Today is the one special day in the year when we remember the service and sacrifice of animals in war – particularly the millions of horses, mules and donkeys who were sent from all corners of our country, and Allied and Commonwealth nations in WW1 and WW2.
Their contribution cannot truly be measured. We have heard from our friends in Australia, Canada, France, America and New Zealand – and from our supporters at home too – of heroic deeds… of soldiers suffering injuries trying to protect their mounts, and of horses standing in the path of bullets and bayonets to shield their human comrades.
There are many stories of the close relationship between men and their animals, whether bringing a reminder of a more peaceful life at home on the farm or as a source of companionship in the face of the inhumanity of man.
In the First World War, animals at home also suffered. Many in Britain were killed in an invasion scare, and food shortages elsewhere led to starvation and death.
As the war went on, horses became more and more difficult to replace. Historians say their economic and strategic value outweighed that of a soldier. The sad irony is, that after all that service and sacrifice, not many made the journey home.
Those who work with horses tell us they are gentle, intelligent creatures. We believe that our War Horse, Poppy, stands as a symbol of the nobility and courage and immeasurable contribution these animals played and of the debt we can never truly repay.
We wanted our monument to create a living legacy and, through our Purple Poppy Appeal to help and support our chosen military and equine charities, including The Royal Artillery Association and World Horse Welfare.
We have been both astonished and humbled by the way the Great British public have taken our cause to their hearts. The animal charity Blue Cross is selling boxes of our emblematic purple poppy pin badges in its high street shops and across its hospitals, clinics and rehoming services. Meanwhile, we have been concentrating on our network of organisations, pet stores, schools and supporters across the UK and abroad to raise the profile of the Appeal. Last year we were pleased to sell 5,000 badges – this year we already have pre-orders for 250,000 and an army of Ambassador volunteers enthusiastically selling them to support our good causes.
Today is National Purple Poppy Day and we know that all over the country and the Commonwealth people will be remembering with grateful thanks the contribution animals have made over countless wars and conflicts. The Animals in War monument at London’s Hyde Park has two inscriptions. The first reminds us “This monument is dedicated to all the animals that served and died alongside British and Allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time.” The second, smaller inscription simply reads: “They had no choice.”