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Animals in War memorial Canberra

2012 August 25


horse head

Close up of the Animals in War memorial, Australian War Memorial, Canberra 2009

I have just sent off the proofs for my article on animals and war memorials shortly to be published in a book I have previously mentioned, namely,  Animals and War edited by Ryan Hediger. The article considers various forms of commemoration including water troughs, memorials in Portland stone, friezes and statues in different countries including Australia.  One of the memorials analysed is the new ‘Animals in War’ memorial by artist Steven Mark Holland unveiled in May 2009, outside the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.  There are two parts : the  most visual part  is a sculpture consisting of a partly destroyed bronze horse’s head previously part of an Australian memorial to the Desert Mounted Corps in Port Said in Egypt, destroyed during the Suez Crisis.  The damaged  face of a horse explicitly refers to animal death, but by using the remnants of a representation of a horse that had itself been destroyed in warfare, it also attempts to raise questions about animal death in war without resorting to sentimentality. The sculpture thus is commemorating a particular moment – of destruction – in contrast to representations featuring animals going about their ‘duties.’ Its very re-creation is antithetical to a conventional genre of memorialisation.

The destroyed Desert Mounted Corps memorial had itself been recreated in 1968 on the nearby ANZAC parade that leads down from the Memorial towards the Parliament building in the distance. This memorial to the Desert Mounted Corps – together with their horses – had been the first to a section of the military erected in this prestigious national memorial site.

re-created mountede

Close-up of the re-created Desert Mounted Corps memorial, ANZAC parade, Canberra, 1968

 The plaque accompanying the horse’s head commemorates in simple language animals who ‘served alongside Australians’ and ‘performed many essential duties’ including those who ‘lived with the Australians as mascots or companions’ and acknowledges their continuing ‘important role in the work of the Australian armed forces.’ It has a less melodramatic – and anthropomorphic – text than the huge ‘Animals in War’ memorial  in London’s Park Lane. In contrast to the sentiments on the London memorial, there is little emphasis on agency, loyalty or lack of choice. In avoiding such sentiment the words do not suggest animal sacrifice in a human cause but rather joint animal-human activity.

plaque close up

Plaque accompanying the 'horse's head' at the Animals in War memorial

2 Responses Post a comment
  1. George Taylor permalink
    September 2, 2012

    Heard with interest your research on animals killed (put down) at the beginning of WW2. (Saturday Live BBC 4). Have you a similar interest in the 30.00 civilian dead, mainly women and children I suspect, who were killed in London during WW2. In total 60.000 throughout the UK. No national memorial exists to their memory. I have long tried to bring this to official attention without success.

    • Hilda Kean permalink
      September 3, 2012

      Hi George I am interested in humans too! Do you know of the memorial to the East Londoners who died in the Blitz at Wapping alongside the Thames? I would also contact the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire where there is a wide range of memorials to people who died in different wars and in many different sorts of circumstances.

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