We start with an unusually moving introduction, in which the author begins by telling us about his grandfather, and how the only war stories from his time in Burma that he was really willing to tell involved his mules or his pet mongoose.
This might not be the largest of books, but it does cover quite a range of topics. The animals involved vary from familiar working animals (especially horses and mules) through homing pigeons and other less well known military animals to domestic pets and mascots. Horses and mules, dogs and pigeons each get their own chapter, reflecting their wide-spread use, while other animals are examined topic by topic.
This isn’t an entirely cheerful read. The most depressing moment came early in the war, when fears of food shortages, bombing and advice that pets wouldn’t be allowed in official air raid shelters led to a cull of around 750,000 pets, as their owners made the difficult decision that they couldn’t risk keeping them. On a more cheerful note this did lead to the formation of charities to rescue animals left in need by bombing and of dog friendly air raid shelters.
We finish with a look at the various awards issued to animals. The most famous of these is the Dickin Medal, often known as the Animal Victoria Cross, which was first awarded in 1943. However this wasn’t the first gallantry award for animals during the war – the Blue Cross and the Canine Defence League both got in ahead of them. I did know that pigeons had won the highest number of Dickin Medals, but not the details, so it was interesting to read of their various exploits.
This isn’t the longest of books, but it does include plenty of interesting material, including general material on the uses of animals (I hadn’t realised dogs were used to sniff out land mines in this period) and individual animal stories.
Horses and Mules
All Creatures Great and Small
On the Home Front
Furry and Feathered Heroes
Author: Neil R. Storey
Publisher: Shire Library