One of PDSA’s most treasured possessions lies in a quiet corner of a field in Ilford, North London. The PDSA Animal Cemetery is the final resting place for over 3,000 animals, including 12 heroes awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal for their gallantry in WWII. In November 2007, after nearly a year of renovation work, the cemetery is to be unveiled.
You could be mistaken for thinking you have stumbled upon a long forgotten village cemetery: the ancient trees overhanging a meandering path that winds between the moss covered gravestones certainly give that impression. The truth is the PDSA Animal Cemetery is a much loved gem in the crown of the charity’s 90-year history.
The cemetery records show that the first animal to be buried on the site was a dog, although the name is not mentioned. Whoever that dog was, a long line of Gingers, Rustys, Beautys, Tigers and Tims was also to be laid to rest in the ground dedicated by the Bishop of Chelmsford in 1949. Each of the graves was originally marked with a whitewashed wooden plaque bearing the animal’s name, the relevant dates and a few well chosen words in a decorative black script.
Over time, and no doubt due to decay, many of the more affluent owners replaced the wooden marker with a more permanent memorial to their pet. Many also took advantage of the additional blank space on the marble or Portland stone to declare their final words of devotion to their dearly departed pet. Any visitor would find it difficult to walk between the rows of tiny graves without feeling compelled to pause and read the heart-rending inscriptions.
If there were a sadness about this Cemetery, it is not down to the words on the headstones or because of the thousands of animals that are buried there; it would be the reality that the graves of some of the more famous ‘residents’ had fallen into disrepair. The grave of Peter, a Collie dog, who received the PDSA Dickin Medal in 1945 for his life-saving work as a rescue dog during the London Blitz, was now a sunken patch of earth. The headstone on the grave of WWII Desert Dog, Titch, was broken apart by a tree. This was the sad scene, in 2006, that prompted PDSA to approach the Big Lottery for a grant to restore the Cemetery and to provide the local community with a unique place of local interest and international importance.
Thanks to the support of the voting public, a £50,000 grant from the People’s Millions was presented to PDSA last November. The grant was made specifically for the restoration of the animal heroes’ graves, to provide wheelchair access and a visitor’s centre. As the work was due for completion in November 2007, the unveiling of the restored cemetery provided the perfect focus for PDSA’s 90th anniversary celebrations.
But the project doesn’t end there. Lovingly and carefully restored, the Cemetery is a work in progress. Plans are already in place to erect a Memorial wall for pet owners to honour the memory of pets loved and lost. A Garden of Remembrance, designed by organic gardener Bob Flowerdew, has been planted and provides a tranquil spot where visitors will maybe stay a while in quiet contemplation.
For PDSA, the sentiment carried on the Cemetery’s lych gate says it all: “They are forever in our thoughts. Love never dies.”
Beauty, a wire-haired terrier belonged to PDSA Superintendent Bill Barnet who led one of the charity’s Animal Rescue Squads that operated throughout the heavy bombing raids on London in the early years of World War II. Beauty was always good company for Bill as he searched for trapped pets in the rubble but one night in 1940 the dog decided to dig in the debris too. Minutes later the team helped
Beauty to uncover a cat buried beneath a table.
During her wartime career, Beauty saved 63 animals from being buried alive. In recognition of her work, Beauty was awarded many accolades including the PDSA Pioneer Medal (normally only given people), plus a silver mounted collar inscribed ‘For Services Rendered’ from the Deputy Mayor of Hendon. She also received ‘the freedom of Holland Park and all the trees therein!’
In January 1945 Beauty received the highest honour of all - the PDSA Dickin Medal.
Celebrity gardener, Bob Flowerdew, the UK’s leading organic gardener and regular panellist on BBC Radio 4’s Gardener’s Question Time, donated his expertise to the PDSA Animal Cemetery project by designing the Garden of Remembrance.
A familiar face and voice to millions of gardening enthusiasts, Bob Flowerdew expressed his pleasure at being invited to design this special garden. “I am honoured to have been asked to design the Garden of Remembrance for PDSA,” said Bob. “I’m an avid animal lover. I know what incredible company pets are to so many people and how dedicated PDSA is to its charitable work treating sick and injured pets. It is a delight to be involved with this charity in its 90th anniversary year.”
In ‘Safe Hands’
It’s never something we want to think about, but, if you are a pet owner, there has to be a consideration for your pet’s welfare should you suddenly not be there to care for them.
Research carried out by PDSA has revealed that only 18 per cent of pet owners have made provision for the ongoing care of their pet in their will. This is, more often, not a case of being irresponsible, but merely being uncomfortable with thoughts of death.
To help people over this emotional hurdle PDSA is offering a caring solution to owners who leave a gift in their will to PDSA – the PDSA Safe Hands re-homing service.
“With PDSA Safe Hands, if the worst did happen, PDSA would find your pet a loving and suitable new home by matching them to an owner who will care for them and guarantee them comfort and security for the rest of their life,” says PDSA Head of Legacy Marketing, Tina Norton-Tuck. To find out more about the Safe Hands re-homing service, please ring the PDSA Legacy team on freephone: 0800 591248.
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