Here I am on Park Lane in central London, one of the most expensive lanes in the world if youíre looking to buy a property. The lane curls around one side of Hyde Park and sitting on a grassy traffic island sits the Animals In War Memorial. Why it isnít in the vast 350-acre park itself is a mystery. You have to use a pedestrian crossing to get to it or risk getting run down by a Russian/Arab burning along in their new Ferrari. It commemorates the millions of animals that died under British military command throughout history.
We usually think of the human cost of war but millions of animals died from carrying heavy loads, bullets, bombs, starvation or exposure to cold temperatures. They had no choice and are the truly forgotten dead. It's thought about 40 million animals 'served' in the two World Wars for Britain - mainly mules, donkeys, horses, bullocks, camels, dogs and pigeons. They were selected for their natural skills but paid the price suffering agonising deaths. Many were on the battlefield and died of heart attack, exploding shrapnel, mustard gas, thirst and disease. Thousands of horses trapped in deep mud or snow were left to starve or mercifully shot. Millions of animal left the country and almost none returned. The lucky survivors were almost all slaughtered and used to feed the remaining armed forces and prisoners. At home about 750,000 animals - mostly cats and dogs - were killed due to shortages in World War 2.
I must admit I was a little disappointed with this memorial. Much more money could be spent on a much more informative memorial. There was little to read, no horrifying statistics, no graphic pictures showing the pornography of war and its carnage on innocent animals. Perhaps there's a permanent indoor exhibition somewhere that pushes home the horror. I remember going to an exhibition in Manchester once and can recall footage of horses rolling around in pain as their legs had been blown off.
About 30m away is Hyde Park so why the memorial wasn't put there is mystery. People who stop by are mostly crossing Park Lane and don't care. It features horses but that'd it. I suppose the luckiest animals were pigeons which had some chance of returning home. About 300,000 of them - flying at 1 mile/minute - served in both wars and saved thousands of lives by carrying vital messages. I'm sure the memorial could have had a row of pigeons on it.
I had to get back to the coach which was waiting down by The Dorchester Hotel. I took a few photos though there's not much to see. In hundreds of years there'll probably be a memorial remembering the number of animals slaughtered for food (about 2 billion/week globally) and future generation will wince at how cruel we were. I did a salute and left.