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Animals that won the war

I am sure that when many regulars here, readers and writers, read this, they will decide that finally and irrevocably, the country that grabbed itself an empire over which the sun never set, invented the steam engine, saw off Hitler, and used once upon a time to eat ball bearings for its breakfast, has finally gone so soft that nothing will save it:

The Princess Royal has unveiled a memorial sculpture to the animals who have served and died alongside British and allied troops.

The monument, in Park Lane, central London, depicts two mules, a horse and a dog, together with lists of the numbers of animals lost in conflicts.

But I do not think this is straightforward evidence of softness. I think that we just live in rather soft times. If the times harden, we would harden up with them pretty quick.

The irony is that this apparently soft-as-slush BBC story actually harks back to a much harder time, when men were men and pigeons were pigeons. (Do you think Blackadder when you follow that previous link? I do.)

Anyway, on with the BBC story:

The monument pays special tribute to the 60 animals awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal – the animals’ equivalent of the Victoria Cross – since 1943.

They include 54 animals – 32 pigeons, 18 dogs, three horses and a cat – commended for their service in World War II. Among these heroes were:

Rob, a para-dog who made more than 20 parachute drops while serving with the SAS on top-secret missions in Africa and Italy.

Ricky, a canine mine-detector who continued with his dangerous task of clearing a canal bank in Holland despite suffering head injuries.

Winkie, a pigeon that flew 129 miles with her wings clogged with oil to save a downed bomber crew.

… and many more gutsy beasts, protected, one suspects, by having only the dimmest idea of what they were actually engaged in, and of the risks they were taking.

Nevertheless, these are arguably statues in a similar vein to this one, or even this one.

If you want further evidence of the hardness that lurks just beneath the soft surface of human nature in soft old Britain just now, take a look at another piece of sculpture I spied this evening, on my travels along Oxford Street.

15 comments to Animals that won the war

  • D Anghelone

    Decry havoc and let kip the dogs of war!

    Any statues of Chamberlain?

  • Well, the British, even at the meridian of their power, always have been rather sentimental about animals. It is one of the many endearing traits of Britain, which I hope will survive.

    I do not think that Britain is ‘going soft’; just wait for something to happen to upset the ‘Guardian’ and you might be surprised how bloodthirsty even the cringeworthy Left can become.

  • James

    Sorry, Brian, but fondness for their pets is a well-known British trait, and an admirable one when not taken to extremes.

    Personally, I doubt such “softies” as the SAS would disagree with the sentiment shown by the dedication. Perhaps as an experiment to see if Britain really has gone soft, as you say, you might find yourself an SAS man and tell him so straight to his face?

    The toughest of men and women are not those devoid of sentiment. The one’s who’ll think it funny and wussy are probably the one’s who’ll be puking and scrawling all over it coming home pissed with the lads.

  • Beasts of England, beasts of Ireland,
    Beasts of every land and clime,
    Hearken to my joyful tidings
    Of the golden future time.

    Soon or late the day is coming,
    Tyrant Man shall be o’erthrown,
    And the fruitful fields of England
    Shall be trod by beasts alone.

    -Animal Farm

  • Ian

    Yes, I have to agree in thinking you’re barking up the wrong tree on this one, Brian.

    We will have gone soft when animal-rights protestors daub the statue because it glorifies the deaths of animals.

    Nature red in tooth and claw.

  • Neuroto

    Softness? You feel free to gripe about this memorial to the next military dog handler you meet, active or retired. Or maybe the old gentleman who credits the mules with saving his life in Burma.


  • Evidently the previous three commenters only read my first, rather short, paragraph. Had they continued they would have discovered that I do not regard these animal statues as evidence of softness. I do not gripe about them. I merely began my posting by speculating that others might.


  • Neuroto

    Fair enough, Field Marshall Slim and Air Marshall Harris bolster your claim that the British are not soft (since you are one of the nations which have stood up to fight Jihadist lunatics, I would never have described the British as “soft” to begin with), but that wasn’t what set me off. Apologies for using “Libertarians” in the boldsneer way I did, I suppose I deserved being referred to as an “Idiot” in response. Serves me right for flaming.

    But how on earth do I interpret the last link you provided? You wrote:

    These photos are going up here because I will shortly be doing a posting at Samizdata about these statues, of a horsey, a doggie-woggie, and two ickle pretty donkeys, which do rather suggest that this country is going soft.

    This Predator statue, however, says otherwise, and I will link to this also.

    With respect, the monument suggests no such thing. Horses, wardogs, mules, and pigeons and the like actually played a role in historical events. They really did help win wars, or were made to suffer on our behalf. If no public money was used to erect the monument, what possible difference does it make if someone remembers them? Remembering animals in war leads directly to remembering the humans who employed them anyway, no?

    Perhaps I am guilty myself of paying too much attention to this, but you lost me with that last bit about the Predator statue. It doesn’t serve to argue in favor of British toughness. It serves to argue that fanboys anywhere will readily scoop up any old piece of dreck, particularly a cool, well-executed Predator statue welded up out of old motorcycle parts. Collectibles do not signify toughness.

  • Acad Ronin

    I too wouldn’t worry a whole lot about toughness, or even that these statues signal any sort of softness.

    First, I have a sense, based somewhat on personal experience, that soldiers are quite capable of caring for a puppy or a kitten, and then calmly blowing off an enemy’s head. The two issues are orthogonal.

    Second, I remember an interview on TV with a impressively decorated veteran of SOE. He was clearly, unapologetically, flammingly gay. He said that he had gotten into SOE in part to show that people “like me” could be brave. As he spoke he stroked a very well fed white Persian cat.

    Now, I suspect that he would have liked the statues, and I suspect too that Arnold Schwartzenegger would have agreed that this man who had parachuted into Occupied France was not a “girly man”.

    Again, sentimentality and toughness can coexist in the same person.

  • mike

    In reference to that Predator model – call me soft but I wouldn’t buy it purely because the only place I’d have to put it would be next to my bedroom window, the shutters of which I like to leave open to let in the morning daylight, and this would mean I could wake up in the middle of the night from a horrible dream only to find this humanoid shaped figure standing over my bed swathed in an eerie moonlight holding a spear aloft its’ glinting fangs. Scary.

  • mike

    Maybe I would buy it on condition they would replace the spear with the Chancellor’s red budget box and a Gordon Brown mask – ah! what am I thinking!? – I’d want a model head stuck on the end of that spear – preferably Saddam’s or Bin Laden’s.

  • Ralf Goergens

    the country that grabbed itself an empire over which the sun never set, invented the steam engine, saw off Hitler, and used once upon a time to eat ball bearing for its breakfast

    Call me soft, but I think that ball bearings are seriously overrated as a source of nutrition anyway. Besides, you can swallow them in a pinch, but getting rid of them is rather problematical; at the very least people wil give you funny looks after all these pinging noises from the bathroom.

  • Ralf,

    So much for the stereotype that Germans have no sense of humor.

    Now I have to wipe up this mess…

  • Ralf Goergens


  • Mary in LA

    “…and a cat…”

    I want to know what the cat did! My two are utterly useless, except for document destruction. 😉