, Maria Dickin, the PDSA Dickin Medal for Gallantry is the highest award any animal can receive whilst serving in war. It acknowledges their outstanding acts of bravery and devotion. Since 1943, the medal has been awarded to 36 dogs, 32 pigeons, 4 horses and 1 cat.
The purple poppy was also first issued in the UK in 2006 by Animal Aid. The poppy replicates the traditional red poppy and they are intended to be worn side by side, to remember the animals who fought alongside humans.
The first national memorial dedicated to the millions of animals lost during The Great War was the War Horse Memorial in Ascot, England in 2018. The large bronze horse stands on a three-metre-high stone and signifies the ultimate sacrifice made for our freedom and democracy.
The Pledge Monument at the Military Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC was unveiled in 2020. The monument pays tribute to the sacrifices women and animals have both made in war, honouring their contributions.
The Monument Aux Pigeons Voyageurs in Lille, France commemorates the 20,000 pigeons killed in the war. The memorial was unveiled in 1936.
The National Day for War Animals is on February 24 in Australia. On this day, they recognize the important roles that animals have and continue to play in war.
In 2013, the Australian War Animal Memorial Organization brought the purple poppy, originally introduced in the UK, to Australia.
Purple wreaths were launched in 2020 in Scotland to remember animals in war. A poppy factory in Edinburgh began making the wreaths knowing the purple poppy commemorates animals who served in wartime.
In downtown Ottawa, the Animals in War Dedication is a statue honouring animals who served during wartime. It is set next to the South African War Memorial, a battle in which Canada supplied 50,000 horses for mounted troops.
Animals in War commemorative pin
The first commemorative Animals in War collectible pin by the Ontario SPCA and Humane Society was launched in 2017 and the collection includes a horse, a dog, a limited edition pin in honour of the women who have served in Canada’s military, a pigeon and new in 2021, a cat.
Funds from the sale of the pin help provide care for animals in need, and $1 from each pin sold is donated to Royal Canadian Legion branches across Ontario to support our veterans. To order your pin, visit ontariospca.ca/Remember or call 1-888-668-7722 ext. 360.
No matter where you are in the world, we encourage you take a moment to remember all the animals who have served, and continue to serve, alongside our veterans this Remembrance Day.