It was not only service-men and women who returned from the Great War in 1919. Their animals also came home – many of them ended up in the new Blue Cross Quarantine Kennels on Shooter’s Hill.
The Blue Cross fund was set up by the Our Dumb Friends League (which now known simply as Blue Cross) to help animals in the 1912 Balkan War in the way the the Red Cross helped wounded people. ODFL had their headquarters on Victoria Street in Westminster.
Not put off by the initial rejection of their services by the War Office, ODFL soon set up their Blue Cross horse hospitals near to the battlefield. By the end of 1915, their 12 hospitals in France had treated 2850 horses – of whom 2250 had returned to duty, 92 had died and 550 were still undergoing treatment at the end of the year. During 1915 a hospital was also set up in Italy, when that nation joined the Allies. Through the war, the hospitals received over 6000 horses and cured over 5600 of them. In 1917, the Blue Cross also took up care for war dogs – with 1604 treated (of which 1088 were cured) in that year alone.
All the while, and with diminishing resources, ODFL were also treating pets back at home. In 1916 the Animals’ Hospital it had founded in London in 1906 treated nearly 8000 out-patient animals and 1222 in-patients, primarily dogs (4955) and cats (2483).
At the end of the war, there was a new problem – service personnel wanting to bring their pets and mascots back from the battlefields. ODFL took over Charlton Kennels on Shooters Hill as their Quarantine Kennels, allowing those returning from the war to bring back their dogs to the UK by providing subsidised quarantine facilities – and therefore also reducing the risk of animal smuggling.
The Kennels lasted well beyond that initial demobilisation period and became a place for military pets to be housed when their owners’ units went overseas. There is now a Pet Cemetery there, where those early pets and many more – including animals that saw service in the Second World War – are buried. The ‘Friends of the Pet Cemetery’ are now campaigning and organising to restore it to honour the pets buried there.
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