Lest we forget
Purple poppies are popping up next to red poppies on lapels. Why?
Welcome to the midweek issue of Sift. Shift. Lift. In honour of Remembrance Day, we are looking at the use and abuse of animals in warfare, in the past and in the present day. (It should take 5 minutes to read this issue. For a better experience, I recommend reading it online.)
Sifting information in search of stories about animals in war.
Why wear a purple poppy?
The purple poppy is often worn to remember animals that have been victims of war. Animals like horses, dogs and pigeons were often drafted into the war effort, and those that wear the purple poppy feel their service should be seen as equal to that of human service.—From “Poppy appeal: what do the different coloured poppies mean" (BBC)
Animals have always served in wars. They’ve provided transportation, communication, and companionship as revealed in “15 animals that went to war” and in the following video, “Top 7 animals in war over 100 years,” both produced by the Imperial War Museums (IWM).
We often think of the animals who serve in wars as heroes. In the United Kingdom, Animal Aid argues that they are victims. In Animals: the hidden victims of war, the non-profit organization highlights atrocities that have occurred in the not-so-distant past, such as using animals for chemical sensing; testing the effects of nuclear weapons on living creatures; and training dolphins and sea lions to be “advanced biological weapons systems.”
Animal Aid also speaks to the toll that warfare takes on animals that live in warzones, including those living in the wild and those abandoned in zoos.
But, they say, there is hope for animal victims of war. Over the past 50 years, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPCA) has launched into countless disaster zones to provide animals with food and veterinary care; help them evacuate, and reunite them with their caretakers—and they are just one of many organizations doing so. Another is Veterinarians Without Borders.
Michael Morpurgo’s novel about the wartime exploits of a boy and his horse has the power to change how we think about the animals who serve (and the people who love them).
On a business trip to Toronto, Ontario several years ago, I snared a ticket to see the National Theatre of Great Britain bring War Horse to life. It traumatized (and transformed) me. Before then, I really had not considered how we use and abuse animals in times of war. Since then, I have listened endlessly to the soundtrack, and I have watched the movie—alone and with my two kids. (I am lobbying hard to watch it with them again this evening.) The book (and its sequel, Farm Boy) is on my to-be-read list. (I will get to them eventually.)
I believe that this story can change minds—and lives. Watch the video below to hear what Morpurgo has to say about the story’s origins as a play, complete with puppets, and as a movie. Then read The Guardian’s article “War Horse author Michael Morpurgo on the hidden history behind Steven Spielberg's Oscar contender.”
Raising awareness about the animals who served in wars worldwide.
Worldwide, there are statues and commemorative pins designed to remember the plight of animals in war. Here is a small sampling. I’d love to hear about others.
The first national [United Kingdom] memorial dedicated to the millions of animals lost during The Great War was the War Horse Memorial in Ascot, England in 2018. "The large bronze horse stands on a three-metre-high stone and signifies the ultimate sacrifice made for our freedom and democracy." (“Remembering animals in war around the world - Ontario SPCA”)
Want to pay your respects? Visit the War Horse Memorial; “The Pledge,” at Arlington National Cemetery (a life-size bronze monument by Susan Bahary depicting a woman and service dog); or the Monument Aux Pigeons Voyageurs in Lille, France, which was unveiled in 1936 to honour the 20,000 pigeons killed in World War I.
Did you know the Government of Canada sent 50,000 horses to the South African War? An act commemorated at the South African War Memorial in Ottawa, Canada by the nearby Animals in War Dedication, which honours all animals who served.
Are you wearing a red poppy over your left heart in honour of veterans? Thank you. Consider adding a purple poppy next to it to show your respect for the animals who served alongside them. You can also show your support by ordering a commemorative pin from the Ontario SPCA and Humane Society. Proceeds help the organization care for animals in need. As well, the organization will donate $1 from the sale of each pin to Royal Canadian Legion branches throughout Ontario.
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