At a time of year when we think about those who have fought and died in conflict, more and more people are beginning to also acknowledge the sacrifice made by animals.
Throughout history animals have been used in war; from Irish Wolfhounds being used to attack men on horseback during the Celtic wars, to Hannibal’s use of elephants in battle. Horses, mules, pigeons, dogs, camels, cats and canaries have all been trained in some way to be used in wars. Vast numbers have been killed, often suffering agonising deaths from wounds, starvation or thirst, exhaustion, disease and exposure.
In more recent years there have been concerns about the armed conflict in Syria. Not a week goes by when the media doesn’t report bombings or mass killings of religious minorities, hostages being beheaded or alleged chemical attacks. And in one of the largest refugee exoduses in recent history, more than four million people have fled the country since the start of the conflict.
These are all appalling tragedies, and my heart goes out to all who are suffering, but we should also spare a thought for the animals caught up in the violence.
We don’t have to look too hard to find images on the internet of pets in Syria who have at some time been lost or abandoned, horrifically injured, searching through rubbish for food. Or upsetting images of piles of dead sheep or other farmed animals, who residents claimed were killed by chemical weapons.
Animals are also deliberately being used in the conflict; it has been reported that ISIS have been attaching explosive devices to chickens and goats to use them as ‘suicide bombs’.
But amongst the horrific images and reports there have been encouraging stories; in the city of Aleppo a local ambulance driver helps animal victims of bombings and feeds abandoned cats on a daily basis. Cat Connect who are based in the Netherlands are committed to animal welfare in Syria and are involved with a team of local volunteers treating injured and sick animals and relocating them to Europe.
There are also images appearing of Syrian refugees who have taken their beloved pets with them on their arduous journey to a safer location. One such refugee was reported to have walked 300 miles carrying his pet dog that he could not bear to leave in his war-torn homeland. These animals are the lucky minority.
In 2004 a memorial was unveiled in London’s Hyde Park; the Animals in War Memorial commemorates the millions of conscripted animals that served, suffered and died alongside British, Commonwealth, and American forces in 20th century wars and conflicts.
The Memorial bears two inscriptions: “This monument is dedicated to all the animals that served and died alongside British and Allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time.”
A second, smaller inscription reads: “They had no choice.”
This Remembrance Day, as well as showing respect to humans who have lost their lives, please remember all creatures great and small; the animals who have, without choice, been conscripted, or through being in the wrong place at the wrong time, have become innocent victims of war.