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Animals at the start of the war – Saturday Live BBC radio 4

2012 September 1
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image nina duchhess

Nina, Duchess of Hamilton and Brandon  – with Polly and Molly – who evacuated animals in the Second World War

I am just back from discussing the cat and dog massacre on Saturday Live on BBC radio 4. This weekend some 73 years ago on Sunday 3rd September 1939 saw the outbreak of the Second World War. Some 650,000 school children were successfully evacuated from London – and some 400,000 ‘pet’ cats and dogs were killed by their ‘owners’. This was more than six times the number of civilian deaths on the Home Front caused by enemy bombing during the whole six years of the war in the entire country. No bombs had fallen: none would fall on London – or Britain – until April 1940.

This was not a government decision. People themselves chose to have their own animals killed by animal welfare charities or by vets.

Not all animals were killed: there were  an estimated 2 million companion animals in London alone. The majority survived this massacre. Most people took the advice of the National Air Raids Precautions Animals Committee (NARPAC) and the veterinary profession and kept their animals. Some who were called up for war service gave animals to friends or evacuated them to the animal sanctuary in Ferne, near Salisbury established by Nina, Duchess of Hamilton and Brandon, who was the president of what is now the Edinburgh – based animal campaigning charity, Onekind. At the time there was vocal opposition to this killing by people interested in animal welfare.

I have found many moving accounts of humans’ relationships with animals during the war including those in diaries and family stories. Although the killing at the start of the war separated out animals from humans, the experience of living together during the war brought them closer.

I have various articles , writing projects  and talks about this in the pipeline. Please do contact me if you are willing to share family stories about animals during the war.

2 Responses Post a comment
  1. paul foley permalink
    September 1, 2012

    Your piece on Saturday Live excellent – Interesting, informative and full of entertaining anecdotes.

  2. Paul Plumley permalink
    September 2, 2012

    At the out break of war I was five years old and my Mother told me to take our young Welsh collie to the vets to be put to sleep. It was quite a long walk for a five year old! Not that I thought too much about that at the time.

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