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The PDSA Animal Cemetery
There was a short but apt ceremony; a bugler in suitable attire sounded the Last Post, following which wreaths were laid and the customary silence was observed. 'Reveille' was then played, and we dispersed to wander around and see the restored graves, many with new headstones. It's hard to believe that after its original opening in 1949, with the Bishop of Chelmsford officiating, some 3,000 animals were buried here, but the archive photo (above right) gives an idea of how densely packed were the graves. Among them are 12 recipients of the Dickin Medal (the Animals' VC), and their memorials in particular have been renovated, as would be expected. But so have some others, too, and finally there is a memorial for Peter, the Home Office cat.
There was a further ceremony when a number of homing pigeons were released to fly off into the clear, blue sky as a tribute to all the pigeons that served in wartime and particularly the 32 that were awarded the Dickin Medal including 'Mary of Exeter', whose memorial is to be found here. The first bird was released by actress Jenny Seagrove. She was not the only celebrity present, though; there was a real-life Dickin Medal winner in the shape of black Labrador dog Sadie, complete with medal and ribbon gained for gallantry and devotion to duty as an explosives search dog in the Afghanistan conflict during 2005 and accompanied by her handler, L/Cpl Karen Yardley. Also present were spaniel Jake and his handler; Jake is an explosives search dog serving with London's Metropolitan Police and gave valuable service during the terrorist attacks of 7 July 2005. He is a PDSA Gold Medal recipient (for 'civilian' animals), as is the third dog present, golden Labrador Endal, who saved his disabled owner's life.
[September 2009: Endal died in March, but has a successor, EJ (Endal Junior).]
Probably the best-known animal buried at Ilford is Simon, cat mascot of HMS Amethyst, and his newly cleaned memorial was a focus of attention especially with the distinguished presence of Lt Cdr Stewart Hett, RN (retd), former crew member and 'cat officer' of the ship. He was very patient with the numerous requests for photocalls by Simon's grave. The Sea Cadets from the Welwyn Garden City unit were also represented.
When all the business in the cemetery had been concluded and people had seen all they wished, we withdrew to a marquee set up behind the animal hospital, to be regaled with a glass of mulled wine and a snack lunch. All in all it had been a memorable occasion. I hope that with its new lease of life the cemetery at Ilford will become better known and receive many more visitors, so that the stories of the animals laid to rest there will become more widely known and appreciated.
Location map for the cemetery
Memorials for Simon and other Dickin Medal recipients at Ilford
Left-click the smaller thumbnails for enlargements
[ NB: photos of a few pet memorials at the cemetery are included in our Quest for Simon article. ]
The page for the Animals in War Memorial in London may also be of interest.
You may also like to read about an animal cemetery in the suburbs of Paris, opened
in 1899 and thought to be the oldest public pet cemetery in the world: see Le cimetière des chiens
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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Socks, pictured in 2003 surveying his 'estate' in the early morning sunshine. Affectionately known as Soxy, he blossomed from a thin and hungry stray into a substantial and handsome cat who loved life and company, and his gentle ways endeared him to many friends. He is now no longer with us, but you can read more from his human companion here.
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Page created March 2008, with later revisions