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Cats in Wartime


The PDSA Animal Cemetery
at Ilford

Final resting place of twelve Dickin Medal recipients


General view of PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, during opening ceremony, 2007


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Invitation to opening ceremony of PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007 Opening day, 13 Dec 2007 - PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford As mentioned elsewhere, in late 2006 the PDSA (People's Dispensary for Sick Animals, one of Britainís leading animal charities) was successful in obtaining a lottery grant of £50,000 (some 100,000 US dollars at the time) to refurbish and upgrade the Animal Cemetery at Ilford in north-east London. The work was carried out during 2007 and on 13 December that year there was an official opening ceremony. I was pleased and honoured to be among the 100 or so invited guests.

Restored lych gate at the entrance - PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford Mrs Doris Golding, Pearly Queen; PO Terry Atkins, Sea Cadets; and Lt Cdr Stewart Hett - reopening of PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007 It was a crisp but pleasantly sunny day as we moved into the cemetery in late morning. It was immediately obvious that the lych-gate entrance, with its evocative inscription 'They are ever in our thoughts. Love never dies' had been nicely cleaned up and restored (left), and — importantly — a gravelled pathway now makes the main areas of the cemetery much more accessible to the public, including wheelchair users. A small covered information and display booth has been set up for visitors, and next to it is a garden of remembrance, designed by well-known television gardening presenter Bob Flowerdew. I plan to revisit in summer when the plants should be growing and flowering.

Bugler sounding the Last Post - reopening of PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007 Wreath laying ceremony - reopening of PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007 Lt Cdr Hett laying wreath - reopening of PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007 The PDSA Animal Cemetery at Ilford when it was first opened, ca 1949

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.

Mr Bob Reeves, pigeon fancier, who knew the owner of Mary of Exeter - PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007 Actress Jenny Seagrove with pigeon to be released - reopening of PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007 The pigeons are released - reopening of PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007 Jenny Seagrove with Sadie DM, Endal GM and Jake GM - reopening of PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007 Jenny Seagrove with Sadie DM, Endal GM and Jake GM - reopening of PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007 Police dog Jake GM, and his handler - reopening of PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007

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).]

Lt Cdr Hett and Simon's memorial - reopening of PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007 Children at Simon's grave, 1950s - PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford 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

Headstone of Dickin Medal recipient Beauty, wire-haired terrier, rescue dog - PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007 Dickin Medal recipient Simon's grave with memorial wreath - PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007 Grave of Dickin Medal recipient Ricky, Welsh Collie, mine detection dog - PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007
Grave of Dickin Medal recipient Mary of Exeter, WW2 homing pigeon - PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007 Headstone of Dickin Medal recipient Rip, Civil Defence dog - PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007
Grave of Dickin Medal recipient Punch, boxer dog who sustained 4 bullet wounds - PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007 Grave of Dickin Medal recipient Crumstone Irma, Civil Defence alsatian dog - PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007
Grave of Dickin Medal recipient Peter, Civil Defence collie dog - PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007 Grave of Dickin Medal recipient for gallantry, Tich, Desert Rat mongrel dog - PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007
Grave of Nigger, RAF war dog - PDSA Animal Cemetery, Ilford, 2007

[ 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.

Also in the Cats in Wartime series:  On Land and in the Air  ::  At Sea

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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